Northern Canada is home to numerous diamond mines. Stuck in the frozen north, isolated from civilization, these mines are distant from other human settlements, difficult to reach, and even harder to deliver supplies. Yet for many years, the delivery of supplies has been done over “ice roads”, frozen rivers and lakes that permit trucks to travel over the ice. The longest and most expensive ice road runs 567 km from Tibbitt Lake, 70 kilometers east of the permanent settlement of Yellowknife, to several diamond mines that include the Diavik diamond mine. These ice roads operate for only 2 months of the year, during which trucks must transport a whole years worth of supplies.
As the peak of winter approaches, exploratory crews go out to mark the route, drill ice cores to examine ice thickness, and depth soundings, all aided by airplanes, helicopters, and the most up to date electronic sensing devices available. The practice of transporting over the ice road is so old that this preliminary due diligence used to be done exclusively by scout teams, and the ice core drills were turned by hand.
Think there are no speed checks? Think again. Officers patrol the road and are equipped with radar speed detectors as well as emergency equipment to make sure drivers don’t exceed the 30km speed limit. As a heavy truck weighing many tons moves over the ice, the ice bends and creates under water waves. As water does not compress, the force of the wave may come to a weak spot in the ice, crack it, and cause a blow-out. Equipment has gone to the bottom before, and some operators have not been so lucky as to survive.
When a break or crack is discovered, it is handled in a novel way — a hole is then drilled down to the water, which is then pumped up and onto the surface. The water freezes, sealing cracks and building up the thickness. Historically, small stripped trees and branches were laid out on the ice to reinforce areas where the ice is moving. Today, steel cable and steel mesh reinforce areas where water under the ice is constantly moving, such as in a narrows.