Ice Operations Support | Canatec

By: Canatec Associates International  09-12-2011
Keywords: Ice, Ship

The purpose of ice surveillance and management services (ISMS) is to ensure marine transits and offshore petroleum projects in ice-infested waters proceed safely, efficiently and with minimum risk to the environment. This involves only a small number of people and a tiny portion of the overall cost of the overall activity, but it is critical to success. The central activity of the surveillance part is monitoring and forecasting hazardous ice conditions and movement; the central activity of the management part is advising on operations by support vessels to break up large pieces of ice or tow icebergs that could threaten operations. However, to ensure this happens over the life of a major project, this service must also involve careful, consistent and tightly integrated management and delivery of:

  • Specialized infrastructure
  • Design of teams, responsibilities and reporting protocols
  • Training
  • Reports.

 ISMS for Offshore Petroleum Projects

ISMS services are used by clients to support exploratory operations lasting only a season and production operations lasting decades. In the latter case, there are a variety of situations that require ice support services: 

  • Development drilling
  • Onsite construction
  • Pipelaying (to extend operations if necessary into the ice season)
  • Vessel transits to and from the site during production activities in winter.


In the field, the IIMS team is headed by an Ice Navigator, a Master Mariner with many years experience operating ships in ice and managing ice around offshore petroleum installations. This person provides advice to the Offshore Installation Manager. He is supported by an Ice Advisor, who is a science or engineering professional with experience in analysis of ice conditions and forecasting ice movement around offshore petroleum installations. He is supported by Ice Observers, who are usually marine personnel on board ships operating in the vicinity who report visual observations, ship data and local metocean conditions.


Following, we describe our ice support package, oriented to long-term production projects. During operations, the following activities are performed:

  1. Forecast Ice Movement. The main source of data is satellite imagery. Analysis is usually undertaken by the back office team with results transmitted to the Ice Advisor. Ship radar imagery and shipboard visual observations are also taken and integrated into the analysis by the Ice Advisor. Drift data from beacons placed on particular ice features provide realtime data to complement the radar imagery. Metocean data and metocean forecasts are received by the Ice Advisor. The ice drift forecast is prepared.
  2. Present Ice Forecast. The Ice Advisor presents the information to the Offshore Installation Manager and the Masters of the icebreaking support vessels twice daily, as well as communicating the information back to Canatec’s office and any others specified by the client. Information is presented in a format that aids decision making on platform operation and the need for ice management actions.  Suggestions may be made to deploy ice drift beacons on particular features. Ship routing advice can also be supplied directly to vessel Masters for all transits to and from the offshore facility during winter.
  3. Advise on Ice Management. In the event that hazardous situations are forecast, the Ice Navigator discusses management actions with the Offshore Installation Manager and the Masters of the icebreaking support vessels. This usually involves how ships around the platform should break hazardous ice features into smaller pieces, put out beacons to track specific features and on occasion, tow small icebergs to deflect their drift away from the platform.
  4. Manage Ice Alerts. In emergency situations, the Ice Navigator and the Ice Advisor implement actions to deal with ice incursion, following the established Ice Alert procedures.
  5. Record Data. It is important that all ice and metocean data, ice forecasts, ice management decisions and results, ice alert procedures and results should be recorded in the knowledge database.
  6. Learn and Improve Performance. The Ice Advisor and Ice Navigator, along with the back office team, need to regularly analyse the information in the knowledge database and discuss key aspects with the Offshore Installation Manager and his team, to learn from the experiences and improve performance wherever possible. 

Developing the Service

Before operational support begins, the following activities need to be carried out:

  • Put in place  communications protocols (and hardware on ship when necessary)  to transmit complex, data-intensive ice information around the site and to and from the ice analysis base – or ensure the existing systems support the necessary data transfer for ice support services
  • Choose weather forecasting and satellite image providers and work out protocols for their operational service inputs
  • Choose ice drift beacons and obtain supply, for tracking local hazardous features
  • Ensure the operational vessels and structures have appropriate ice radars; advise on types of radars and their use
  • Compile and examine ice and metocean historical data to tune the Canatec ice forecasting model. In areas of strong tidal currents, instruments to measure these currents will need to be installed and monitored to ensure drift forecasting accuracy
  • Design Ice Alert scenarios to deal with all potential ice incursions.

Next, the individuals are chosen for team and are introduced to each other. It is important to clarify the relations between the Canatec staff and the Ice Observers, who are employees of the client and a variety of other contractors, but are an integral part of the team. Training of Ice Advisors and Ice Observers is often needed to ensure they perform tasks according to specifications.


Some clients and regulatory jurisdictions require annual reporting of the season’s ice support activities. As required, Canatec can represent the client in discussions about ice hazard management and mitigation with regulatory agencies and stakeholders.

ISMS for Shipping in Arctic and Antarctic Waters

As the Arctic has begun to warm up and there is expectation of less severe ice conditions, ship traffic has increased in this zone. Commercial shipping is not the only marine activity to increase; coast guard involvement is also required and naval activity is growing. Already the Russian side is fairly open during summer months for navigation. The Canadian side still has very difficult ice conditions, which in some parts have become even more severe than before. Ice conditions are and will remain for many decades, complex and dangerous to ships.

ISMS for shipping are similar to the service described for offshore petroleum observations; they can involve Canatec assisting clients with route planning, training officers in ice observation, forecasts of local ice conditions or provision of ice data from satellite images on a 24/7 basis.

Our analyses of commercial shipping through the NorthWest Passage show this is on a threshold of economic feasibility. The main route is shown below.

With our specialized ice management knowledge, we have developed a service for “intelligent ice routing” which can add to the speed of transit and increased security, but detecting, forecasting and monitoring areas of less severe ice conditions. The images below show intelligent routing through temporary areas of first year ice and then clear indication of heavy ridge location.

These services are also available for polar tourism activities, either to charter passenger vessels or to individual yachtspeople. Ship-based tourism in both the Arctic and Antarctica has increased dramatically over the past decade, but regulations, training, data and instrumentation have not kept pace. There have been an increasing number of serious incidents involving tourism vessels beset in ice and on tragic sinking due to collision with ice. Canatec’s ISMS is designed to increase safety and minimize the chance of such accidents.

Keywords: Ice, Ship

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