- 1 Introduction
- 2 Route Planning
- 3 Ice Type
- 4 Ice Crack Mechanisms
- 5 Construction
- 6 Development Equipment
- 7 Costing
- 8 Maintenance
- 9 Ice Testing
- 10 Worked Scenarios
- 11 Safety Design
- 12 Safety Plan
- 13 Training
- 14 References
Ice roads have connected remote Canadian communities for generations. In the province of Manitoba alone, the network of ice roads that are constructed annually service 30 communities, numbering approximately 29,000 people. . Ice roads have contributed to the continued survival of northern communities and have made remote, large-scale mining projects a possibility. Diavik Diamond Mine, in the Northwest Territories, for example, received 2,757 shipments over ice roads, amounting to over 100,000 tonnes of supplies .
Activities involving road infrastructure on floating ice surfaces carry inherent risk. The variability of ice as a natural material and the unpredictable nature of climatic conditions create for unique design challenges. It is imperative that at all stages of ice road development, planning, construction, operation, and maintenance, the implications of design choices are understood and risks are identified and mitigated. Ice roads have been a blessing to the mining industry, but lapses in design carry the potential for grave consequences.
There are many factors involved in planning the ice roads route. You need to stay on the most suitable ice whenever possible. For the construction of a brand new road to an operation, this means starting with aerial photography. Using summer photos can show where the water is, and give you an idea of its depth. Contrasting these with winter images gives you an idea of where the clearest ice will be. Conversely, if the road has been built and used in the past using a specific route successfully, there is not much to gain by changing its design.
A main point should be to avoid shorelines, shallow rivers, and creeks. These areas have shallow water, which will make weaker ice and as a result will cause further environmental damage. The ice road will unavoidably transition to winter road areas over land, however these transitions should be minimized and should always be at right angles to the shore line.
In order to minimize the amount of damage done to the environment it is necessary to plan a route that avoids environmental conflict. The ice road should plan to minimize the amount of creek and river crossings as this is the number one cause of environmental damage . Heavily wooded areas should also be avoided to minimize the amount of damage from construction. For assistance in environmental planning it is required that the following stakeholders be engaged:
- Department of Fisheries and Oceans
- Department of Transportation
- Local communities/ communities of interest
- Land Use Officers
- Heritage resource officials
- Wildlife Section of Department of Renewable Resources
- Environment Canada
In addition to previously mentioned environmental considerations, ice-rich soils should be planned around as they are prone to extensive terrain damage. If equipment operates on top of these areas, the damage can be irreversible due to the soft properties of ice-rich soils. The issue with identifying ground ice is the fact that it cannot be recognized through routine surface checks; the use of geotechnical drilling is required .
The design characteristics of ice vary considerably according to the conditions during formation. The primary properties of ice, strength, variability, and quality, can vary greatly between disparate ice surfaces, as well as at the local level. There are four primary types of ice that may be encountered in the field. Differentiation between lake and river formation is noted for blue ice, as the differences in the formation environmental effect the properties of the ice.
Blue Ice (Lake)
Layer of ice that forms underneath the surface layer of ice. Blue ice located in a lake setting has grown under calm conditions, resulting in long column-like crystals containing few ice bubbles. The relative lack of air bubbles in the ice structure results in an ice layer that is optically clear, through which the water below can be seen giving the ice it's blue appearance .
Freshwater lake blue ice possesses the lowest spatial variability in ice thickness and greatest uniformity due to the calm conditions of formation. Consequently, it is characterized by excellent ice quality and superior strength .
Blue Ice (River)
Due to water currents in river settings, river blue ice is characterized by medium to high variability in ice thickness. Furthermore, the action of currents against the underside of the ice surface contributes to a tendency for ice thickness to be lost. This results in strength variability across the body of ice .
