The Italian Navy’s 8th High North mission

Photo: Ministero Della Difesa

On July 15th, 2024, the Alliance will set sail from Tromsø, Norway, embarking on its eighth High
North campaign in the Arctic Ocean. This NATO vessel, fully operated by the Italian Navy, serves
as an oceanographic research ship. Its crew of 44 officers and sailors will be joined by a scientific
team from the Hydrographic Institute, along with selected students and journalists.

The ship will navigate the waters between the Svalbard archipelago and Greenland. This area is
known for its extensive ice cover and particular environmental conditions. In this context,
researchers aboard the Alliance will carry out a wide range of studies with the support of the crew.
Their work will include measuring the physical parameters of the marine ecosystem, performing
geochemical analyses, assessing sound propagation levels in the water, mapping the ocean floor
through bathymetric surveys and collecting meteorological data. Additionally, they will assess
human impact by measuring microplastic concentrations, proving the reach of environmental issues
even in these remote waters.

The use of a NATO military vessel for scientific research, while interesting, is not entirely
surprising. Naval fleets typically include a diverse range of auxiliary ships, from cargo and hospital
ships to dedicated research vessels. While naval research often aims to enhance fleet operations, it
doesn't preclude broader scientific pursuits. NATO's strong joint command structure facilitates
coordination of activities beyond strictly military or training exercises.

Photo: Ministero Della Difesa

Furthermore, the Arctic's growing strategic importance makes it a region of interest for NATO and
comprehensive mapping and understanding of this area are critical for the Alliance. Italy's
leadership of the mission, therefore, highlights both its naval capabilities and scientific expertise
within NATO. But back to High North.

The High North campaign, funded through the Arctic Research Programme, has been one of Italy’s
flagship Arctic missions since its launch in 2017. This initiative actively contributes to the National
Arctic Strategy and supports the international scientific community, highlighting Italy’s
commitment to Arctic research and environmental protection.

The scientific team’s composition mirrors the global nature of Arctic research. It includes
representatives from the UN ECOP (Early Career Ocean Professional) programme’s Ocean
Generation, reflecting the goals of the ongoing Decade of Ocean Science initiative. This United
Nations effort aims to stimulate action from individuals, companies, governments, NGOs and the
scientific community to promote research and implement measures to safeguard the world’s oceans.

Photo: Ministero Della Difesa

The expedition will last nearly a month, navigating an environment that is both challenging and
captivating. The team will encounter spectacular Arctic phenomena, from vast ice formations to the
aurora borealis, and observe diverse marine life.

The High North marine geophysics campaign aims to boost and broaden research activities in the
Northern Seas. It provides essential support and tools to national research centres, encouraging
collaboration and knowledge sharing among scientists and institutions. The Italian Navy leads
national research in this area, using its ability to integrate various scientific specialties within the
Armed Forces. This interdisciplinary approach improves research processes and deepens our
understanding of the Arctic, which will hopefully help us manage resources more sustainably.

As the Alliance navigates these cold waters, it not only conducts important scientific research but
also shows Italy’s commitment to exploring and studying one of Earth’s most crucial regions.

Photo: Ministero Della Difesa

The expedition highlights the need for international cooperation in Arctic research. By bringing
together scientists, military personnel, students and journalists from various backgrounds and
countries, the High North campaign demonstrates the teamwork needed to confront global
environmental issues. The Alliance’s mission shows how interconnected our world is and the shared
responsibility we have to protect and preserve the Arctic for future generations.

Despite Italy's commitment to marine research worldwide, including the Arctic, there's a significant
challenge in bringing these efforts to the attention of the broader public. The Italian Navy,
responsible for initiatives like High North, has a very limited media outreach. As a result, such a
research mission often goes unnoticed both by the Italian public and international observers.

To address this, the Navy has partnered with the Italian magazine Osservatorio Arctico. For the
second consecutive year, an Italian journalist will be on board the Alliance ship, providing day-to-
day coverage of the mission. However, I believe that even this step hasn't been enough to raise
adequate awareness both in Italy and abroad.

This lack of recognition is a key reason for publishing about High North in The Arctic Century.
Italy is actively engaged in global marine research, including in the Arctic, but without proper
publicity, the country's contributions risk being undervalued or ignored entirely.

Tommaso Bontempi