Climate Change and Ice Road Operations

By Ruixue Wang, Arctic Engineering Specialist

Climate Change and Ice Road Operations

For local communities and the companies doing business in arctic regions, it is critical to stay knowledgeable about ice road operability issues. In a recent paper, the Ausenco team examined and identified the impact of climate change on ice road conditions and operations.

With a goal to inform industry players about the global warming phenomenon and to advise on solutions to moderate its impact, the authors analyzed weather patterns collected from 1970 to 2013 to determine trends that may be present in Prudhoe Bay (USA), the Mackenzie Delta (Canada) and the Yamal Peninsula (Russia) and to summarize the effect of weather changes on ice construction procedures in these three locations.

Prudhoe Bay Area

For tundra road operation in Prudhoe Bay, a minimum snow depth of 6 inches and a soil temperature of -5°C in the top 12 inches of the soil are required for allowed operation. From 1970 to 2005, this area was significantly impacted by a warming trend. Linear statistical analysis of the opening and closing dates revealed that the operating window shortened by 2.6 days per year. A loss has occurred because of the warmer temperature in the October to December time period.

Inuvik/Tuktoyaktuk Area

The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk ice road presents a 187 km long route floating on fresh water on the east arm of the Mackenzie River and then onto ocean shoreline ice near Tuktoyaktuk. For the period from 1973 to 2013, the Inuvik area has experienced a significant warming trend for the winter season months (October to May). The months of October, November and December showed a distinctive warming trend of approximately 0.11°C per year (or 4.4°C increase in average monthly temperature in 40 years).

Yamal Peninsula Area

The air temperature data collected for Yamal in the period of 1970 to 2009 also shows a significant warming trend. The mid-winter months of January, February and March are characterized by warming of average monthly temperature in the order of 0.08°C to 0.13°C per year. The Yamal winter shoulder seasons in both spring and fall displays a warming trend in the order of 0.04°C to 0.08°C per year and thus heightened awareness and caution is required for ice road operations at this area.

From our research, we note that tundra roads are more susceptible to warming trends than floating ice roads. However, climate change is not a single ice road operation controlling factor. Other factors, such as changes in the government rules and regulations, demand for the ice or tundra roads and improved ice construction techniques, must also be considered. In our previous post we shared our advice on how to extend ice road operations in the spring.

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