ice engineering

What We Can Do:

In cold regions of the world, the formation and presence of ice are important considerations in locating and designing engineering facilities within or along rivers, lakes, and seas - facilities such as hydroelectric plants, intakes, bridges, docks, and flood protection levees. Being able to correctly anticipate these changing cold weather environmental conditions helps prepare facilities for concerns such as frazil ice build-up and the forces of ice on structures. Also, ice roads and specially-thickened or reinforced ice bridges are an integral part of winter transportation in colder remote areas.

Dan Healy
Malcolm Leytham
British Columbia:
Monica Mannerstrom
Marc Villeneuve
Asia and Africa:
Mike Okun
Latin America:
Mike Okun

NHC's experienced team of ice engineering experts, and our cold chamber facilities where physical modeling experiments can be conducted, can provide critical strategic insights for cold-region projects.


  • Measurement and Field Observation
    On-site reporting of ice conditions and properties, and examination of pump station and valve operation.
  • Numerical Modeling
    Detailed simulation of ice processes including formation, freeze-up, ice cover evolution, and break-up as determined by climatic and hydrologic factors.
  • Statistical Determination
    Examination of design levels, thicknesses and strengths, and assessment of ice forces on structures.
  • Mitigation
    Developing measures to eliminate or reduce ice problems.
  • Safety Determination
    Establishing safe ice thicknesses to support the crossing of moving vehicles and static loads.
  • Physical Modeling
    Developing simulations of how ice conditions affect engineering facilities.


NHC experts have worked for over 40 years in research and consulting on ice problems for public agencies, industries, and other firms. Examples of consulting studies include:

  • Ice Effects of Proposed Hydropower Project
    A proposed run-of-river project raised concerns that it would alter freeze-up processes by halting upstream advance of the ice front and starting a new advance upstream of the headpond. Extensive numerical modeling indicated that the consequences would be tolerable.
  • Design Ice Forces for Bridge on Large Northern River
    We reviewed previous documents and calculations in the light of local conditions and prevailing design codes. We recommended use of revised ice forces on piers for various modes and directions of ice action.
  • Design Considerations for Very Low Head Hydropower
    Concepts for retrofitting very low head turbines into existing structures raise special concerns over ice effects. NHC summarized critical conditions and methods to quantify and mitigate them.
  • Frazil Ice Removal from Intake Screens
    We conducted laboratory tests in a cold chamber to evaluate the effectiveness of high-pressure water jets to remove frazil and solid ice from fish screens.
  • Temporary Ice Bridge on Pipeline Right-of-way
    NHC analyzed local conditions and procedures recommended for permitting, constructing, operating, and dismantling a winter ice bridge for heavy vehicles. We proposed artificial thickening by flooding to achieve the calculated safe thickness and bridge monitoring using thickness measurements and deflection tests.

Technical Approach & Capabilities:

  • NHC has senior level team members with extensive experience evaluating ice problems for engineering works and environmental assessments. To supplement our own resources, we draw upon and collaborate with faculty from universities known internationally for their ice engineering research.
  • Our field and office capabilities include: instrumentation for measuring and monitoring ice properties; in-house, public, and proprietary software for numerical modeling of river ice conditions from initial formation to final break-up; and hydraulic laboratory and cold chamber facilities used to physically model ice problems.

Measuring slush characteristics
Peace River, AB

Driving foundation piles for transmission towers
Peace River, AB

Measuring surface ice concentrations
Dunvegan, AB

Bearspaw RAW2 Intake frazil/slush investigation, Calgary, AB

Benefits & Results:

  • Anticipates possible issues arising from cold weather.
  • Assures confidence in achieving safe and economical designs.
  • Protects public safety.