Ice islands a risk for offshore rigs in the Arctic: researcher
Massive ice blocks breaking off Greenland’s Petermann Glacier could eventually crash into future offshore gas and oil rigs — raising a major concern for the oil and gas industry.
That’s why scientists from Carleton University and the research network Arctic Net want to study the movement of such gigantic icebergs, or ice islands.
“There hasn’t been anything developed uniquely for these ice islands. So that’s why we’re trying to find more information on dimensions and also the ways these ice islands drift and deteriorate,” said Carleton University graduate student Anna Crawford, who spearheaded the research project, at an Aug. 4 presentation at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.
Crawford is studying a new way of tracking those islands because the current tracking method is more iceberg-oriented.
That new way of tracking of ice islands involves using glacier melt models to better gauge where the islands are travelling, and when their fragments might break up.
Crawford and other researchers have also mapped areas underneath some of these existing islands using autonomous underwater vehicles for sonar scanning — a research tool that’s new to the Arctic.
“We don’t know of anybody that has used anything like this in the Arctic,” she said.
For her research project, which started in 2011 with backing from the Canadian Ice Service and Arctic Net, Crawford has followed four ice islands which broke off Petermann Glacier in 2010.
Since then, these ice islands have been drifting in “iceberg alley” — off the coast of east Baffin Island and west Greenland.
And this is where oil rigs may someday set up shop if the exploration now underway points to commercially viable deposits.
“[So] the main people who are interested [in my research] are any kind of offshore operators,” said Crawford, although no collisions have yet occurred between the ice islands and ships or drilling rigs used in exploration projects.
The most recent break-off of an ice island in 2012 still made international headlines.
“It’s the creation of the ice islands that really concerns me,” said Crawford. “We saw in 2008, 2010, and 2012, very large masses of ice coming from [Petermann Glacier]. It’s alarming and it’s creating these ice islands that deteriorate.”
Crawford described her findings with surface melt on the islands as “concerning, alarming, and surprising.”
Last year she planted a weather station on “a very large, suitable piece of ice, 130 metres thick.” But at the end of August, the station stopped receiving information.
“We had then realized the whole iceberg must have rolled and started to deteriorate and fracture apart. There was no way we thought that would happen,” Crawford said.
“It’s also just a sign of the times… with warming oceans, warming trends, weakening ice shelves, break offs. People in the South don’t see those things but I see it first hand,” she said.