White Ice (Snow Ice)
Forms via the natural or deliberate flooding of snow on the top surface of the ice. The white colour of the ice is due to the entrapment of air bubbles in the ice as it freezes. White ice formed by the natural flooding of the ice surface possesses poor strength characteristics due to the high concentration of air bubbles in the structure of the ice. Consequently, it is advised that naturally-formed white ice is not considered in the measurement of the effective ice thickness. Man-made white ice, constructed according to best practices, is considered to possess similar strength attributes to freshwater lake ice . Uniform white ice of high quality can be achieved through the following process:
- Clear snow and natural white ice from the ice surface
- Pump freshwater in thin layers over the exposed ice surface
- Allow for the layer to freeze completely
- Inspect the ice surface prior to flooding of second layer
Frazil Ice (Slush Ice)
Non-structurally competent ice formed through the amalgamation of disk-shaped ice particles. Typically formed in rivers other other turbulent waters .
Characterized by its jagged surface profile that is the result of the accumulation of pieces of ice that freeze together, forming a single rough ice covering. Typically forms on moving water, such as rivers and streams. Jam ice possesses low strength characteristics due to the heterogeneity of the body of ice and unpredictable and non-uniform ice thickness .
Ice Crack Mechanisms
There are a number of mechanisms by which cracks may form in an ice covering. Certain fracture types indicate severe loss of structural competency, while others do not necessarily indicate a loss of load bearing capacity. Consequently, it is imperative that the fracture mechanisms of ice coverings are understood and can be identified in the field.
Occur when the load bearing capacity of the ice covering is exceeded by a stationary or moving load. When the strength of ice is exceeded by a load, cracks begin to form in through the ice. Crack formation occurs in three stages:
- Radial cracks: Extend linearly outward from the point of loading. Radial cracks typically indicate that the applied load is approximately half of the failure load of the ice and that immediate action should be taken to remove the load from the ice surface.
- Circumferential cracks: Cracks that form in a circular shape around the applied load, between radial cracks. Circumferential cracking is a serious indicator that the load may break through the ice. All personnel should evacuate the area.
- Combination: When the circumferential cracks connect two radial cracks, triangular ice wedges are formed that may plunge into the water without notice. At this point the structural integrity of the ice has been overcome and the surface of the covering has failed. The rate of failure is primarily a product of ice thickness. Radial and circumferential cracking may occur slowly enough in thick ice coverings to facilitate action on the part of the operator to evacuate the loaded area, while thin ice may fail near-instantaneously.
Arising from Differences in Ice Thickness and Buoyancy
The ice of the lane is thicker than the surrounding ice, due to the insulative properties of the snow cover. The buoyancy of the ice along the cleared increases as the ice mass becomes thicker, causing it to rise above the surrounding ice, buried beneath the weight of the snowbanks. The bending action of the ice surface results in longitudinal tensions cracks that form parallel with the direction of traffic. Cracks along the cleared lane are not typically of concern as they rarely extend through the thickness of the and they can be managed with repairs. When several longitudinal cracks coalesce at the surface, shallow pieces of ice may be ejected, forming pot-holes. Pot-holes present a hazard to vehicles travelling on the ice road.
Thermal Expansion Cracks
Thermal Contraction Cracks
Water Level Fluctuation Cracks
Dynamic Wave Cracks
Allowable Load Determination
The design and construction of ice roads is complex and dangerous process that must be planned strategically. For some mining operations in Northern remote areas, ice roads represent the lifeline of the project, without which the feasibility of ongoing production may be threatened. Due to the inherent risks of performing activities on top of floating ice, planning must be safety oriented. Any decision regarding ice road construction must involve the consideration of many variables, such as ice thickness and quality, road use, temperature change, wind velocity, number and types of cracks, amount of snow cover and presence of water currents. As ice road construction is a seasonal activity, fluctuations in weather conditions must be considered and constantly monitored .
In Ontario, the regulations and standards of ice road construction are regulated under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to assist in protecting the health and safety of all employees and contractors. The industry best practice requires a risk-based approach consisting of hazard identification, assessment, elimination and control. Risk Management and Analysis of ice roads are of paramount importance for ensuring the safety of workers. The risk analysis will output a risk factor that will be used in the following formula, known as Gold’s Formula, to compute the allowable load on the road surface.
Gold's Formula forms the basis for all ice infrastructure guidelines written and used in Canada. The formula calculates the allowable load on an ice surface, given the effective thickness of competent ice and a constant that relates the strength of ice and the level of risk tolerance.
