Islands of Speculation/ Speculation on Islands: Spray Ice

[Large Ships spraying Water to manufacture Ice Islands]

[Large Ships spraying Water to manufacture Ice Islands]

Editors Note: File under Glacier / Island / Storm, a studio run by BLDGBLOG at Columbia University GSAPP. Glacier Edition.

Islands fabricated from ice are becoming more prevalent as offshore oil speculation in the Arctic gains more interest.  Ice has been a strategic building material in the Arctic for the construction of roads, airstrips, housing, and, in the last few decades, as temporary drilling platforms to explore for oil.  Ice islands are formed by spraying ice into cold air (below 20 degrees F), and layering the ice until it reaches a thickened state.  These islands are either grounded at the bottom of the sea floor or are floating structures in deeper waters.  Fabricated in just two months, these islands provide enough stability to support exploratory drilling tools including the rig and attendant equipment.

[Ice Island Fabrication Diagram via. U.S Patent 4699545, 1987]

[Ice Island Fabrication Diagram via. U.S Patent 4699545, 1987]

[Typical Section through an Ice Island, via US. Patent 3863456]

[Typical Section through an Ice Island, via US. Patent 3863456]

Ice islands emerged from exploratory drilling in the Canadian and US Beaufort seas during the 1970s and 1980s.  Replacing artificial gravel islands, ice islands offered various unique benefits – namely cost and safety.  Typical drilling vessels are vulnerable to sea ice, which is also a concern for artificial ice islands.  As such, constructed ice islands are layered with a thicker outer barrier for protection, essentially creating defensive walls.  Because these islands use the readily available seawater and cool Arctic air, they are a fraction of the cost of gravel islands.

[Ice Island Fabrication Diagram, construction of outer ring & section via. U.S Patent 4699545, 1987]

[Ice Island Fabrication Diagram, construction of outer ring & section via. U.S Patent 4699545, 1987]

The Sohio test island was the first ice island, built as a grounded spray island.  The mid-1980s witnessed four successful ice islands that were used as drilling platforms, the first being the Mars Ice Island.  Constructed in 1986 in the Western Harrison Bay in Alaska, it took 898 hours over a 46-day period with over 1 million cubic meters of pumped water to construct it.  The result was an island of 215-meter diameter and depth of 8 meters, grounding it into the seabed below. The downturn in the oil industry in the 1980s slowed the development of Ice Islands for almost two decades.

[One of the few images of the Mars Ice Island]

[One of the few images of the Mars Ice Island]

While the Arctic continues to break up and natural ice islands form from calving, we have no shortage of ice islands.  But manufactured ice islands have several benefits over natural islands – namely, the fact that we can place them where we need them and anchor them to the sea floor. Now that the oil industry has economically invested to develop such technology, are there other applications for ice islands?  One idea, posited as early as 1932, was for massive seadrome landing fields.  The October 1932 issue of Modern Mechanix revealed: “The German scientist Dr. Gerke of Waldenburg two years ago erected an ice island in Lake Zurich by artificial means, which endured six days after the refrigerating machinery was switched off. His proposal for a mid-Atlantic way station of ice involves the construction of a framework of hollow tubing which; when filled with liquid air manufactured in a refrigerating plant, freezes the water surrounding it into a solid mass.” The article goes on to state that these islands should also house buildings and offices as well as a landing strip.  Could ice islands be a new nodal infrastructure in the Arctic?  From military bases, to airports and distribution centers, ice islands could strategically be located to go where no land has gone before – sprayed into the air to freeze on the water.

[Clipping from Modern Mechanix, Oct 1932 Issue via. blog.modernmechanix.com]

[Clipping from Modern Mechanix, Oct 1932 Issue via. blog.modernmechanix.com]

The other obvious benefit of ice islands, say over traditional islands, is that they float, and therefore can be moved.  Let’s take from a different technology used by Arctic oil companies – this time in Hibernia.  Hibernia boasts a massive concrete gravity base to counter bergy bits and larger ice sheets.  Still, however, they monitor the surrounding waters and put a call out to ‘arctic cowboys’ to lasso the large ice islands out of the path of the gravity base.  A 3,600-foot long, eight-inch thick polypropylene rope is used to move the ice islands into a different trajectory; effectively keeping the waters clear around the oilrig.

[Moving Ice Islands, via Hibernia Management & Development Co.]

[Moving Ice Islands, via Hibernia Management & Development Co.]

Technologies to both fabricate and transport ice islands open up a series of potential uses – far removed from drilling oil.  Can fabricated ice islands be used to house communal infrastructure that is mobile?  Can ice islands host new cities, or be tourist resorts?  Can we use the technologies in creating ice islands to harvest ice fields?  Can Ice Islands be used as large shipping platforms that are set into motion along various ocean currents?  Ice Islands could be a true soft infrastructure that may allow for ecological urbanization in the Arctic.

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