The special Arctic conditions with the presence of ice and harsh weather require complex offshore maritime operations compared to more central parts of the world. In order to maintain the safety level of the operations one need to share information amongst numerous actors across large distances. This is especially important in critical situations, when correct decisions need to be made very fast. Having a shared situational awareness becomes crucial. This again requires reliable and robust communication infrastructure such that undisrupted information is received by the end user in time. This represents a major challenge in the Arctic, since communication infrastructure above 75°N is relatively poor.
Ships operating in open seas use maritime communication systems based on geostationary (GEO) satellites which orbit the earth above the equatorial line, such as for example Inmarsat and VSAT. However, they have little or no coverage at all in the Arctic and the low elevation angles makes them vulnerable to external influences. The theoretical coverage limit for GEO systems is 81.3°N, but field tests performed in the Norwegian MarSafe North1 project showed that instability and signal dropouts can be experienced already at 70° N during certain conditions. The only satellite system that provides full coverage in the Arctic area is Iridium, and it offers digital capacity through the Iridium OpenPort services. However, users have reported unstable performance, and the field tests showed that Iridium has unstable digital throughput in Arctic areas. The paper will present results from field tests performed in the MarSafe North project.
The projects MarCom2, MarSafe North and ArctiCOM3 have investigated the state-of-the-art of Arctic communications; they have investigated future needs for satellite communications and proposed potential solutions. This paper will present the main results from these projects, as well as describing the main activities and tentative results achieved in the on-going project MARENOR, which analyses the factors that influence the quality of service of navigation and communication systems in the Arctic.