Gold's Formula P=Ah²
Where P is the allowable load in kilograms, A is a risk factor determining the likelihood of failure and h is the effective thickness of good quality ice in centimeters. 
Selection of A Value
The range of allowable loads, for a given effective ice thickness, is determined by the selection of the A value. The value of A corresponds to the level of risk, inherent in the ice infrastructure, and effects the hazard controls that must be implemented to reduce the risk of breakthrough.
Varying the value of A from 3.5 to 6, for a given effective ice thickness, increases the maximum allowable load, however, the consequence being that the risk level increases.
Once the allowable load has been found to support construction equipment, the design of the driving lanes may begin. The width of driving lanes is dependent on the allowable load that has been determined using Gold’s formula. Example recommended lane widths are provided.
|Operating Vehicles||Cleared Width - Bank to Bank (m)||Driving Lane - Width (m)|
|Light vehicle traffic (5,000kg)||20||10|
|Super B Train (63,500kg)||30+||20|
When clearing snow on ice roads and building snow banks there are consequences that must be identified and managed. Clearing snow results in an increase of ice thickness in that area due to the absence of insulating snow. Therefore, as snow is cleared, the rise in volume of the uncovered ice will increase its buoyancy and rise slightly above the thinner ice beneath the snow bank.
Creating snow banks has an opposite effect than clearing snow, the increase of snow coverage results in the thinner of the ice. This inconsistency in ice thickness and buoyancy between the snow banks and the cleared road may cause longitudinal cracks along the surface of the ice. Through regular monitoring, cracks extending up to the cleared surface may be identified and repaired. However, it is more difficult to identify cracks underneath the snow banks and as the ice is thinner in these areas, this could be quite hazardous to operating vehicles if the cracks extend upward to the surface.
Activities involving the development, construction, and maintenance of ice road infrastructure require a broad range of machinery and equipment.
Amphibious Cross Terrain Vehicle
Cross terrain vehicles, such as the ArgoXTV, may be used to facilitate ice surveys.. Workers driving an Argo while also wearing a winter water survival suits are very safe when far out on the ice checking it’s thickness. A good substitute for the Argo that has a higher carrying capacity is the Hagglund amphibious vehicle, pictured here conducting an ice profile survey. Although larger, it can still operate in open water.
Snowcat style vehicles are relatively light weight, fully cabbed, tracked vehicles for transportation over snow or ice. This vehicle is sent in next, when ice is suitable for pick up sized equipment, but not industrial loads. They are fitted with blow blades to remove snow from the to-be road until the ice is thick enough to start real development . Snow insulates the ice, so removing it in these early stages is a key part of creating a good base.
Once the ice is thick enough, an array of standard road construction vehicles begin work. These include graders, plows, excavators, and water trucks (Wise, 2009). Although the road is not ready for regular traffic, the ice is strong enough to support development as long as the equipment is not carrying extra load, or moving too quickly.
After construction, full sized transport trucks, and even trains of trucks, are allowed onto theroad. These types of vehicles dominate most of the traffic, however light pick-ups, all-terrain vehicles, and snow mobiles are still commonplace.
Costing information for ice road infrastructure construction is inherently variable, given the unique set of challenges faced in different regions. Costing figures have been gathered from completed projects and reflect costs that were specific to the particular project. Costing information reflects an order to magnitude assessment, as each project varies considerably.
The overall cost of ice road construction is approximately $80,000 to $100,000 per mile, based on average costing from the construction of the ice road infrastructure in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay and North Slope projects .
In addition to financial costs, ice road road construction places a heavy strain on water sources. One mile of ice road, 40 feet wide by 6 inches in depth requires approximately 1 to 1.5 million gallons of water .
There are five primary cost categories that must be considered when performing ice road costing: initial route clearing, administrative, ice profiling, construction, and maintenance costs.
