NRC's technology helps forecast dangerous iceberg drift

NRC model a vital tool for Arctic and ice-covered water navigation

October 14, 2014— Ottawa, Ontario

About 90% of all icebergs encountered in Canadian waters are calved from the glaciers of Western Greenland. That adds up to between 10,000 and 40,000 icebergs annually. Photo contributed by Shane McKay, NRC.

Icebergs pose a serious threat to navigation and offshore installations over many areas of Canadian waters. For the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), shipping companies, and offshore operators, the presence of icebergs necessitates many safety precautions and considerations to be made prior to and during travel at sea. To encounter the threat, reconnaissance flights are conducted by Environment Canada (EC) and the International Ice Patrol (IIP) to locate icebergs over the North Atlantic. But this is only part of the required response. Forecasting the drift paths of icebergs is essential for safe travel, shipping and offshore drilling operations.

By the late 1990s, Canadian Ice Service (CIS) identified the urgent need for a new forecasting model that could meet the requirements of modern operations. The National Research Council (NRC) undertook a research effort aimed at developing a reliable iceberg drift forecasting model in collaboration with CIS, academia and private consultants.

The Atlantic Kestrel towing an iceberg on the Northwest Grand Banks. Photo taken by a PAL reconnaissance aircraft in June 2014.

NRC's Iceberg Drift Model incorporates comprehensive physics of iceberg motion, deterioration and calving, as well as a robust numerical method. The accuracy of the forecasts was enhanced by thoroughly accounting for the many complex processes that affect iceberg behaviour. For example, the frequency and size of calved ice was introduced through elaborate parameterization. The development also included extensive collaboration with industry to ensure proper validation of model predictions against observations.

Requirements of the end-users were of paramount significance at each stage of the development. Today, the model is in use by the meteorological agencies that issue iceberg forecasts including CIS, IIP and the Norwegian Meteorological Agency. Furthermore, NRC has customized the model to suit the needs of offshore operators. For example, the model is licensed to Provincial Aerospace Limited (PAL), global leaders in airborne maritime surveillance. The forecasts support their iceberg towing operations that protect the drilling platforms over the Grand Banks. The organization has been successfully integrating the model in their business for four years.

Collaborating with clients and partners, the NRC continues the development and enhancement of the Iceberg Drift Model to meet the needs of the offshore and shipping industries.

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