All aboard… SA Agulhas II heads south

Armand van Zuydam, Nicole Taylor, Martinique Engelbrecht and Jesslyn Bossau boarding the ship.

The icy adventure of a lifetime awaits four Stellenbosch University (SU) engineering students are aboard South Africa’s SA Agulhas II polar supply and research vessel.

Their research work commenced as soon as the ship left the harbour on Thursday July 18, because the students are aboard to investigate the vessel itself.

Armand van Zuydam of East London, Nicole Taylor of Stellenbosch, Martinique Engelbrecht of Concordia in the Northern Cape and Jesslyn Bossau of Windhoek in Namibia are working towards Masters degrees in mechanical or mechatronic engineering.

The four students are part of the sound and vibration research group of the SU department of mechanical and mechatronic engineering, under leadership of director, Professor Annie Bekker.

Their mission is to study how the steel structure of the SA Agulhas II responds to the slamming of waves as it navigates rough seas towards the polar regions, and how passengers experience the subsequent vibrations and movements caused by the wave action and ship engines.

The focus is on measuring full-scale vibration, how the ship’s shafts are twisted by ice- and water- interaction with the propellers, and how people experience such vibrations.

“In this new era of data and industry 4.0 these measurements are aimed at progressing beyond hindsight, but further forward towards the development of systems by which ship and human responses can be monitored and predicted,” says Professor Bekker.

Around 200 different measurements will be taken during the course of the voyage to collect real-time data.

During the previous few weeks, the students had already put in place specifically designed sensors and computer software for this purpose.

“A unique aspect of this instrumentation is a 30 sensor acceleration system, which was custom developed by SU. This enables researchers to track the displacement and deformation of the ship’s structure as she encounters the harsh environment,” says Professor Bekker.

The students’ work is part of an ongoing monitoring project of the ship which commenced in 2012 when the then newly built vessel undertook its first ice tests in the Baltic Sea.

SU has been part of the research project since its inception, and continues the work in conjunction with Aalto University in Finland.

The research is funded by South Africa’s National Research Foundation, and the Academy of Finland.

Professor Bekker’s team has over the past few years already measured aspects such as the pressure of the ice, and the resulting force it has on the ship’s hull and propulsion system, ice-induced structural vibrations and noise, whole-body vibration comfort, ship dynamics in ice, global ice loads, underwater noise and mechanical and physical sea ice properties.

The four are accompanied by a team of 14 postgraduate students from the university’s department of earth sciences, and six container laboratories.

Dr Susanne Fietz, an environmental geochemist in the SU department of earth sciences, says they are following an interdisciplinary approach to better understand the link between ocean geochemistry and microorganisms such as phytoplankton and bacteria in the ocean.

“The new knowledge gained will help us to understand natural and man-made impacts on the marine ecosystem,” says Dr Fietz.

The group consists of two postdoctoral students, Dr Jan-Lukas Menzel and Dr Saumik Samanata; six PhD students, Jean Loock, Ryan Cloete, Ismael Kangueehi, Johan Viljoen, Margaret Ogundare and Asmita Singh; and five MSc students, Tara de Jongh, Raya Stavreva, Zandria Jordaan and Herman Boock.

Two international students, Bernhard Wenzel from TU Braunschweig in Germany, and Jennifer Mary Ivanoff from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, are on board.