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Hydrologic technicians take discharge measurements year-round, which means trekking across an ice-covered river in winter and drilling down into the frozen top-layer to measure streamflow.

To ensure staff safety while taking these challenging measurements, collecting water-quality samples, or surveying rivers, the USGS New England Water Science Center (WSC) teaches personnel how to safely work on ice-covered rivers.

Two USGS employees in neon float coats practice throwing a rescue bag on an ice-covered pond.
The USGS New England Water Science Center hosted a training in February 2023 on how to work on ice-covered rivers in Bow, NH. Here, participants practice throwing a safety-rescue throw bag.

Sixteen staff members from the Maine and New Hampshire Hydrologic Monitoring Program and the Mapping Unit participated in the latest ice-covered river training this February. WSC Safety and Occupational Health Specialist Jason Cyr administered the training atop Turee Pond in Bow, New Hampshire. Attendees included both hydrologic technicians and surveyors who collect flood risk data for the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).

“Anybody that has the potential to work on ice-covered rivers would benefit from this event,” Cyr said. “However, this training does not make them experienced, and all personnel attending these events must work with qualified personnel until they have gained enough experience to lead a crew on ice.”

The curriculum was created by senior personnel based on the USGS Safety and Health for Field Operations Handbook 445-3-H, which has an entire section on Ice-Covered Rivers. The handbook outlines rescue plans and equipment, cold weather gear, and presents best practices for drilling holes and measuring and testing ice.

In addition to reviewing the handbook’s guidelines, Cyr taught staff how to properly determine ice thickness with an ice chisel to establish if it is safe for personnel to work on the ice equipment. If the chisel penetrates the ice, it is unsafe to cross, according to the operations handbook.

The training program also included a rescue plan demonstration, including how to properly use a rescue throw bag, and hands-on practice. Attendees separated into pairs, with one person checking the ice and the other following behind prepared to deploy a rescue throw bag if, and when, it was needed.

This is the second time Cyr has hosted this training for staff, and he is planning to carry out a center-wide ice-covered river training in the future.

A man in a neon float coat drills down into ice with four onlookers.
The USGS New England Water Science Center hosted a training in February 2023 on how to work on ice-covered rivers.  Safety and Occupational Health Specialist Jason Cyr taught participants how to properly drill into ice to gather a streamflow measurement.


USGS staff gather atop an ice-covered pond in neon float coats.
The USGS New England Water Science Center hosted a training in February 2023 on how to work on ice-covered rivers. Sixteen Water Science Center staff attended the training on Turee Pond in Bow, New Hampshire.

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