• Arctic sea ice trafficability: new strategies for a changing icescape

      Dammann, Dyre Oliver; Eicken, Hajo; Mahoney, Andrew R.; Meyer, Franz J.; Bhatt, Uma S.; Meek, Chanda L. (2017-08)
      Sea ice is an important part of the Arctic social-environmental system, in part because it provides a platform for human transportation and for marine flora and fauna that use the ice as a habitat. Sea ice loss projected for coming decades is expected to change ice conditions throughout the Arctic, but little is known about the nature and extent of anticipated changes and in particular potential implications for over-ice travel and ice use as a platform. This question has been addressed here through an extensive effort to link sea ice use and key geophysical properties of sea ice, drawing upon extensive field surveys around on-ice operations and local and Indigenous knowledge for the widely different ice uses and ice regimes of Utqiaġvik, Kotzebue, and Nome, Alaska. A set of nine parameters that constrain landfast sea ice use has been derived, including spatial extent, stability, and timing and persistence of landfast ice. This work lays the foundation for a framework to assess and monitor key ice-parameters relevant in the context of ice-use feasibility, safety, and efficiency, drawing on different remote-sensing techniques. The framework outlines the steps necessary to further evaluate relevant parameters in the context of user objectives and key stakeholder needs for a given ice regime and ice use scenario. I have utilized this framework in case studies for three different ice regimes, where I find uses to be constrained by ice thickness, roughness, and fracture potential and develop assessment strategies with accuracy at the relevant spatial scales. In response to the widely reported importance of high-confidence ice thickness measurements, I have developed a new strategy to estimate appropriate thickness compensation factors. Compensation factors have the potential to reduce risk of misrepresenting areas of thin ice when using point-based in-situ assessment methods along a particular route. This approach was tested on an ice road near Kotzebue, Alaska, where substantial thickness variability results in the need to raise thickness thresholds by 50%. If sea ice is thick enough for safe travel, then the efficiency of travel is relevant and is influenced by the roughness of the ice surface. Here, I develop a technique to derive trafficability measures from ice roughness using polarimetric and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (SAR). Validated using Structure-from-Motion analysis of imagery obtained from an unmanned aerial system near Utqiaġvik, Alaska, I demonstrate the ability of these SAR techniques to map both topography and roughness with potential to guide trail construction efforts towards more trafficable ice. Even when the ice is sufficiently thick to ensure safe travel, potential for fracturing can be a serious hazard through the ability of cracks to compromise load-bearing capacity. Therefore, I have created a state-of-the-art technique using interferometric SAR to assess ice stability with capability of assessing internal ice stress and potential for failure. In an analysis of ice deformation and potential hazards for the Northstar Island ice road near Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope I have identified a zone of high relative fracture intensity potential that conformed with road inspections and hazard assessments by the operator. Through this work I have investigated the intersection between ice use and geophysics, demonstrating that quantitative evaluation of a given region in the ice use assessment framework developed here can aid in tactical routing of ice trails and roads as well as help inform long-term strategic decision-making regarding the future of Arctic operations on or near sea ice.