Coast Guard Research and Development Center studies movement of oil in ice during Arctic simulation
Posted by Shawn Eggert, Friday, August 29, 2014
COAST GUARD CUTTER HEALY, At Sea – As stewards of U.S. marine resources, the Coast Guard has a vested interest in the condition and protection of Alaska’s Arctic waters. That interest has led scientists working with the Coast Guard and members of its Research and Development Center, based in New London, Connecticut, to evaluate pollution response technologies and study the effects of pollutants in icy waters. This year, those studies continued aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420-foot icebreaker home-ported in Seattle, as it made its way into the Arctic Circle nearly 200 miles north of Alaska.
Researchers from the RDC and their colleagues have spent the last five years conducting extensive work on oil recovery in icy sea conditions in both the Arctic and the Great Lakes, but not as much is known about the movement of oil once it is in freezing waters or on the ice itself. This knowledge could greatly benefit pollution responders, so researchers aboard the Healy tested several technologies to measure and track simulated pollutants during their Arctic mission.
“The RDC and our partners deployed a number of unmanned systems and devices to track a simulated spill that consisted of a harmless, vegetable-based dye and oranges,” said Kurt Hansen, an RDC project manager traveling aboard the Healy. “Due to the extreme temperatures and other hostile conditions, monitoring a spill in the Arctic can be very dangerous for a crew. Unmanned technologies present an excellent situational awareness tool and have a lot of potential to aid the Coast Guard in these conditions by limiting the need to put crews in danger.”
The technologies tested during the exercise included an Unmanned Aircraft System, an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle and two types of tracking buoys among other devices intended to be deployed simultaneously during a 48-hour observation period. Heavy fog, wind and freezing rain frequently presented obstacles to launching the UAS, but even these delays proved informative to the RDC’s research.
“If we’re unable to complete a phase of the testing because of some environmental factor, we can still use that information to prepare for future tests,” said Hansen. “Knowing the effects of the weather on the equipment allows us to step back and determine what adjustments or improvements can be made to complete the mission. It’s better to learn the limitations of a system in a controlled exercise than to show up to a real event with a tool that might not be able to do the job.”
As vessel traffic through the Arctic increases, the potential for a significant oil spill grows with it. Understanding how oil move with ice and freezing waters and having the right tools for mitigating pollution before that occurs will give the Coast Guard and its partners a clear advantage when it comes to safeguarding the Arctic.
“This exercise is critical to improving the Coast Guard’s understanding of how oil interacts with ice and will ultimately help decision makers understand how best to track and recover oil near the ice edge,” said Hansen.