Volker Neth

Location: Lake El'gygytgyn, Siberia, Russia

I managed an award winning ice engineering project in Siberia, Russia.  The project objective was to extract sediment cores for scientific purposes, operating from a floating ice platform in the middle of a 175 meter deep crater lake.  We planned, surveyed, and monitored a 7.5 kilometer ice road and constructed and monitored an ice platform designed to hold a 100 ton drill rig.  After extracting 570 meters of core samples, our client considered this project a success.  Despite difficult logistics, remote location, and harsh weather conditions, this project showed an ice cover can be used effectively as a working platform.

Building an Ice Platform on a Siberian Lake

Volker’s projects are often in extremely cold, remote locations. He creates runways made of ice, ice roads, and other cold-weather engineering feats. Here Volker shares his experience of a day at a project site in Siberia, Russia, where he was tasked with constructing an eight-kilometer ice road and an ice pad to hold a 100-ton drill rig in support of a scientific exploration of a crater lake. The project objective was to extract sediment cores from a lake formed from a meteoroid impact 3.6 million years ago.

Planning ice engineering projects is a team effort involving the client, colleagues, and sometimes subconsultants. Remoteness, sub-zero temperatures, and contingencies are key considerations in the planning process, because overlooking even a small detail could result in project failure.

For an ice pad construction project in Siberia, an international team of scientists, engineers, and contractors from five countries successfully executed a complex project, despite difficult logistics and challenging weather conditions. Project planning took about eight months and involved coordination with the research team, the logistics provider, the equipment supplier, the Russian contractor, and Russian authorities.

The journey from our office in Vancouver, Canada, to the project site took up to eight days, depending on weather conditions and helicopter availability. Our route took us from Vancouver to Berlin, then through Russia—Moscow, Surgut (for refuelling), and finally Pevek (at the Arctic Ocean), where we boarded a helicopter to fly to the lake. I stayed in Siberia for six weeks, flew back to Vancouver for three weeks, and returned to the site for another six weeks.

Though this project site is particularly remote and presented additional logistical challenges, a typical day on the site is fairly similar to other ice engineering projects.

A Day in the Field: Constructing the Ice Pad

Volker Neth
Principal Specialist, Ice Engineering
Field Work Location:
Siberia, Russia
Constructing an ice platform and eight-kilometer ice road on a crater lake in Siberia, Russia
Living Quarters:
Camp included a kitchen/dining unit, office, sauna, generator shack, outhouses, and 14 housing units that each consisted of a shared sleeping room, water tank with sink, and vestibule with coal stove and coal storage. The outer skin of the units was constructed of plywood with some insulation and plenty of holes and cracks!
-35°C to -45°C, high winds, frequent and sudden white-out conditions
Satellite phone, daily weather forecast from Pevek, sporadic email access
Housing inside temperature: 5°C to 7°C
Get up, brush teeth, wash face, get into Arctic gear
Record outside temperature
Discuss day’s work plan
Start oven in office building
Check emails and weather forecast, make phone calls
Check equipment, get fuel, discuss transportation to ice pad with Russian helpers
Travel to ice pad over the lake
Check markers and take ice temperature readings along ice road
Heat building at ice pad
Prepare ice auger and flooding pumps
Ice thickening—take ice thickness and temperature readings, drill holes and install pumps for flooding, manage snow accumulation on the ice pad
Travel back to camp
Start oven in housing unit using coal/snow/rock mix
Dry wet clothing from flooding and relax
Office work, preparing daily progress report and emailing it to stakeholders
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