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Refrigerated Physical Modeling Incorporating Fresh and Sea Ice In or Outdoors

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The Geophysical Research Facility (GRF) is a 60 ft long × 22 ft wide × 7 ft deep concrete basin at CRREL for fresh or saltwater investigations and can be temperature controlled or remain completely outdoors through use of its retractable roof and dedicated refrigeration system.  Because of its size, year-round refrigeration, and indoor/outdoor capabilities, the GRF bridges the gap between laboratory and field-scale investigations involving fresh and sea ice environments. Previous activities in the facility include the following:

  • Remotely detecting signatures, including oil in and under ice
  • Mitigating petroleum spills, including chemical and mechanical herding of oil in ice
  • Understanding the relationship between the physical and electromagnetic properties of sea ice
  • Studying waves and sea ice interactions
  • Studying sea ice mechanics

Bridging Laboratory and Field-scale Testing

The Geophysical Research Facility provides geophysicists with controlled ice-growth conditions and a technical and economical bridge between laboratory and field-scale studies. It is supported by a staff of internationally recognized experts in sea-ice research; and it is particularly well suited for studies of young sea ice, which can be difficult to access safely in the field.

Success Stories

Studies conducted for the Office of Naval Research have enhanced the understanding of the relationship between the physical and electromagnetic properties of sea ice, leading to improved application of remote sensing assets.
Dartmouth College conducted intermediate-scale (approximately 1 m) biaxial compression testing of sea-ice samples to investigate the impact of scale on the mechanical behavior of sea ice. They found that results obtained under laboratory conditions can be applied to field situations.

A wave-making device, installed to support collaborative research with Clarkson University, has enabled research on the formation and rafting of pancake ice, which is characteristic of ice in the seas of Antarctica and in the marginal ice zones of the Arctic.


The GRF contains a concrete basin, 18.25 m long × 6.7 m wide × 2 m deep (60 × 22 × 7 ft), with a removable refrigerated roof that helps to maintain an ice cover and protects it from snow. The self-contained refrigeration system allows early season growing of ice sheets and maintains the character and thickness of established ice sheets. The basin is filled with sea water on which an ice sheet can be grown to a thickness of about 0.5 m (1.5 ft). The facility is equipped with an instrument gantry mounted on rails that extend the full length of the basin. The activation of a wave-maker allows the production of ice under agitated conditions. A separate basin at one end, equipped with hydraulic loading pistons, allows mechanical testing of large ice blocks.

Using the GRF

Our capabilities and facilities are available to assist you in addressing and solving a variety of cold regions science and engineering challenges.  Please consult the facility manager below for facility usage and rate information, which varies depending on the type of activity and support needed. The facility manager can also provide additional technical documentation on the GRF and supporting equipment and other recent success stories.


Marina.I.Reilly-Collette@usace.army.mil, 603.646.4130
Research Mechanical Engineer

Engineering Resources Branch (CEERD-RRE)
US Army Engineer Research and Development Center | Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

corps Corps of Engineers crrel engineer research and development center ERDC US Army US Army Corps of Engineers USA USACE