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Fast-ice thickness and snow depth in relation to oil entrapment potential, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska

January 1, 1979

In winter, the undersurface of the sea ice on shallow arctic shelves acts upon the sea bed directly by contact and indirectly by influencing currents and turbulence. The under-ice surface would serve as a trap for pollutants such as oil and gas released from the sea bed. A knowledge of the morphology of the undersurface of the ice is a first step in understanding the sea-bed interactions and in evaluating the quantities, configuration, and dispersal patterns of sub-ice pollutants. Investigations show thicker sea-ice correlates with a thin snow cover and thin sea-ice underlies elongate snow ridges.

In early May, 1978, the relationships between under-ice morphology, sea bed morphology, tidal currents, and variations in snow thickness were studied. At three sites representing three different environments--protected bay, deep, open lagoon, and narrow tidal channel--trenches were cut through the ice. The trenches were parallel and perpendicular to the sastrugi-sculptured northeast-southwest trending snow ridge pattern. Snow depth, ice thickness, and ice drafts were measured and an upward-directed side-scanning sonar was towed to examine the morphology of the under-ice surface in an area 100 m square.

Snow depth and ice thickness vary about 30-40 cm and exhibit a negative correlation--thin ice coinciding with a thicker insulating snow cover. The areal snow and ice morphology patterns reinforced the correlation. Elongate ridge and trough patterns on the under-ice surface parallel the surface snow ridge patterns on wavelengths typically 10 m wide, yielding sub-ice voids of 25 to 47 x 103m3/km2 (600-1200 barrels per acre). Diving observations indicate a smaller set of depressions 5 cm or less in depth, oriented parallel to the ice crystal fabric, and an escape of sub-ice released air to the snow-ice interface.

The results imply that there is a seasonal stability to the snow ridge pattern and that oil concentrations under the ice would be indicated by surficial snow morphology in the fast ice zone. Spreading directions would be enhanced in the elongate dimensions of the under-ice ridges and troughs, that is, upwind and downwind. In spring, gases will leak to the surface.

Publication Year 1979
Title Fast-ice thickness and snow depth in relation to oil entrapment potential, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
DOI 10.3133/ofr79539
Authors Peter W. Barnes, Erk Reimnitz, Lawrence J. Toimil, Harry R. Hill
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 79-539
Index ID ofr79539
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse