Expanding northern research with the NRC’s Arctic program

- Ottawa, Ontario

Collaborating to develop tools and technologies that ensure development in the North is sustainable, beneficial for northern residents, and has a low impact on the environment

The NRC is excited to see the Arctic program research expanding, with new collaborators, new pilot test locations, and new research opportunities to support sustainable and low-impact development of the North while also increasing the quality of life for Northerners through more reliable and relevant infrastructure.

“In 2018 and early 2019, project activities led by researchers with the NRC’s Arctic program have ramped up, with many projects moving into pilot-scale and operational testing with our collaborators,” says Arctic Program Lead, Anne Barker. “It has been very rewarding to see the research making an impact, by demonstrating that advanced technologies can be readily implemented, cost-effectively, in our northern communities.”

The Arctic program has made progress and seen accomplishments in 4 research streams: northern transportation, marine safety, resource development, and community infrastructure.

Northern transportation

Improving the Iceberg Drift Model

Icebergs pose a serious threat to navigation

Icebergs pose a serious threat to navigation and offshore installations over many areas of Canadian waters. Once they are located, an accurate method of forecasting drift paths of the icebergs is essential for safe shipping and offshore drilling operations. To this end, NRC researchers continue to develop and enhance the Iceberg Drift Model with the latest generation of ocean current forecast products. They are also studying the drift of icebergs in pack ice to enhance the model’s usefulness in a range of Arctic conditions.

The Iceberg Drift Model was recently shared with 4 international agencies that issue iceberg forecasts: the United States (International Ice Patrol), Norway, Denmark and Argentina. This international community aims to coordinate efforts to use and improve the Iceberg Drift Model to support safe navigation and offshore operations in all waters where icebergs are a concern. The NRC will lead one of the international community’s first actions - to modernize the Iceberg Drift Model to facilitate international collaboration and use web services to quickly access a variety of weather forecast products required by the model. Learn more about the Iceberg Drift Model.

Reinforcing ice roads

A diagram of the stresses inside an ice cover

A laboratory test of an ice beam

The NRC continues to address winter road effectiveness, safety, and awareness in Northern and First Nations communities across Canada. Many communities, as well as mining, logging, and oil and gas companies, rely on winter roads to access necessities, prevent isolation, and deliver shipments. However, segments of winter roads that run on top of a floating ice cover, known as ice roads or ice bridges, tend to be ‘weak links’ in Northern transportation routes.

Ice roads throughout the country are experiencing a reduced operational lifespan and an increased potential for mid-season closure as warmer air temperatures make it more difficult to reach a safe ice thickness. The NRC is working with Transport Canada, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, and the Royal Military College to devise a way to reinforce these important ice roads to increase the predictability of their load-bearing capacity and their ability to sustain vehicle weight. This in turn will reduce the thickness needed to make the ice roads safe to cross. Learn more about ice roads.

Marine safety technologies

Analyzing the Polar Code

The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code)

As the number of vessels operating in the Canadian Arctic increases, there is an increased risk of an incident requiring escape, evacuation, and rescue measures. To properly prepare for emergency situations, safety procedures and life-saving equipment need to be evaluated to ensure they will operate successfully in the harsh Northern climate.

The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), provides many recommendations to increase the safety of ships in the Arctic. However, questions remain about whether the recommendations are attainable. The NRC and its partner Aker Arctic are currently reviewing the Polar Code and comparing its recommendations against existing studies for Transport Canada. Researchers are looking at documented estimated exposure time in Arctic locations and the performance of life-saving appliances. If the research indicates that the Polar Code recommendations are not realistic, suggestions can be made on how best to close these gaps. Learn more about the Polar Code.

Studying lifeboat ventilation requirements

In Arctic waters, water-tight, enclosed lifeboats significantly increase survival chances in an escape, evacuation and rescue scenario. However, much remains unknown about how they would actually operate during a real-life emergency situation. For example, this type of survival craft can only exchange air with the outside environment through narrow vents. If the rate of air exchange is too limited, then carbon dioxide levels inside the lifeboat could increase to dangerous levels and pose a threat to its occupants.

One of the NRC’s research lifeboats

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently discussing considerations for how to properly address lifeboat ventilation. To assist the IMO in resolving the issue, NRC researchers are reviewing existing studies performed on the topic, interpreting the results, and providing recommendations that will be presented at the next IMO meeting. This project will build upon years of Canadian research, and will have a direct impact upon marine safety considerations at the international level. Learn more about lifeboat ventilation requirements.

Resource Development

Updating the Beaufort Sea engineering database

A screenshot from the Beaufort Sea engineering database

The NRC is working with oil and gas companies and Government of Canada partners to develop a shared database to collect georeferenced information on engineering information, including ice hazards such as ridges, multi-year ice, and ice islands. The database will allow ship operators, the oil and gas industry and others to have ready access to information that enables them to make informed decisions on ice load conditions, offshore and marine planning, and engineering challenges in the ice-prone waters of the Beaufort Sea.

