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Duo hope to use research data to make ice travel safer

A two-person team is looking to help Northern communities by providing research on fluctuating ice levels.
A Snow and Ice Mass Balance Apparatus, or SIMBA, installed on Landing Lake, approximately 12 km north of Yellowknife. Photo courtesy of ReSEC Lab

A two-person team is looking to help Northern communities by providing research on fluctuating ice levels.

Homa Kheyrollah Pour and Arash Rafat, an assistant professor of geography and environmental studies and a master of science student, respectively, at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., have been out on at least two lakes — Ryan Lake and Landing Lake — setting up machines called Snow and Ice Mass Balance Apparatus (or SIMBAs) that are able to determine a variety of details about the ice.

“Ultimately, what we can measure through is ice thickness, how much snow is on top of the ice, as well as water temperature and air temperature,” said Rafat.

The locations chosen for the SIMBAs were based on the shape and depths of the lakes.

“As well, there is a weather station setup actually on the way,” Rafat said. “We’re working with the collaborator who runs the station. That kind of gives us (an) overall broader picture of what’s happening over the lake in terms of climate.”

The SIMBAs use multiple sensors to take measurements and distribute the information.

“Every 15 minutes, we can take a reading of the temperatures throughout the whole three-metre-long chain,” said Rafat.

An additional benefit of the SIMBAs is that they send data remotely, which prevents the teams from having to stay out in frigid temperatures.

Despite the team only being in the research stage of their current project, they can already see that the ice season is getting shorter due to increased air temperatures.

“Besides that, it’s not only the the duration, but also the variability,” said Kheyrollah Pour. “Like you have a super cold night, and then two days after you have a very warm day.

“So we are trying to understand what’s happening actually within the ice if we have this huge variability of temperature,” she said.

The duo hope to use the data to begin the community engagement stage of their work, and move past what they deem to be ‘research mode.’

This includes taking gathered information to help support travel across the ice roads with regards to whether conditions are safe for commercial and leisure travellers.

Pour and Rafat have been collaborating with Aurora College and the Government of the Northwest Territories, for which they said they’re thankful. The collaborations help their research project attain funding distributed by the NWT Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program.