Industry News

Avoiding Icebergs: Innovation Protects Vessels and Rigs in Arctic Waters

The ice cold North is burning hot. The oil companies are eager to exploit the area that could hide up to one-fourth of the world's undiscovered black gold. But deep water, ice, freezing temperatures and strong winds prevail in these remote areas.

Here, drift ice and huge icebergs are a serious threat to petroleum operations and the people engaged in them, but Kongsberg is helping to develop a system, called SensIs, that can measure the size of an iceberg, and tell how fast it is moving.

According to Kongsberg, the goal is to develop a system in the High North to monitor ice and ocean currents using sensors on the seabed. The system will better equip oil companies to assess risks and avoid having ice run into rigs or vessels. For example, when drilling for oil, it will sometimes be important to stop drilling and pull up the drill string to avoid dangerous situations. The oil companies will get a better overview of ice conditions, enabling them to reduce the number of production stops.

The Arctic project SensIs will measure ice using a network of Kongsberg’s wireless sensors placed on the seabed. As long as one knows the depth from the sensor up to the ocean surface, audio signals can be transmitted from the sensor on the seafloor to the surface, measuring the exact time of the echo. If the echo comes back more quickly than before, the researchers know that the thickness of the ice has increased.

According to an article by Chris Baraniuk appearing in New Scientist, the system will “track drift ice from up to 1200 meters away using acoustic frequencies between 10 and 15 kilohertz. The individual sensors will be anchored to the seabed and will communicate wirelessly with each other to monitor a wide area around a ship or floating platform.”

However, Baraniuk, while the system could raise an alarm well before an iceberg can impact vulnerable equipment, questions remain about how the sonar-based system would impact marine mammals in the area, a scenario likely to lead to more testing.

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