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Ice roads (ice crossings, ice bridges) are frozen, human-made structures on the surface of bays, rivers, lakes, or seas in the far north. They link dry land, frozen waterways, portages and winter roads, and are usually remade each winter. Ice roads allow temporary transport to areas with no permanent road access. Seen in isolated regions of northern Canada, Alaska's Bush, northern Scandinavia and Russia, they reduce the cost of materials that otherwise would ship as expensive air freight, and they allow movement of large or heavy objects for which air freight is impractical.

Ice roads differ from winter roads in that they are built primarily across frozen waterways. Ice roads may be winter substitutes for summer ferry service. Ferry service and an ice crossing may operate yearly at the same time for several weeks.

Ice road between Pevek and Kupol, Russia.

(Another meaning of ice bridge is a natural ice road or a structure formed during glaciation. These were used in prehistoric migration.)

Contents

Function

Because ice roads are flat, devoid of trees, rocks and other obstacles, they have a smooth driving surface. The roads from Yellowknife to Port Radium by John Denison, a pioneer of ice roads in the Canadian Arctic 1950s-1970s, were largely plowed across frozen lakes, with a short overland portage between the shoreline of one lake and the next. Similar to ice roads, ice runways are common in the polar regions and include the blue ice runways. Ice is used as an emergency landing surface.

In general, these roads occur (often with human assistance) in areas where construction of year-round roads is expensive due to boggy muskeg land. When frozen in winter, these obstacles are easier to cross. Ice roads such as the stretch between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada provide an almost level driving surface with few detours several months of the year.

Ice road South of Pevek along ocean.

Ice roads and winter roads are used where year-round roads are expensive or impractical. When frozen in winter, the waterway crossings can be built up with auger holes to flood and thicken the crossing. Clearing snow (which insulates and warms) makes ice thicker, more quickly. These seasonal links last anywhere from a few weeks to several months before they become impassable.

After an ice road is plowed across a lake, the ice there gets much thicker than the surrounding lake ice, because the snow cover is swept off — exposing the road directly to subfreezing air (temperatures as low as −60 °F (−51 °C)). When a lake thaws in the spring, the ice under the road is the last to melt, and in the summer, traces of the roads can still be seen from overhead in a bush plane, as bare strips remain on the lake floor where the ice blocked light and prevented plants and algae from growing.

Driving

While easier to drive across in the winter than land, roads over water present a great danger to anyone using them. Speeds are typically limited to 15 mph (24 km/h) to prevent a truck's weight from causing waves under the surface. These waves can damage the road, or dislodge the ice from the shoreline and create a hazard. Another hazard on large lakes is the pressure ridge, a break in the ice created by the expansion and contraction of the surface ice over time due to heat.

Ice road in Kupol, Russia.

The roads are normally the domain of large trucks (e.g. tractor-trailer units), although lighter automobiles, such as pickup trucks, are occasionally seen, as are snowmobiles.

Use of ice as the main construction material allows unusual construction techniques: for example, to make a ramp to get the road over a step such as the shore of a lake, lake water is pumped out and mixed with snow to make slush, which is formed into the shape of the ramp, which in the intense cold quickly freezes hard. To resurface a worn and damaged road surface, it is flooded with shallow water, which quickly freezes hard.[1]

Around the world

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Antarctica

The McMurdo-South Pole highway is approximately 900-miles (1450 km) long and links the United States' McMurdo Station on the coast to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. It was constructed by leveling snow and filling in crevasses, but is not paved, with flags used to mark the route.

Canada

Winter roads and ice roads in Canada are found primarily in Northern parts of some provinces, as well as the sparsely-populated northern territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In Nunavut, while there are a number of permanent roads within the territory, the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road, linking Nunavut to Tibbitt Lake in the Northwest Territories, forms the territory's only road access to the rest of North America's road network.

Winter roads in the Northwest Territories, most notably the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road, link various isolated communities and mineral exploration sites to the territory's highway network.

Winter roads may also be found in the sparsely populated northernmost regions of some Canadian provinces. Most communities north of Ontario's Albany River are served by winter roads. Most of these roads in Northwestern Ontario are linked to the Northern Ontario Resource Trail, a permanent gravel road which extends northerly from the end of Highway 599 at Pickle Lake, the northernmost community in the province with year-round highway access. In Northeastern Ontario, some communities are linked to Moosonee, a town that itself has rail access but no road access to the south.

