On the North Slope of Alaska, ice roads provide a cost-effective means of oil and gas exploration with minimal impact to the underlying tundra. Their widespread use represents a challenge to water resource managers due to the water required to construct and maintain them - water that is typically extracted from the lakes that dot the landscape. Water balance and ecosystem impact must be considered in the state regulatory process that permits ice road construction. More importantly, these impacts must be considered by the community of North Slope stakeholders together to establish equitable plans to meet stakeholder objectives of economic development and environmental and cultural preservation.
Under a grant from the National Energies Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, the North Slope Decision Support System (NSDSS) is currently being developed for the stakeholder community to use in the ice road planning process. Development of the DSS is a collaborative effort of academic and industry personnel with significant stakeholder involvement from multiple agencies of local, state, and federal government, private energy companies, and non- governmental organizations.
The NSDSS consists of 1) a cyberinfrastructure (CI) composed of a network of federated databases - some created as part of the NSDSS project and some already established through other data collection and serving efforts, and 2) a GIS-based web portal (NSDSS.net) that contains both data exploration and publishing tools and environmental and ice road planning analysis tools. The CI contains GIS data, field observations, IPCC climate scenario based GCM outputs, and historical reanalysis products. Some of these data types are served through emerging technologies such as the Consoritum of Universites for the Advancement of Hydrologic Sciences, Inc (CUAHSI) Observations Data Model (ODM) system. Other data types, such as the GCM NetCDF-based data files, are served through service-oriented designs developed within this project. A central metadata catalog service provides system-wide search capabilities and seamless facilitation for pulling data from the various databases within the network. Users can add their own data to the CI through publishing services, accessible through the web portal.
The NSDSS technological solution is specifically designed to allow multiple stakeholders to review and reach consensus on ice road plans. Using the web portal, stakeholders such as oil and gas companies can create ice road plans specifying 1) the alignment of the road and how the road avoids endangered species habitats, sensitive tundra, and culturally significant regions, and 2) the lakes that will provide water for the construction process. Stakeholders can also use GCM-based weather forecasts to produce near- and long-term forecasts of the available water and post-extraction dissolved oxygen in the lakes; using this information, stakeholders can build understanding of the risk of insufficient water for ice road construction and the impact removing water will have on lake chemistry. Moreover, as the GCM-based forecasts stretch out for nearly a century, stakeholders can begin to understand how climate change is likely to impact the oil and gas exploration process in the future.
The end goal of the NSDSS is to help North Slope stakeholders build a common and informed understanding of the impact of ice roads on the North Slope and ultimately proceed with oil and gas exploration in a manner acceptable to all.