GEOLOGY & GEOPHYSICS
Ice data management system
improves Arctic operations
Operators can now accurately pinpoint dangerous ice incursions
More than 100 years ago when the Titanic struck an ice- berg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, the only ice detection technologies available to the captain and crew were visual sightings and wireless transmissions in Morse Code from other vessels. Over time, additional ice
detection technologies have emerged to protect cruise vessels and
other commercial operations from the threat of sea ice and icebergs.
These include aerial photography, marine radar, satellite imaging,
infra-red cameras, weather bulletins, and sea ice charts from government agencies and service providers.
With so much ice data available, the risk of a collision today would
seem remote. Nevertheless, in recent decades, collisions with icebergs
have occurred at a rate of more than two per year. Why? More tourists
are visiting Antarctica each year; a growing number of commercial vessels take the Northern Sea Route across the Russian Arctic to reduce
time and fuel costs; and because the US Geological Survey estimates
that one-quarter of the planet’s undiscovered but technically recoverable hydrocarbons lie above the Arctic Circle. With the intensification
of maritime activity in ice-prone waters, the risk increases.
Even with many sources of ice data, a single piece of missing or overlooked information can lead to a collision. In 2007, the MS Explorer, an
ice-reinforced cruise ship, sank in the Antarctic Ocean due to a misjudgment. The captain and crew were experienced ice navigators, but
they underestimated the thickness and density of sea ice they began
to plow through one night. They mistakenly believed that they were
entering a thin first-year sea ice field and maintained full speed. The
vessel then struck a 15-ft ( 4.6-m) “wall” of older, harder glacial ice that
exceeded the Explorer’s ice classification, slicing open the hull. The ship
sank days later. All passengers and crew were rescued safely.
One reason ship captains and professional ice observers can still
misjudge ice conditions is that, even today, most of them still depend
largely on a disparate mix of manual methods to make sense of diverse ice information. This is, however, no longer the only option.
In 2011 and 2012, an E&P operator conducted site surveying, scientific coring, and high-resolution seismic streamer operations near the
coast of Greenland. In this area, the frequent presence of both large
and small icebergs needs to be carefully managed in order to keep
personnel and equipment safe. To assess the risks from hour to hour,
Relevant ice information was automatically updated via ION’s remote
data-hosting service and combined, in multiple GIS layers including
marine radar, on a single screen. Geo-referenced map and satellite data
were blended with temporal dimensions in an animated “calendar” or
time-slider. Using existing ice data, Narwhal predicted iceberg positions
The standard manual method used to display iceberg observations.
(All images courtesy ION Geophysical)
Narwhal’s display shows
a marine radar signal
with four icebergs approaching the vessel during the operator’s 2014
operations. Note the red
0.5 nm circular exclusion
zone and the green alert