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Airborne Ice Thickness Measurement System Project

Creating an early warning system for offshore facilities and vessels facing encroaching ice and extreme ice features

Supported in part by ACOA’s Atlantic Innovation Fund, C-CORE is leading a five-phase project to develop an Airborne Ice thickness Measurement System (AIMS). Working in collaboration with Provincial Aerospace Ltd., Rutter Inc. and DeltaRadar Ltd., C‑CORE is developing and will commercialize the novel system, which gathers and integrates radar data to provide ice thickness maps over large areas in real time.

From sea lift to natural resource exploitation to tourism, human activity is increasing in Arctic and other northern oceans, with the potential to powerfully shape the future of Earth’s last great frontier. As the polar world experiences change, the choices Arctic states make about building modern infrastructure, developing economic resources and protecting ecosystems will define the Arctic for the twenty-first century and beyond.

Increasing human activity in Arctic waters means increasing potential for large ice floes and associated extreme ice features (such as trapped icebergs and the mountainous ridges and gouging keels formed as ice sheets collide) to encroach on man-made structures. The severity and variability of ice conditions is an important factor in designing marine structures for Arctic deployment, determining ice management requirements for logistical support and bulk transport vessels, selecting shipping routes, and guiding incident response (particularly search and rescue and oil spills).

Vessels and fixed structures need an early warning system to distinguish between young, thin ice that poses little threat and older, thicker ice posing significant threat, so that mitigation measures can be taken in a safe and timely manner.

To address this need, C-CORE first looked to existing technology, dusting off our 1980s research into technology from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL). Thus, the AIMS concept was born. At its heart is a novel ice thickness measurement device suitable for deployment on a fixed-wing aircraft, combining two radar sensors – a custom-built ice-penetrating (impulse) radar for ice thickness measurement and an X-band polarimetric synthetic aperture radar (polSAR) for surveying large areas. While impulse radar and SAR are mature technologies, they have not yet been integrated to combine the information from both systems into a common ice map. C-CORE is working with PAL, Deltaradar and Rutter to develop the processing and fusion algorithms to integrate the radar data and generate tactical real-time ice thickness maps over the surveyed area.

Over the next two to three years, C-CORE will build the prototype instruments and Provincial Aerospace will test them. In addition to filling an identified need in the oil and gas industry, AIMS will help the shipping industry manage ice and mitigate risk, as well as support search and rescue operations. It will also advance knowledge and science relevant to strategically, economically, environmentally and traditionally important arctic regions. 

LEFT: Ridges forming in Sea ice (Image credit: C-CORE)