Center for Safety Equity in Transportation

rural • isolated • tribal • indigenous

Evaluating drone technology at identifying ice changes that can cause ice-road hazards

  • Active

    CSET Project #: 2207

    Project Funding: ACUASI state funding, and Alaska DOT&PE equipment loan CSET

  • Start Date: December 2022

    End Date: June 2023

    Budget: $150000

Project Summary

Rural Alaska depends on constructed winter ice roads to travel between villages, between satellite
villages to a main hub (e.g., Bethel) that has critical services such as a regional airport and hospital.
Villages like Tanana actually are connected via an ice road to the Alaska highway system for several
month out of the year. These ice roads support personal and commercial traffic. To that end commercial
traffic can be as heavy as large tractor trailers bringing essential food or building supplies as well as large
heavy equipment for summer development. Outside of Bethel these ice roads are nearly 100 miles long
and thus, maintaining these ice roads open to traffic and despite inclement weather and changes to the
ice is a daunting task.
Snow drifts are common obstacles that are reasonably easy to spot, and avoid. On the contrary thin ice,
and different type of cracks (dry vs wet) are impossible or very difficult to spot and classify their risk to
ice road stake-holders. During the fringes of ice road season local hazard can develop unexpectedly and
abruptly. Climate change is another wild card that plays on ice roads. Warm temperatures with above
freezing temperatures events, or even rain, can change ice road safety swiftly and heterogeneously.
Thus, there is a wide motivation to improve the efficiency in spotting ice road hazards such as thin ice
and ice cracks. In this project we proposed to evaluate UAS coupled with three type of remote sensing
sensors to identify these hazards.
• We propose to use visible and thermal cameras to try to find cracks in the ice as well attempt to
classify wet from dry cracks.
• Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is a proven technology and are already used by the community
to measure ice thickness. However, the current application is very spotty and requires physically
placing the GPR on an ice of unknown or suspicious hazard. By utilizing a UAS one will expend
the survey and eliminate personal risk