Ice roads play a crucial role in connecting remote communities and facilitating industrial operations in areas that are inaccessible by ground throughout the year. The reliability of these frozen highways is paramount for transporting supplies, equipment, and people to their intended destinations. This winter, beadedstream has been receiving feedback from its clients, shedding light on the warmer-than-usual conditions that have become a topic of concern. In this blog post, we explore the impact of warmer winters on North Slope ice road operations and how beadedstream’s innovative Temperature Forecasting Tool, based on Machine Learning, is proving to be a valuable asset in addressing these challenges.
The Warmth in Numbers
Determining whether this winter is warmer than the previous one can be challenging by merely observing daily temperature graphs (See Fig. 1). However, a closer look at the data reveals that November 2023 was, on average, 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) warmer than November 2022. While this might seem like a subtle change, the implications on the ground temperature are more significant than meets the eye.
Fig. 1: Daily temperature readings from Nuiqsut, AK, USA, depicting air temperatures in November 2022 and November 2023.
Critical Thresholds and Regulations
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources mandates that ice road operations commence only when a certain snow depth is reached and the ground temperature reaches -5 degrees Celsius at a depth of 30 cm below the surface. Achieving this threshold is contingent on a combination of air temperature, snow cover, and other environmental factors.
Enter the Temperature Forecasting Tool
beadedstream has developed the Temperature Forecasting Tool, a predictive analytics tool that leverages Machine Learning algorithms to generate a 30-day ground temperature forecast. This forecast is based on data combined from NOAA’s weather forecasts and ground temperature readings collected by beadedstream’s digital temperature cables.
Visualizing the Impact
In Fig. 2, the Temperature Forecasting Tool provides a visual representation of the forecasted ground temperature. The blue line represents the anticipated ground temperature based on the air temperature forecast for the next 30-days. Additionally, the orange line illustrates the forecast with a 2-degree Celsius increase in average temperature, while the gray line represents a scenario with a 2-degree Celsius decrease. The critical -5 degrees Celsius threshold is marked by the red line, and the corresponding dates are indicated by vertical lines. While the early December forecast shows that -5 degrees Celsius will be reached around 12/19, this would occur two days earlier if the temperature were, on average, 2 degrees cooler and 11 days later if the average temperature were 2 degrees warmer.
Fig. 2: Temperature Forecasting Tool Visualization: Anticipated ground temperature variations over the next 30 days.
Examining historical data from specific sites on the North Slope emphasizes the impact of temperature variations on ice road operations. For instance, data from a site in the Alpine region on the North Slope shows that -5 degrees Celsius was reached on December 7, 2016, and the following year, on December 18, 2017—a difference of 11 days. The average air temperature during November and December was -18 degrees Celsius in 2016 and -13 degrees Celsius in 2017 (5 degrees warmer in 2017). Another site in the same region reached -5 degrees Celsius on December 12, 2020, and on December 14, 2022. The average air temperature during November and December was -17 degrees Celsius in 2020 and -16 degrees Celsius in 2022. These examples illustrate how a slight difference in average temperature correlates with variations in reaching the crucial -5 degrees Celsius threshold.
In conclusion, the profound influence of warmer winters on North Slope ice road operations calls for dynamic solutions. The beadedstream Temperature Forecasting Tool proves invaluable in aiding ice road operators, government agencies, and other stakeholders in making critical decisions. As we navigate the challenges posed by changing climate patterns, innovative solutions like this provide a glimpse into the future of adaptive and data-driven decision-making processes. By staying ahead of the curve, we can ensure the continued functionality and safety of these vital transportation corridors in the face of evolving environmental conditions.