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Smart Solutions for Challenging Environments


SmartICE wins Arctic Inspiration Prize!

C-CORE contributes to Sea-ice Monitoring and Real-Time information for Coastal Environments

SmartICE (Sea-ice Monitoring and Real-Time information for Coastal Environments) is a climate change adaptation tool and social enterprise project developed in consultation with northern peoples and communities, and now being piloted in Nain, Nunatsiavut and Pond Inlet, Nunavut.  Partners include ArcticNet, the Nunatsiavut Government, Memorial University, C-CORE, Ikaarvik: Barriers to Bridges, and the Canadian Ice Service. In December 2016, SmartICE was honoured with the Arctic Inspiration Prize, which recognizes research and projects that translate knowledge into action for the benefit of the people of the Canadian Arctic.

Above Right: C-CORE Ice researcher and SmartICE team member, Dr. Robert Briggs

Sea ice is extremely important to northern coastal communities. For Inuit, sea ice is a central part of their culture, community and livelihood. Land-fast ice (coastal sea ice attached to the land) is a transportation corridor during the fall, winter and spring. Sinaaq (the name the Inuit give to the ice edge, where frozen sea meets open ocean) is one of the most dramatic and dynamic ecosystems on Earth. It is also central to northern traditional and modern economies: families fish and hunt traditional foods; the commercial fishery benefits from an abundance of turbot, shrimp and Arctic char; and an emerging adventure tourism industry thrives. For resource industries and marine shipping (including sea lift), sea ice represents operational risk and potential delay; accurate information on ice conditions, especially freeze-up and break-up is critical for safe and efficient route planning. Where traditional Inuit and marine shipping routes overlap, additional planning is needed to avoid breaking safe travel ice.

ABOVE LEFT: SmartICE researcher adjusts the mobile sea-ice thickness profiler on the SmartQAMUTIK during equipment trials off Pond Inlet in 2016. (Image credit: SmartICE 2016)

Climate change is altering the historic timing of sea-ice freeze-up and break-up and the location fast ice and sea ice edges.  In this dynamic environment, modern technology can supplement traditional knowledge to help ensure safe and efficient navigation for all travellers, both over and through the ice: identifying locations of interest on the ice edge and selecting the best route around ice ridges and open water helps minimize travel time, fuel costs and equipment wear, as well as helps maximize the safety of travel on the ice. Knowing where the ice is fast and where it may fracture during the melt-out period is also critical for successful search and rescue operations.

SmartICE not only contributes to safe and healthy communities, but also enables local economic development and reduces costs for government services such as sea lift and emergency management, while reflecting Inuit societal values.

The main elements of a SmartICE information system are:

·        A network of sensors that measure sea ice thickness and other community/industry defined variables, frozen into the ice at designated locations, which transmit daily data via satellite to a central server. These simple, low-cost sensors remain in place all season, operating through the most dangerous periods for over-ice travel. They are tracked and recovered after sea ice break-up.  This network is supplemented by the SmartQAMUTIK, a sled-borne electromagnetic sensor, designed for dragging behind a snowmobile.

·        Repeat Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imagery from which sea-ice surface conditions (concentration, roughness, water content, etc.) are mapped following user-defined classification criteria (go, slow go and no go, key features, hazardous areas, etc.).

·        Data management and visualization system  that integrates the fine-scale sensor network data and the broad scale classified satellite data to generate raw and processed digital products that match the needs of user groups, from ice navigation managers to Inuit ice experts to recreational ice users. Community-based ice information maps/products are created and are to be made available online for those who use the ice as a method of travel.  The data is presented in layers, allowing different data fields to be viewed over a base map of the study location. Printed maps are posted in local gathering spaces such as stores and public buildings, identifying areas with a simple traffic light system: areas with thick ice that are relatively safe for travel appear in green, areas requiring more caution appear in orange, and "no-go" spots are red.   With up-to-date satellite imagery, near real-time on ice observations through pictures and video, sensor measurements at key locations and weather data considerations, SmartICE products capture the current state of the sea-ice at a community level.  

C-CORE’s principal contributions to the project centre on sensor development and production, assistance in the deployment and field trials of the sensors, and, through the integration of the various data feeds and remote sensing expertise, production of the SmartICE maps.

Community involvement is integral to the SmartICE concept: local researchers consult the community on where to place the sensors and also operate the SmartQAMUTIK, manage download of sensor and satellite data to the SmartICE server, and distribute the user-friendly maps it produces. The local researchers also engage other community members in their on-ice runs, teaching them how the instruments work, with the ultimate goal of building community capacity to operate the system throughout the Arctic. Project lead Dr. Trevor Bell of Memorial University also envisions the production of SmartICE technology by Inuit youth in northern communities who will learn, in addition to traditional knowledge, technical skills to help reduce employment barriers.