Ice roads of Canada
January 24, 2006 10:37 AM   Subscribe

The Northern Territories & Provinces of Canada have a unique winter trucking program that is unparalleled in the world. In the harsh environment of -30 to -70 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, (not counting any wind chill factor) men build highways of ice into the Arctic tundra.
posted by taschenrechner (32 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, a lot of the ice roads can't be built at the moment since there isn't enough... ice. Which is going to make it real hard to transport the heavy goods they usually bring in around this time of year.
posted by selfnoise at 10:47 AM on January 24, 2006

Wow. I never imagined such a thing. Thanks.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:48 AM on January 24, 2006

Amazing. Excellent fpp.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:48 AM on January 24, 2006

Man, that highways of ice link is awesome! This series of pictures of a truck falling through is intense.
posted by OmieWise at 10:50 AM on January 24, 2006

[this is good]
posted by boo_radley at 10:53 AM on January 24, 2006

Senn this on TLC or Discovery and / or Modern Marvels about two years ago. What's cool is when they push the season a little longer than they should, and the softer ice creates a wavefront in front of the trucks that as it approaches shore breakes up the ice and the trucks go kerplunk.
posted by Gungho at 11:06 AM on January 24, 2006

This is an amazing FPP. Nice work.
posted by Happydaz at 11:09 AM on January 24, 2006

Ice roads are critical to nothern communities. So much so that almost all large items, stuff brought in by tractor trailer, wait until this time of year to be trucked in. This is the way the new oil and gas pipelines will be built, for example.
posted by bonehead at 11:16 AM on January 24, 2006

It's an impressive effort, but I can't help but think that the right answer here is hovercraft. Initially, the cost would be higher, because we're good at building trucks, but hovercraft would be useable all year.
posted by eriko at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2006

I think the correct answer would be teleporters. Sure, the initial cost would be higher....
posted by keswick at 11:41 AM on January 24, 2006

The actual correct answer is a nanotech molecular assember. Sure, the initial cost would be higher...

Plus, there's the whole Gray Goo issue...
posted by fochsenhirt at 11:55 AM on January 24, 2006


Some engineers have come up with plans for a Bering Strait Bridge, which will probably never get built.
posted by empath at 12:01 PM on January 24, 2006

Great post! Now I have a new career ambition...
posted by bobot at 12:07 PM on January 24, 2006

Even a big-ass hovercraft like a LACV-30 only carries 30 tonnes of cargo. A single big rig can carry more than that and is faster over-all and cheaper to buy and operate than a hovercraft. Canadian ice roads are really only unique in scale, ice roads of lesser magnitude are used everywhere where there is appropriate climate.
posted by insomnus at 12:13 PM on January 24, 2006

On this page is a road map from the company that built the roads. Turn down speakers due to super-cheese Star-Trekesque voice cues.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:24 PM on January 24, 2006

A single big rig can carry more than that and is faster over-all and cheaper to buy and operate than a hovercraft.

On a road? Sure.

On ice roads, where you have the problem of 10 months where the truck runs at 0km/h, and two months where the trucks run at 35km/h, the equation starts to change -- a hovercraft can move much faster during the winter, without the "oops, I made a hole" problems trucks face, and can run for the other ten months of the year. I'd think the inital cost would payback quite quickly, esp. if you consider the amount of money that's spent on recovery and repair of trucks that have fallen into the ice.

Worse -- global warming=less ice=less time trucks can run. The real question is will it be worth it then to build regular roads (which would mean trucks are the better answer) or if you can't justify the huge cost of running roads out there. You would think that if they could, they would have done so by now, given the expense and difficulty of the ice road operation.

It may be that, in operation, hovercraft would cost about the same as helicopters, in which case, it's obvious why they're not used. I honestly don't know -- or what optimizations could be made for cargo hovercraft. I don't see them being as expensive as helos, though -- the forces aren't nearly as high, and you can lift 500 pounds with a skirt and a 1/2 horsepower motor.

Looking at your link, they do use considerably more fuel than trucks -- 260 gallons/hr at 45MPH. A truck would about 10 gallons an hour (obviously, these number change with lots of factors.)

Factors I don't know: How much load do these trucks carry? I suspect they're not near full load, which means they should be getting better mileage. Extreme cold will make mileage worse, but that should affect both. How much so, I don't know.

It may just be economical, esp. with increasing fuel prices. But if it keeps warming up, you're looking at hovercraft, aircraft, or building roads. The last isn't cheap at all.
posted by eriko at 12:33 PM on January 24, 2006

Thanks, taschenrechner.

1998, John Denison was named to the Order of Canada for his work in helping to open up the Far North in the 1960s.

John's daughter, Donna, runs an organic farm near Kelowna and makes pretty much the best salad dressing in the world.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:07 PM on January 24, 2006

That's awesome. Cool post.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:10 PM on January 24, 2006

Great post! Now I have a new career ambition...

