The Loh Down On Science

A small ship uses smart engineering to accomplish what bigger ships do with brute force

Ahoy, mateys!  Full steam … sideways?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

In winter, on ice-bound seas, it’s not easy to keep shipping lanes clear!  Icebreakers, those giant ships, do so by applying massive force.  Head on.

Recently, shipbuilders in Russia and Finland tried something new.

They built Baltika:  a smaller icebreaker that moves at an angle – 360-degree thrusters make her nimble to maneuver.

She’s oddly shaped, with an asymmetric hull.  Her starboard side angles in more sharply than her port side.  Visualize a wedge, with the starboard side the thin end. 

Inside she has a sophisticated system of ballast tanks.  Pump water between tanks?  Baltika’s center of gravity shifts.  She rolls.

Thus, Baltika can sidle up to ice, lift her starboard side, and?  Smush down!  Crushing ice with her weight!

Progressing at an oblique angle:  Lift, smush.  Lift, smush.  Baltika cuts a 160-foot-wide path.  Wide enough for larger tankers to follow.

Never mind if it doesn’t make for a very dramatic James Cameron movie.  Oh Titanic, you know our hearts will go on.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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