The system quickly retrieves public data such as ice charts, weather stations, and climate models. It also provides a way to store large volumes of valuable data, spanning decades of work in the Arctic, which was at risk of being lost as there was no accessible place to collect and store it. Recent additions include a rescued geotechnical database that has 20 years of data on subsea soil characteristics in the Beaufort Sea and ArcticNet’s physical ice sampling, which had been gathered by many students for different purposes, but had never before been compiled in a systematic manner.

Working with our partners and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, we are now in the process of determining next steps for this extensive and valuable dataset going forward. Learn more about the Beaufort Sea engineering database.

Improving ice forecasting with artificial intelligence

Sea ice conditions

Northern communities and industries rely heavily on accurate reporting and forecasting of sea ice conditions. This knowledge is critical for seasonal marine transportation, to resupply Northern communities during the ice-free season, and to export products from mining operations.

The NRC is developing a new set of tools using machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence (AI), to accurately forecast sea ice freeze-up and break-up within a similar-sized area, but over a longer time period than traditional forecast models – up to a range of 10 to 30 days. This research project is intended to produce reliable mid-range forecasts of sea ice, which can be used by the shipping industry and Government of Canada federal fleet operators to support their activities in the North. Such a system could be used to help ensure safe operations, reduce risks to human life and the environment, improve route planning and scheduling, minimize fuel consumption and optimize costs. Learn more about ice forecasting with artificial intelligence.

Testing ice loads on offshore platforms

Testing designs of offshore oil platforms in different conditions

Testing designs of offshore oil platforms in different conditions

The NRC recently completed the first step in a project in partnership with Daewoo Shipbuilding Marine Engineering (DSME), a South Korean shipbuilding and marine engineering company. The project involved testing designs of offshore oil platforms in different ice conditions to evaluate the ice loads, ice pressure and ice accumulation on the different structure designs. This is intended to help select a design that would work best for an offshore oil platform located in harsh Arctic conditions.

NRC researchers designed and performed numerical simulations on 4 different designs of gravity-based structures. Each structure’s design was tested in different pack ice and level ice conditions. Researchers used the NRC’s particle-in-cell numerical code, a tool that has been used to evaluate ice loads and failure mechanisms against structures in the Beaufort and Caspian Seas, as well as many maritime locations in Canada, to analyze the structures with 2 and 3-dimensional simulations. The results of the simulations outlined the advantages and disadvantages of each design as it would operate in ice-covered waters. Researchers used the comparison study to identify the effect of design parameters. The next step in the project will be to prepare a risk analysis of the designs.

Community infrastructure

Modelling sewage lagoons

Collecting samples for testing a model for Arctic waste stabilization ponds

Waste stabilization ponds or “sewage lagoons” are a common sewage treatment method in most Arctic communities because they can operate in extreme climate conditions, require a relatively modest investment and are easy and inexpensive to operate and maintain. However, treating sewage in the Arctic offers unique challenges, which led the NRC to develop a model for waste stabilization ponds that is specifically designed for Arctic conditions.

The model accounts for both aerobic and anaerobic degradation pathways of organic materials and considers the periodic nature of the operation, as well as the partial or complete freeze of the water in the pond during winter. The NRC is currently using this model to help the City of Yellowknife with the long-term planning of its sewage treatment facility at Fiddler’s Lake, including estimating how the lagoon will perform with anticipated population increases and working toward achieving water quality compliance. NRC researchers will collect data from the Yellowknife lagoon and calibrate the model with this information. They will also expand the model’s capabilities to include the quantification of ammonia, phosphorous and algal bloom levels in the lagoon effluent. Learn more about modelling sewage lagoons.

Studying the engineering properties of peat

Northern infrastructure built on and around permafrost is susceptible to failure due to climate change and anthropogenic disturbances of vegetation and organic covers. Unstable thawing soils can collapse, settle or otherwise move unpredictably and result in infrastructure damage, health and safety hazards, and environmental impacts. These unstable permafrost soils must be stabilized or otherwise protected from unmitigated thawing.

The NRC is researching organic covers, like peat moss, to preserve frozen ground and moderate thawing. The NRC has created experimental sites to explore the effect of peat moss on ground surface temperature. These sites have been instrumented with ground surface sensors, strings and loggers to record initial and changed ground surface temperatures. The field experiments are coupled with a laboratory study, allowing us to evaluate the optimal physical and thermal parameters of the moss and assess its future performance to moderate permafrost degradation, decrease the seasonal thawing depth and evaluate peat mosses and thicknesses to suit different engineering applications.

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