I think I saw this on Discovery or something some time ago, and if I recall correctly the drivers say it's a pretty nerve wracking run. It's very slow, and of course your conscious of the possibility of plunging into the ice at any time. High rate of pay, as with all things in the north, but quite stressful.
posted by Zinger at 1:19 PM on January 24, 2006

Great post, thanks so much.
posted by LarryC at 1:40 PM on January 24, 2006

Great stuff. Very nostalgia inducing.

Ice roads are awesome. Driving down an ice-road hundreds of kilometers north of treeline in completely featureless landscape in -45 temps is an amazing experience, definite feelings of not belonging.
posted by bumpkin at 1:51 PM on January 24, 2006

-30 to -70 degrees Fahrenheit below zero

Uh....the minus sign generally indicates "below zero", first off, and are you quite certain these Canadians are giving you the temperature in Fahrenheit? I didn't see it on the linked articles, but generally we calculate temperatures in Celcius.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:37 PM on January 24, 2006

Great pictures here. Note especially the little SUV with big-ass pipes sticking out from it; my guess is they're there to help keep the truck from falling through any holes it opens up, and the little box they're dragging is probably radar. Also note the huge snowplow picture just below it.

The big problem with ice highways is, afaik, not so much a fear of dropping through the ice, but of going too fast: the bow wave can cause the ice to disintegrate, which I suspect is exactly what happened to the tanker truck linked in the FPP pictures.

I should think if hovercraft were a more-practical option, they'd be used: it's not like Canada is a stranger to hovercraft. Our coast guard love 'em.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:05 PM on January 24, 2006

Metafilter: This is no place for the impatient turnpike hot-rodder

Nice FPP!
posted by lalochezia at 4:09 PM on January 24, 2006

My great-grandfather survived three bullet wounds in WWI only to die when his truck went through the ice in the 1930s. He and two friends had driven to the other side of a lake near Big River, Saskatchewan to visit some friends. They had a few drinks and got lost on the lake in the dark before the truck went through thin ice. The two others (one of whom became my step great-grandfather) managed to escape out the passenger side, assuming my great-grandfather had done the same on his side, but the door had been jammed by the ice and the truck went under pretty fast. When they recovered his body they found signs of trauma on his hands from trying to punch his way out through the glass.

RIP Joseph Emile Lamothe.

P.S. I still trust ice highways.

posted by furtive at 4:29 PM on January 24, 2006

I'm a resident of the NorthWest Territories, Inuvik specifically. During the winter when the ice roads are functioning is the only time Tuktoyuktuk has road access, you can imagine how important this access is. Without road access, everything has to be flown in, including perishable groceries, raising the price through the roof. During the winter Tuk stocks up on non-perishables to save from having to fly up stuff like paper later on.

Inuvik has road access during most of the year, the only time we don't is the liminal periods between frozen and unfrozen. In the summer there is ground road access and in the winter there is ice road access but for a few weeks on either end of winter the ground roads are impassable and the ice roads are unsafe. In Inuvik where I worked (a grocery store) we stocked up immediately before both of the no-access times and if we calculated wrong, no one in our town got milk or veggies for a few days.

One winter my partner and I rented a vehicle and drove up the ice road (the Mackenzie river and onto the Arctic ocean) to Tuk. There is really nothing to see in Tuk, but the trip itself was pretty incredible.

Incidentally, there are always a few yahoos who take their snowmobiles out on the ice too early or too late and who go through and drown. The year I was there it was three brothers, all died.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:45 PM on January 24, 2006

This reminds me of a dennis leary anecdote where he talked about messing with the onstar call center by driving into the middle of a lake and calling to get directions.
posted by srboisvert at 5:07 PM on January 24, 2006

Here in Wisconsin, we have a contest every year where the local UAW puts a pickup truck frame and body (no engine or interior trim) out on the ice of a local lagoon, and raises money for charity by taking bets on the day it falls through.

This year -- no ice.

Hovercraft were briefly popular, e.g. on the English Channel crossing, but they're fiendishly expensive to operate. Think of them more like helicopters that don't get more than several inches off the ground.

An alternate thought is the new class of modern airships, like the much-discussed (and not very successful) Zeppelin NT -- or perhaps the WALRUS HULA.

If global warming means fewer ice roads, the tundra may become untenable. That's gonna be interesting -- for Canada as well as Alaska, Russia, and Scandinavia.
posted by dhartung at 8:07 PM on January 24, 2006

That's gonna be interesting.

Not the least of which will be due to a collosal and potentially devastating fart of methane gases as the frozen peat bogs breathe for the first time in forty thousand years.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 PM on January 24, 2006

No sweat, we'll just light a match.
posted by keswick at 9:44 PM on January 24, 2006

The frozen Road of Life across Lake Ladoga was a vital supply link to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) during its 900 day siege by German armed forces, 1941-44.
posted by cenoxo at 6:10 PM on January 25, 2006

« Older A flickr ticker   |   Graph Paper PDF Generator Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments