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A New Challenge to Arctic Cable Installation--Frazil Ice

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Abstract

With the expected warming of the Arctic, and the rush to take advantage of the lessoned ice conditions, several cable systems have been planned to utilize this new shorter trans Asia-Europe route. However, installing cables in the Arctic still have a myriad of engineering challenges presented by the Arctic’s unique environmental attributes. Issues such as destructive deep scour by pack ice keels and ice bergs, strudel scour, short installation window, adverse weather, shoreline erosion, have been widely recognized, studied, and generally engineering contingencies have been developed. Yet another, very unique phenomena called frazil ice was recently encountered on a newly installed cable system in Southwest Alaska. Frazil ice potentially poses new engineering challenges for submarine cable installations in the Arctic environment. It is ice that forms in the water column rather than the well-known, buoyant, crystalline structure of frozen water that forms on the surface. The implications for submarine cables are that when enough ice forms on the cable, the cable becomes buoyant, and floats to the surface. Once the cable has been lifted off the bottom, there is high risk that the cable will break or fault when coming into contact with moving surface ice, or become damaged when moved by ocean currents. Solutions to this problem include burying or armoring the cable (by using a very heavily armored cable or the application of iron split pipe protection), installing plastic split pipe protection (such as Uraduct®—frazil ice does not adhere well to plastics) and physically anchoring (pinning) the cable to the bottom. To date, more study needs to be completed on which method provides the best and most affordable solution.
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