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How a Wilfrid Laurier researcher is using advanced technology to improve ice roads

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A Wilfrid Laurier researcher is using advanced technology to better understand ice roads in Canada’s far north.

Canada Research Chair in Remote Sensing of Environmental Change Homa Kheyrollah Pour has worked with the community of Délı̨nę, N.W.T. for the last few years to help monitor the ice roads the region rely on.

“I would know how much ice actually grew last night, because the sensor will send this to us. These sensors can be installed in a remote area that you don’t have to be there to measure it,” Kheyrollah Pour said.

No highway infrastructure exists around Délı̨nę, so the majority of supplies cannot be brought in during the summer. Most supplies are delivered in the winter, using ice roads that play an extremely important role for resupply. Around 80 to 100 vehicles a day use the connections.

“That kind of real time information is helpful to us in terms of planning additional profiles to measure the ice thickness, and determining how fast ice grows over an identified period,” Dustin Dewar, regional highway manager, Dehcho & Sahtu Regions, Government of Northwest Territories, said.

Homa Kheyrollah Pour has been working with the community of Délı̨nę, N.W.T. for the last few years to monitor ice roads in the region. (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Traditional knowledge has be used for years to help build these ice roads, but now with research using ground-penetrating radar systems, drones and satellites, it helps determine when weight limits can be increased for a safer and more efficient approach.

“In the past we would use general rules of thumb to estimate approximately when we would be taking the next profile, but having this real time information it’s very helpful in planning,” Dewar said.

While each ice road is different, researchers say the technology can be used for other connections. It helps monitor how the climate is changing and how long the ice is safe.

“In real time we can map it, and then they can look at it on the screen and say ‘okay, so along this pressure region maybe that area is the best and safer,” Kheyrollah Pour said.

The residents of Délı̨nę are also being trained to do the monitoring themselves.

“Community members and youths can use this kind of technology to take it over, and they can actually monitor their own land,” Kheyrollah Pour said.

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