I. Introduction

With the discovery of a major oil deposit on the North Slope of Alaska in 1968, industry began to work the transportation problem from this remote area to markets on the East and West Coasts. Various transportation systems were considered i.e. truck, rail, dirigibles, submarines, barges, tankers, pipelines etc. but it was immediately apparent that one viable solution was a pipeline to an ice free port in Southern Alaska and thence by conventional tanker to the West Coast. See Figure 1. The other most logical alternative appeared to be transporting the oil by tanker directly from a North Slope terminal to the East and West Coast. Inasmuch as screening type economics indicated that this method could be attractive, a Task Force was appointed in Humble to investigate the feasibility of aMarine operation. The result of these investigations revealed that a great deal of data regarding the Northwest Passage had been collected in various governmental agencies in both the United States and Canada, but that no concentrated effort had been made to centralize this information.

a. Arctic Ice Conditions

Analysis of the Arctic ice conditions revealed that at its maximum extent during the ice season, ice requiring icebreaker capability for shipping extends from the Bering Sea northward through the Arctic region to a point about halfway down Davis Strait between Greenland and Baffin Island. At its minimum during the third quarter of the year, the ice recedes to Point Barrow and above, and open water can be encountered anywhere along the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. In practice, however, any continuous ship transit would encounter substantial amounts of moving ice even during this minimum period.

Up to 10% of open water exists in the Arctic Ocean during the winter months and open water is likely even in the winter along the West Coast of Banks Island and at the Western entrance of McClure Strait. In the Beaufort Sea the polar ice is in a constant clockwise rotation and moves westward along the North Slope of Alaska about 80% of the time. This westward drift along the North Slope is occasionally changed for short periods by changes inthe wind direction. Especially in the drift ice zone on the southern side of the Polar Pack and the broken land fast ice close to shore the wind effect can reverse the westward direction. Through the Canadian Arctic Islands, the ice is essentially static in Melville Sound after consolidation occurs in late December until early June when the melt season begins. The heaviest or thickest ice prevails during the April through June period just prior to the last of the melt period Once started, the ice melt proceeds rapidly creating areas of open water with resultant ice movement under the forces of the wind.

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