Icebreaker opens up to the public

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The new owners of the Japanese icebreaker Shirase have opened the refurbished vessel up to the public and plan to use it as an exhibition center and a venue for conferences examining such issues as climate change and the environment.

Launched in December 1981, the 11,786-ton vessel was the third Antarctic observation ship to be operated by the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force until it was decommissioned in July 2008. Initially scheduled to be scrapped, the weather forecasting company Weathernews Inc. stepped in at the last moment to buy the ship.

Since being handed over to Weathernews in November 2009, the company has installed a range of observation equipment to keep track of environmental and meteorological changes.

Within the vessel, the Global Ice Center monitors sea ice around the world - particularly looking for signs that ice on potential polar routes is thinning sufficiently for the opening of shorter sea routes, which will in turn reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released by ships.

Similarly, the Terrestrial Center monitors global seismic activity - particularly important in the world's most earthquake-prone country - while the Weathernews Satellite Center controls an orbiting satellite that gathers information in conditions around the world and monitors the density and distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In addition, the Shrase has been fitted with radar that is able to detect meteorological phenomena in the lower troposhere, enabling it to predict and warn of so-called "guerrilla thunderstorms" and extreme wind gusts.

Visitors to the ship, which is moored at Funabashi, to the east of central Tokyo, are able to watch some of these functions and explore the vessel, including in her aft helicopter hangars, the engine room and bridge.

The Shirase - which is named after a glacier discovered by explorer Nobu Shirase - completed 25 Antarctic expeditions and was able to break ice up to 1.5 meters thick. It has been replaced by a new ship bearing the same name that was commissioned in 2008 and recently returned from her first voyage to the Antarctic.

Further information (in Japanese) - or telephone +81 43 274 5504.