ARCHIVED - NRC's Cold Stuff Connection (Part III): Even More Ice Research

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February 06, 2006— Ottawa, Ontario

NRC's Cold Stuff Connection

Snow Research


Ice Research


Even More Ice Research


NRC institutes dedicate time, expertise and resources pursuing and perfecting solutions to diverse snow and ice-related problems.


In addition to providing Canadians with useful publications like the National Construction Codes and the Construction Technology Updates, the NRC Institute for Research in Construction (NRC-IRC) conducts cutting-edge research that could make roads, bridges and loading docks safer. NRC-IRC researchers recently developed electrically conductive concrete, a lightweight, structurally sound, patented material, which helps melt ice buildup. Electrically conductive concrete can also be used for indoor radiant heat flooring.

NRC-IRC test pad with snow/ice
NRC-IRC test pad with snow/ice

In the 1950s, NRC employees of the Division of Building Research (NRC-IRC's predecessor) applied their unique expertise to assist the Department of Northern Affairs in building Canada's first town situated north of the Arctic Circle – Inuvik. Picture the challenges they faced driving special piles into the permafrost, adjusting construction materials and techniques for the extreme weather conditions, designing above-ground water and sewer systems, and finding creative ways to get supplies to such a remote and unique construction site.

In its early days, NRC led Canada's Associate Committee on Soil and Snow Mechanics, which in 1945 became the NRC Associate Committee on Geotechnical Research. Until 1990, through its committees, NRC was involved in extensive permafrost and ice research, including: permafrost investigations and field reports in the Northwest Territories and the Mackenzie Delta, mapping permafrost limits and depths, reporting on ice pressures, contributing to and hosting national and international conferences, and publishing key documents such as The Canadian Snow Survey and The Glossary of Permafrost and Related Ground Ice Terms.


Improving Frozen Food

Although most Canadians are aware of NRC's role in developing Canola and improving other food sources, very few people know that researchers in the NRC Division of Biology studied ways to optimize fruit, vegetable and meat storage. In the 1950s and 1960s, they sought solutions to minimize frost build-up in frozen vegetable packages. C.P. Lentz and Bert Van der Berg collaborated with industry and they tested varying levels of humidity in storage areas to compare the carrot's decay rates and tried venting cooled air around the storage room without letting it into the room where it would come into direct contact with the produce. They called this a "jacketed" vegetable storage method, Canada's first commercial jacketed storage method, and large scale tests proved it permitted storage of carrots could be stored for up to 50% longer without deterioration. According to Van der Berg "the system was extensively used in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario".


NRC also has international connections to ice. Researchers at the NRC Canadian Hydraulics Centre (NRC-CHC) performed extensive model tests for Denmark, to help design ice-protection collars for a Danish offshore windmill farm. Closer to home, NRC-CHC conducted field projects to measure ice loads on the Granite Point production platform in Cook Inlet, Alaska. These were similar to the types of tests that these researchers conducted for the Confederation Bridge, the interprovincial link between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. They also provide critical evaluations of ice loads for Canada's National Energy Board, the northern offshore region's regulator.

There's a long history of NRC's hydraulics research staff participating in Arctic oil and gas exploration. They worked on spray ice pads in the High Arctic and were actively involved in the Beaufort Sea exploration activities (1970s and 1980s). They performed numerous field programs, physical model tests, numerical models, and compiled a unique collection of Beaufort Sea reports. To renew their Beaufort connection, the NRC-CHC researchers will conduct ice research this winter off of Devon Canada's drilling platform in Paktoa (130 kilometres north of Inuvik).

The Centre's Cold Regions Technology Group is internationally recognized for contributions to numerous areas of ice research including: mechanical properties of freshwater and sea ice, physical model testing of structures in ice, ice forces on offshore structures, ice-induced vibrations of structures, local pressures on ship hulls, damage to vessels in ice-covered waters, emergency evacuation from offshore northern structures, ice forecasting and iceberg drift predictions.


NRC-CHC researchers work closely with the Canadian Ice Service (CIS) and have developed the ice drift models that CIS uses for forecasting. They also developed an iceberg drift model that is regularly used on the Grand Banks for decision making regarding the need for iceberg towing. Over the years, they have measured the mechanical properties of sea ice for field programs based in Resolute and Nain, Labrador, as well as for Coast Guard icebreakers (the Louis S. St-Laurent and the Henry Larsen).