Canada's ice roads were prominently featured in the History Channel show Ice Road Truckers.

Estonia

The Estonian Road Administration is responsible for managing ice roads in winter. An ice road may be opened when ice thickness is at least 22 cm (8.7 in) along the entire route. An ice road to Piirissaar Island in Lake Peipsi is opened in most years, while colder winters permit opening official ice roads on the Baltic Sea between mainland Estonia and the islands of Hiiumaa, Vormsi, Muhu and Kihnu, between the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa and also between Haapsalu and Noarootsi. The limitations for ice road traffic include:

  • Weight limit depending on conditions, mostly 2 t (2.0 LT; 2.2 ST) to 2.5 t (2.5 LT; 2.8 ST)
  • Minimal distance between vehicles travelling in the same direction must be at least 250 m (820 ft)
  • Recommended travelling speeds are under 25 km/h (16 mph) or between 40–70 km/h (25–43 mph). It is advised to avoid the range of 25 and 40 km/h (16 and 25 mph) due to danger of creating resonance in the ice layer.
  • Seat belts must not be fastened due to danger of drowning in case of ice breakage.
  • The vehicle must not be stopped.
  • Vehicles are allowed to enter the ice road in three minute intervals.
  • Ice roads may only be used in daylight.

Finland

The Finnish Road Administration maintains some ice roads during winters. These roads are considered as public roads when they are open. The longest 7 km (4.3 mi) road crosses Lake Pielinen.[2] Ice must be at least 40 cm (16 in) thick before the road may be opened. The following limits apply to ice roads:

  • Weight limit 3 t (3.0 LT; 3.3 ST) (may be raised if ice is thick enough)
  • Speed limit 50 km/h (31 mph)
  • Minimum space of 50 m (164 ft) between cars traveling in the same direction
  • Overtaking is prohibited.
  • Stopping is prohibited.

On the severest winters ice roads have been privately constructed from the mainland of Finland to Åland and elsewhere in the Archipelago; using these is unlikely to be within any insurance policy.

Norway

Over the Tana river there are usually two ice roads from December to April. These roads have a weight limit of 2 t (2.0 LT; 2.2 ST), but few other limitations. There are numerous ice roads over frozen rivers elsewhere in Norway.

Sweden

In the northern part of Sweden are many ice roads. Vägverket maintains them, but some private ice roads also exist. Ice roads are usually put in when ice thickness exceeds 20 cm (7.9 in). The limitations for ice road traffic normally include:

  • A speed limit of 30 km/h (19 mph).
  • Prohibition to stop or park on the ice.
  • Minimum distance of 50 m (160 ft) between vehicles.
  • Restrictions for axle, bogie and gross weight.

The longest ice road 15 km (9.3 mi) in Sweden is in the Luleå Archipelago, Bothnian Bay (in the northernmost part of the Gulf of Bothnia). It starts in the port of Hindersöstallarna and connects the islands Hindersön, Stor-Brändön, and Långön with the mainland. The ice roads in Luleå are usually open from January to April and have a weight restriction of 2 t (2.0 LT; 2.2 ST) to 4 t (3.9 LT; 4.4 ST).

There are several ice roads across the lake Storsjön. The roads are usually open from January to April and have a weight restriction of 2 t (2.0 LT; 2.2 ST) to 4 t (3.9 LT; 4.4 ST).

The southernmost ice road in Sweden is on lake Hjälmaren, to the island Vinön.[3] Due to poor ice it is not open every season.

Russia

A example of an ice road was the Road of Life across the frozen Lake Ladoga, which provided the only access to the besieged city of Leningrad in the winter months during World War II.

United States

  • There is an ice road in the United States on Lake Superior, linking the city of Bayfield, Wisconsin on the mainland with La Pointe, Wisconsin on Madeline Island . The road is about 2 miles long and is used for several weeks in the year as replacement for the summer ferry service. When the ice is too thin to allow the construction of the road, but too thick to allow ferry service, a type of hovercraft is used to transport school children from the island to and from the mainland.[4]
  • In Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, there is an ice road over the Arctic ocean that is about 25 miles long and its maximum speed is 10 mph. It is used a few months during winter to serve an oilfield site on the ocean. Also another ice road in Alaska is the ice road from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Point Thomson, Alaska. The ice road is 70 miles long which is on the Beaufort Sea. This particular ice road is mainly used by Semi-Trucks to deliver loads to serve the Point Thomson area.

References

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