While many places on Earth have dirt or asphalt roads that are maintained, more remote locations aren’t so lucky, especially in the north. Some of these locations rely on roads made of ice to be able to travel freely and ensure that goods and services are able to reach people regularly. So, what goes into ice road building?
Below, we break down how ice roads are actually built and how they are maintained.
What Goes Into Ice Road Building?
Safety is one of the biggest factors that is a huge priority when roads are first being built. The condition of the ice is thoroughly inspected in November and early in December. This is done with inspectors using an amphibious all-terrain vehicle that is designed to be very light so as not to break the ice.
These inspectors then use simple equipment, like hand drills or ice augurs, to determine how deep the ice is, and where a road could feasibly be supported by thick enough ice. They’re also equipped with survival suits that can help save them if they accidentally fall through thin sections of ice.
Once the ice forms to the point where it’s thick enough to support vehicle traffic, an “ice profiler” is used. This machine is essentially a version of radar that tracks the thickness of ice they’re travelling over. Using it, the inspectors can chart the safest road that offers the path with the thickest ice. The premise is similar to that of boat radar which tracks the depth of the ground below the water to avoid running aground.
After the route is determined, snowcats, or similar tracked vehicles, clear snow from the top of the ice so that the ice firms up. Typically, after about 2 weeks, the road is considered safe to travel and is opened to the public.
How Ice Roads Are Maintained
Once a road is set up, the same type of snowcats will clear it as needed. If roads need a patch job, or even just need to be reinforced with additional ice, water delivery trucks are commonly used to spray water over the road and improve the thickness.
Ice road travel is not without its risks but built properly they can help connected cities and other municipalities to crucial goods and services.