Research Categories / Arctic

Oil spill detection under ice and on seafloor

Although remote sensing technologies have been advanced for airborne and spaceborne sensors, it is still challenging to detect oil under/encapsulated in ice as well as on seafloor.

The objectives of this project are to:

  • Investigate and advance the current underwater technology to detect and measure thickness of oil under ice, encapsulated in ice and/or on the seafloor
  • Conduct testing at Ohmsett or CRREL to characterize the sensitivity of remote sensors for detecting and characterizing oil under ice, encapsulated in ice, and/or oil on the tank floor.

Enhancements to Ohmsett's Testing Capabilities in a Drift Ice Environment

This project will enhance Ohmsett’s capability to conduct testing in a drift ice environment. These enhancements have been identified through lessons learned from the past nine years of ice testing at Ohmsett. Successful execution of this project will lead to lower overall future test costs, better utilization of the available test time, more repeatable test conditions, and better analysis of the ice field.

Advancing the BOWHEAD Vessel Ice Management System

This project will advance the BOWHEAD Vessel Ice Management System, developed under BSEE project 1102 to provide an ice-free zone for oil recovery in drift ice conditions. The contractor will retrofit the BOWHEAD prototype based on recommended enhancements identified during January 2021 testing at Ohmsett. The retrofitted BOWHEAD will be tested at Ohmsett in 2023 to quantify its ability to improve recovery of oil in drift ice conditions over tactics that are currently specified in Alaska oil spill removal organizations' tactics manuals.

Research to Support Analysis of Oil Spill Response Plans for Spills on Snow and Solid Ice

This project will develop a calculator tool to facilitate assessment of an operator's oil spill response plan for a well blowout, tank failure, pipeline leak, or other spill that occurs during winter months and results in recovery operations on snow and solid ice using "yellow gear" equipment as described in the Alaska Clean Seas (ACS) Tactics Manual. Further, it will provide recommendations for further research and/or testing that should be conducted to reassess, verify, and potentially update the formulas incorporated into the calculator tool.

Arctic 2019-20 Freeze-up / 2020 Break-up Study of Arctic Sea Ice on the US Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

The purpose of this research is to build upon the knowledge gained from freeze-up studies conducted since 2009 and to build upon the information acquired during the 2017 break-up study, which BSEE will make publicly available.

An Adaptable Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) Radar For Unmanned Aerial Systems To Detect Oil In Sea Ice

As Arctic ice has receded, exploration and development of oil reserves have increased, thereby requiring an effective strategy to mitigate oil spills. PNNL proposes demonstrating oil detection in and under sea ice via FMCW radar by leveraging recent advancements in commercial subcomponents and systems. Utilizing Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) hardware will address hardware reliability issues and focus work on implementation challenges.


This project will study and test the Electrical Capacitance Tomography (ECT) sensor to detect oil in/under ice. For oil detection and thickness estimation under/in ice, where the access to the imaged region is limited to above its surface, AUB proposes a planar sensor design where the electrodes are mounted on a single plane and placed at a relatively close distance above the ice surface. 

Recovery of Oil under Solid Ice

This project designed an ROV mounted tooling skid to detect, inspect, and recover pockets of oil under solid ice, and to scrape and remove oil-laden ice crystals formed on the underside of the ice. The tooling skid consists of a pumping system, a manipulator arm with collection nozzle and scraping tool, navigation, and lighting to allow differentiation of oil, water, and ice. It has a standardized “plug and play” power and data protocol such that it can be used with any qualified ROV.

Ice Management for Vessel Oil Recovery Systems

This project supported the design, construction, and testing of an ice deflection system called BOWHEAD. The system can be deployed on the side of a vessel with an existing skimmer system. This project built upon previous work conducted under a Joint Industry Project that developed the MORICE system (BSEE project 310.) The project enhanced the MORICE system based on recommendations made in the MORICE final report. The BOWHEAD focuses on simplicity, scalability, ease of operation, and deployability, and can be paired with multiple commercially available skimming systems.