For several years, NRC-CHC staff conducted research on behalf of Transport Canada updating the Arctic Pollution Prevention Regulations to ensure that the rules have a solid scientific basis. NRC-CHC manages the ice-structure interaction activity for the Program of Energy Research and Development where they perform research on several aspects of ice engineering. As a result of their important research carried out under this program, there is an increased knowledge base about ice loads which can contribute significantly to reducing development costs without compromising safety or environmental protection for offshore structures in the Beaufort Sea.

Did you know...

NRC had a research presence in Churchill, Manitoba in the 1960's?

There researchers launched balloons (<50 km) and fired rockets (150 to 1000+ km) to study upper atmosphere conditions and weather. Originally built by the US and Canadian governments for military purposes, NRC became involved in the facility in the 1960s when it coordinated the civilian rocket research program. By late-1965, NRC took over management of the Churchill Rocket Research Range and established its NRC Space Facilities Research Branch.

Aurora Borealis

At this remote facility, NRC, in collaboration with universities, launched thousands of weather and non-meteorological research rockets, including Canada's Black Brant sounding rockets. The NRC Division of Electrical Engineering produced scientific instruments and other payloads for conducting upper atmosphere measurements relating to "temperature, weather, pressure and chemistry".1 Much of today's knowledge about the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) resulted from the early work of researchers at NRC's Churchill facility.



Researchers at the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC-HIA) in Victoria, BC, are interested in ice too. There they address questions such as "'What can this ice tell us about the formation of stars and planets?".

Canadians are very aware that when the temperature drops ice forms; however, the type of ice that forms depends on the pressure in the environment and how quickly the temperature drop occurs. Astrophysical ice tends to form on grains of dust in the interstellar medium rather then from pools of water. When the dust grains are later heated by a forming star, the ice melts and a spectroscopic signature of the content of the interstellar medium is released. This ice can be from H20, CO, H2CO, as well as other molecules.

According to NRC-HIA's Dr. JJ Kavelaars, "By analyzing the spectral signatures of ice, we learn about the manner in which they froze out – which in turn provides precious environmental and temporal information on the manner by which star formation proceeds."

In addition, the ice formed in the stellar disk during the creation of the planets left distinct signatures of the conditions during formation. Recently astronomers have measured the level of deuterium in ancient comets and have determined that cometary ice and water is quite different from the Earth's. Researchers at NRC-HIA are currently working to determine a method to measure the structure of ice that makes up objects in the Kuiper belt. The structure of the ice could reveal the location around the Sun that Kuiper belt objects formed, thus indicating the ancient history of our outer solar system.

NRC-HIA's ALMA Band 3 receiver
NRC-HIA's ALMA Band 3 receiver

Although there is no ice involved, another group at NRC-HIA designs and tests 100 GHz receivers (devices for use in telescopes and other astronomical instruments). The receivers are based on superconducting materials that operate at extremely cold temperatures (-269 degrees C). The devices would fail if they were even a fraction of a degree warmer. To achieve these temperatures for the sensitive components, NRC-HIA employees use a vacuum chamber to remove all the air and other gases from the equipment.


Part II of this series mentioned the NRC Institute for Aerospace Research's (NRC-IAR) renowned work in wind tunnel testing and R&D relating to aircraft icing. Dr. Myron Oleskiw guided NRC's past two decades of work in this area, which has spanned nearly 70 years in total. Today, the institute is also involved in another aspect of aircraft icing.

NRC-IAR's Dr. Krzysztof Szilder is leading an effort to develop comparable testing capability in computer simulation of aircraft icing. The approach is based on a patented computational method that was originally developed at NRC to simulate freezing rain and ice build-up on hydro transmission lines. Dr. Szilder's model mimics nature, so it is able to predict the shape, structural details and physical properties of aircraft ice accretions more accurately than existing computer models.

Dr. Szilder expects much industry and academic interest in this innovative method of predicting in-flight icing and he hopes that this engineering model will help reduce aircraft hazards, and ultimately, make flights safer for passengers.

C.J. Taylor, "The Churchill Rocket Research Range," HSMB Report 1987-89, p. 245.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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