A breakdown of cost information has been derived from the Yellowknife Joint Venture Ice Road.
|Initial Route Clearing||Cost ($)||Unit of Measure|
|Plowing, Drilling and Flooding||18,000||Per mile|
|Fixed Costs Machinery (average)||40,000||Per machine|
|Ice Profiling||6,00||Per mile|
|Snow Cats||6,000||Per mile|
|Helicopter Support||650||Per mile|
|General Manager||150,000||Per year|
|Cost Controller||80,000||Per year|
|Machine Operator||70,000||Per year|
|Maintenance Crews||70,000||Per year|
|Camp Catering||10||Per meal|
Due to the inherent risk of working with natural materials, ice thickness checking is critical in determining the safety and strength of any ice road. Thorough testing must be conducted and recorded in order to ensure that the ice roads are safe for workers and will support the loads that will be applied by equipment and vehicles.
Safety Requirements: Until the thickness of an ice sheet has been proven to be more than 18cm for the entirety of the work area, all members of the testing crew must wear an approved flotation suit. Regardless of ice thickness the individual performing thickness tests must wear a CSA approved safety harness, and may never work alone. The tester must have a life line secured to the safety harness. The life line must be a polypropylene rope with minimum length of 30m and diameter of 1cm. While on the ice each worker must carry with them a set of ice rescue picks until the end of the initial construction phase. Workers may not progress onto the ice for any reason if the thickness is less than 10 cm.
Initial Testing: Ice thickness testing must first be conducted at the point of ingress to the ice. Once the minimum thickness of 10 cm has been confirmed at the point of ingress, workers may move onto the ice surface in the confirmed area. Test holes may then be created at regular intervals in addition to spot checks starting from the ingress point as described in ‘Creating A Working Area’. Ice Chisels and/or needle bars may be used to create test holes in ice less than 30 cm thick. For ice thicker than 30 cm an auger must be used. Workers must vacate the area surrounding a test hole that finds the ice thicknesses to be less than 10cm.
Creating a Working Area: Each measurement must be taken with an ice thickness measuring stick. Each test hole must pass the required thickness before testers may progress onto unknown ice. With each confirmed thickness test the workable area grows. The confirmed area must be clearly marked, commonly with flags, cones, or poles. The interval of thickness checks may be regulated regionally. Common intervals are determined based on relevant activity and water conditions. Regulations commonly state that areas within 250m of shore should be tested every 30m. Beyond 250m of shore test holes may be separated by as much as 250m for lakes and slow moving rivers. Rivers with significant current must be tested at a minimum of every 30m. If a test finds an area of thin but safe ice, additional tests should be conducted in the surrounding area to establish the extent of the thin ice.
Relevant Ice Thickness
Minimum ice thicknesses, relevant to ice thickness measuring programs, are provided:
|Load (Slow Moving)||Minimum Effective Thickness (cm)|
|Person Walking (<120kg)||10|
|Snowmobiles (Machine + rider <500kg)||18|
|3/4 Ton 4x4 Vehicle (Total weight <5,000kg)||38|
Ice Strength Factors
The loads that ice can support depends on a several factors including, ice thickness, cracks, traveling speed, water pressure, ice formation process, snow cover, and ice type among others factors.
Ice Thickness: In Canada initial strength estimates are often made from the ice thickness using the Gold formula which can then be subjected to the influence of factors such as cracks.
Where: P = load limit (kg) h = blue ice thickness (cm) W = white ice thickness (cm)
Presence of Cracks: Any ice sheet will contain cracks, these cracks are caused by thermal expansion and movement. Natural cracking occurs throughout the year but is most frequent during the spring and early winter. Not all cracks will affect the strength of the ice, however others decrease the ice strength by varying degrees.
|Crack Type||Effective Ice Strength (%)|
|Dry Crack, Intersecting||90|
|Dry Crack, Non-Intersecting||90|
|Wet Crack, Intersecting||50|
|Wet Crack, Non-Intersecting||75|
Both dry and wet cracks can be refrozen given time, water and sufficiently low temperatures. Refrozen cracks do not affect the load bearing capacity of the ice. This recovery process can be accelerated by reducing stress on the roads though the reduction of transport loads, travel frequency, and by flooding the road with sufficient time to allow for complete refreezing.
Rapid Temperature Drops: If the temperature changes by more than 18 degrees Celsius in a 24 hour period, the ice must be thoroughly inspected in order to determine if thermal stresses resulted in significant cracking, as cracks reduce the load bearing capacity of the ice.
