Arctic – ERDC Facilitates DOD Gateway

Meeting the challenges of an evolving Arctic domain

ICESCAPE, or Impacts of Climate on EcoSystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment, is a shipborne (USCG Cutter Healy) NASA mission to explore the impacts of climate change in the Arctic Ocean. The shallow, but extensive ponds that form on sea ice when its snow cover melts in the summer act as windows, letting light penetrate the ice cap. (Photo by Kathryn Hansen, NASA)

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC), Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) solves interdisciplinary, strategically important problems for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Army, the Department of Defense, and the Nation by advancing and applying science and engineering knowledge to complex environments, materials, and processes in all seasons and all climates while maintaining a unique core expertise related to the Earth’s cold regions.

ERDC-CRREL’s focus in the Arctic region is to support Army, DoD and National interests by addressing effects to infrastructure and operations resulting from exposures to extreme environmental and dynamic climatic conditions. Our approach is to extend in situ and remote observations into a comprehensive understanding of terrestrial and marine ecosystem processes and to translate the acquired data and process knowledge into actionable engineering solutions.

ERDC's strategic goals

ERDC’s near term goals are to develop and apply capabilities that enable the DoD and the Nation to make effective decisions in mitigating potential risks to national security, operations and to the environment (marine and terrestrial).

Specific science and engineering foci include:

  • Providing science and engineering solutions in support of military and civilian operations
  • Developing integrated technologies for terrain characterization, including permafrost and ground ice content
  • Infrastructure planning and mitigation of adverse effects due to climate change
  • Systems and materials evaluation and development for use under harsh Arctic conditions
  • A holistic understanding of Arctic/subarctic ecosystem processes

Three lines of effort in support of the DoD Arctic strategy that are currently being pursued include: 

  • Enhance Arctic domain awareness
    • Observe and understand Arctic change to enhance predictive capabilities – climate change effects on sea ice dynamics and sea ice effects on regional ecology, transportation, and coastal infrastructure
    • Modeling ice floe behavior, mechanics and forces to facilitate safe and efficient navigation in ice filled waters
    • Situational awareness of the operational environment – effects of extreme environmental conditions on sensor performance, signal propagation and optimal sensor placement
  • Evolve Arctic infrastructure and strategic capabilities
    • Science and Engineering solutions to support operations throughout the Arctic region - solving operational challenges in extreme and austere locations
    • Integrated technologies for detecting permafrost and seasonally frozen ground surface and subsurface conditions – infrastructure planning and mitigation of adverse effects
    • Systems and materials evaluation and development for use under harsh Arctic conditions – unique facilities for simulating Arctic conditions
  • Protect the Arctic environment and conserve Arctic natural resources
    • Developing and applying field measurements and remote sensing tools to support risk based decision making - Biogeochemical processes affecting military materials in Arctic/Subarctic terrestrial environments; Impacts of human and natural disturbance on ecosystem soil, vegetation, and hydrologic processes
    • Detection and mitigation of oil in ice filled waters – remote sensing, recovery, in situ burn and training

Coordination of Arctic activities

ERDC-CRREL’s research into a changing climate and resulting effects on the Arctic Region encompasses dozens of projects, all performed under a unifying approach and theme: the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH). In support of Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee objectives, ERDC-CRREL is coordinating its Arctic research with the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide comprehensive sea ice forecasting capabilities and clear, reliable and concise environmental information on the state of the Arctic environment. Under the NSF Directorate of Geosciences, Office of Polar Programs, Division of Arctic Research Support and Logistics, ERDC-CRREL also provides engineering expertise to support unique needs associated with Arctic operations, logistics and research.

ERDC-CRREL’s innovative oil spill research in ice impacted waters is coordinated with the US Coast Guard (USCG) Research and Development Center (RDC), the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Interagency Coordinating Committee on Oil Pollution Research (ICCORP).

The ERDC-CRREL also works closely with US Army Alaska in performing environmental analyses in support of training range sustainabiltiy and management, with a unique focus on quantifying the effects of permafrost presence/degradation on military operations and ecosytem functions.

In summary, CRREL maintains active working relationships in the Arctic with numerous federal and state agencies, as well as with NGOs and private industry.

Updated 25 August 2020