Ice Detection

One of the most serious remaining risks to tankers in Prince William Sound is posed by icebergs from Columbia Glacier drifting into tanker lanes. These icebergs move relatively quickly and are difficult to predict.

One of the primary objectives of the ice detection project is to promote the research and development of new and emerging technologies that could enhance the effectiveness of conventional radar.

Radar Detection System

In 2002, the council led a multi-stakeholder effort to install an ice detection radar system for Prince William Sound. This innovative system was previously found only on a few drilling rigs in the North Atlantic. First, a conventional radar-tower was installed on Reef Island in Prince William Sound, a location with an unobstructed view of the shipping lanes and proximity to Columbia Glacier. This conventional radar system was then combined with computer processors that can analyze incoming signals to filter out sea-wave “clutter.” In the past, this clutter has prevented effective detection of icebergs by radar. The radar scans west towards Columbia Bay to detect icebergs from Columbia Glacier that drift into the tanker lanes. The signal is transmitted from Reef Island to Alyeska’s Ship Escort Response Vessel System (SERVS) duty office, where the ice radar display is used to verify condition reports received from tankers and tug escorts. The Coast Guard also receives opportunistic reports from mariners and is investigating the value of having a display of the ice radar in the Vessel Traffic Center in Valdez alongside the display of their newly installed vessel traffic radar system which combines vessel radar with received Automatic Identification System information displayed together on an electronic chart. The radar tower was transported to Valdez by Alaska Tanker Company and erected by soldiers in the U.S. Army. The land it is built on is leased to Alyeska by Tatitlek Village.
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Also, a second radar unit was installed on Reef Island. The second system ensures redundancy so that if one system was to fail or be taken out of service for maintenance, the ice detection system would continue to operate. Since its startup, the ice detection radar system on Reef Island has proven to be a reliable and accurate system. It continues to operate efficiently with minimal upkeep. A report providing a high level overview of the ice detection radar and its functionality was produced by Desmond Powers of C-Core. It is entitled Ice Radar Processor for Prince William Sound -- Summary of Configuration and Benefits and it was approved by the PWSRCAC Board of Directors at their January 2008 meeting.
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A Cooperative Effort

The ice detection project is an example of the kind of partnership among industry, government, and local citizens that characterizes many council undertakings. Major financial and in-kind contributors included:
  • United States Coast Guard
  • Alyeska Pipeline Service Company Ship Escort Response Vessel System (SERVS)
  • Oil Spill Recovery Institute
  • Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Prince William Sound Community College
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Each of the participants contributed both project expertise in their field as well as backing from the stakeholder they represent. This cooperative process, along with several generous service donations, moved the project forward with significant cost savings. In-kind service donations to this project have easily surpassed the $200,000 mark. Other contributing entities include:
  • Alaska Tanker Company
  • Canadian Coast Guard
  • US Army
  • NorthStar Terminal