Moving Loads:As a load or vehicle moves over the ice the ice deflects under the load and causing a wave under the ice. A slow moving vehicle deflects the ice slowly, allowing waves to pass the vehicle and providing time for the ice’s crystal lattice to adjust and maintain almost all of its initial strength. If the vehicle is fast moving, this deformation occurs too rapidly, the ice does not have time to adjust and the deflection will be subjected to the wave pressure at its weakest point, results in more severe cracking. While this cracking may not result in immediate failure the ice will be permanently weakened, and upon repeated rapid loading the ice may fail under a load that the road had supported for numerous trips. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, has reported that an empty vehicle traveling between 25-35 km/h often results in more audible cracking in the ice than a fully loaded vehicle traveling at 8-10 km/h. The greatest damage has been found to be when vehicles and the waves they generate are traveling at the same speed. similar speeds results in the the greatest pressure on the ice at its weakest point. For this reason many companies limit their vehicle speeds to 15 km/h while on ice roads.
The risk of damage is greater when dealing with shallow bodies of water consisting of a depth less than 50 times the ice thickness and the shore. Due to the waves interactions with the shoreline, ice road should begin and end at a 45 degree angle to the shoreline to prevent wave superposition and increased stresses on the ice.
Repeating Loads:Each passing load will cause cracking of some level. Each crack slightly degrades the strength of the ice. Frequent loading may result in ruts, dry cracks, wet cracks and even holes in the ice. Before an ice road becomes dangerous it should be closed, loads lightened or area detoured while the ice recoveries. Flooding the ice and allowing it to freeze will accelerate the recovery process.
Maximum Loading:Maximum allowable weights are regionally regulated and often are ice thickness dependent. Maximum loads are the maximum load permitted on a given sheet of ice, however the particular ice sheet may not be able to support this load depending on its strength.
|Minimum Blue Ice Thickness (cm)||Maximum Load (kg)||Load Type|
|46||14,800||Light Traffic Only|
Conditions: Surveying crews have reported 8cm of white ice and 32cm of blue ice. Inspections report the ice road surface contains hairline cracks, dry intersecting cracks, and refrozen intersecting cracks.
To determine the load bearing capacity of the ice road, Gold's equation is utilized:
Accounting for cracking and ice conditions:
The road will hold a vehicle and load totaling 6 998kg, as long as the vehicle is the only load on the road and the vehicle is traveling at a maximum of 15km/h.
Conditions: Surveying crews have reported 12cm of white ice and 51cm of blue ice. Inspections report that the last flooding and refreezing have refrozen all the previous cracks. The inspection discovered a small number of new dry, non-intersecting cracks in the ice surface.
Accounting for cracking and ice conditions:
The load limit for the above ice road will be 14 800kg. While the Gold Formula predicts that the ice can support a larger load, good practice states that until the blue ice thickness reaches a thickness of 74cm loads must not surpass the 14 800kg limit.
In Ontario, ice roads are primarily governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), specifically Regulations for Construction Projects (O. Reg. 213/91). Therefore, the best practice of “Recognize, Assess and Eliminate/Control” must be used for all instances on ice covers including; traversing ice covers by foot, operating snowmobiles, trucks or tracked vehicles, driving over lake or river ice crossings, and monitoring ice conditions during ice road construction. Under the OHSA section 25(2)(h), employers must include these best practices in contracts on ice road construction projects. The best practices, were developed through careful consideration of operating procedures.
Approved Use of Ice Covers
From the bearing capacity established during the process of strength characterization, only vehicles with a gross vehicle weight under the load limit can be approved for transport on the ice road. Vehicles travelling on the ice road must have approved documents, with the weight breakdown of the vehicle, fuel, tools and equipment that they carry. It is necessary that a scaling station is present at the entry point of any ice road to verify the gross vehicle weight.
Minimum Distances between Vehicles and Equipment
Vehicles weight classifications include: light (less than 5,000kg) and heavy (between 5,000-63,500kg). Spacing between light vehicles should be at least 200 times the thickness of the ice and 500 times the thickness of the ice for heavy vehicles . If these distances are larger than the ice road, only one vehicle is permitted on the ice road at a time. If the vehicles plans to be stationary, based on the vehicle weight classification, there is a max time limit. Parked vehicles and equipment should be spaced no closer than two vehicle and equipment lengths for time periods of less than two hours; any longer than two hours is prohibited .
Maximum Speed when Travelling on Ice Cover
Speed limits are a function of weather, gross vehicle weight, ice quality and position on the ice road. It is mandatory that all speed limits are posted, typically with lower speed limits around the shore. The suggested maximum speed limits are outlined:
|Vehicle/Ice Conditions||Suggested Maximum Speed Limit (km/h)|
|Vehicle profiling during construction||10|
|Vehicle approaching shore line||10|
|Vehicle passing flood crews||10|
|Load vehicles travelling in opposite directions||10|
|Meeting oncoming vehicles||10|
|Vehicle operating at the minimum ice thickness for its weight||25|
|Vehicle operating at ice conditions that are two times the minimum ice thickness for its weight||35|
Ice Cover Closure
There are two types of road closures: temporary and suspended. Temporary closures occur if poor weather, surface or ice conditions are present; this includes poor visibility due to blizzards, water overflow, drifting snow, and cracking from excessive wear. Suspended closures are the result of ice thaw and typically cover an extended period of time. It is required that the closed ice road is identified with closure signs, cones, and fencing.
Emergency Response Plan
The safety plan for the ice road must also include a written emergency plan that complies with OHSA regulation 213/91 – Construction Projects . This plan must include all possible emergency scenarios, procedures for rescue, identification of respondents, evacuation plans and PPE location, emergency radios, first aid equipment and emergency response training. Upon completion of all listed requirements, the plan must be approved by the constructor and joint health and safety committee and posted in a general location.
Based on the safety design, an ice road safety plan can be implemented and communicated to all supervisors and workers. It must be a written document that identifies the ice road hazards and how they are controlled. Recognizing the hazard is stating that there is potential for the ice cover to fail/breakthrough under the load of a person or vehicle. Assessing the hazard involves conducting a risk analysis based on severity and likelihood of the consequences; with severity ranging from a fatality to ice road closure and likelihood scaling from high to once in the lifetime. To control the hazard the design should consider adequate lane widths, snowbank positions, control speeds, ice performance criteria and bearing capacity factors . Maintenance, administrative, and monitoring controls can also be applied for higher levels of assessment.
In order for an employee to be deemed fit for work on an ice road the following certification and training must be completed:
- First Aid and CPR (St. John’s Ambulance or Red Cross)
- Ice Rescue Training
- Winter Survival for Remote Locations Equipment Certification
- Transportation of Dangerous Goods - if required
- Workplace Hazardous Material Identification System (WHMIS) – If deemed appropriate
- Occupational Health Committee (OHC) Level 1 and 2
- Work Safe Alberta. (2013). Best Practice for Building and Working Safely on Ice Covers in Alberta. Edmonton: Government of Alberta
- Rio Tinto. (n.d.). Ice roads. Retrieved from Rio Tinto: http://www.riotinto.com/diamondsandminerals/ice-road-12112.aspx
- Stanley Associates Engineering Limited. (1993). Environmental Guidelines for the Construction, Maintenance and Closure of Winter Roads in the Northwest Territories. Yellowknife: The Northest Territories Department of Transportation.
- Safe Operating Procedures for Winter Roads Committee. (2010). Winter Roads Handbook. Saskatoon: Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure
- Infrastructure Health and Safety Association. (2014). Best Practices for Building and Working Safely on Ice Covers in Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.ihsa.ca/PDFs/Products/Id/IHSA029.pdf
- Holland, E. (2015). How to Build an Ice Road. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from http://www.psmag.com/nature-and-technology/how-to-build-an-ice-road> This is the case because on top of being extremely light, and having good range, they also float and operate on water
- ASGC Incorporated. (2005). North Slope Borough Comprehensive Transportation Plan. North Slope Borough
- The Goldstein Group. (2010). Cost Breakdown and Construction Profile: Yellowknife Joint Venture Ice Road. Wellesley: Babson College.
- Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, "Best Practices for Building and Working Safely on Ice Covers in Ontario," IHSA, Toronto, 2014.