Ice, Ice, Baby: Ultra-Cool Disappearing Artificial Islands


Humans have used some highly unusual materials to build necessary structures over the millennia, but natural materials are the most fascinating. The ways in which we have changed or manipulated natural materials to meet our needs are astonishing. There are few man-made structures more awesomely unexpected than the artificial ice islands created in the Arctic.


(image via: Alaska BOEMRE)

The concept of deliberately freezing water into the shape of islands is one that goes back nearly a century when a floating ice runway was proposed. But it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that ice islands started to make their way into reality. Exploratory oil drilling in the Canadian and US Beaufort seas in that time period necessitated the use of temporary drilling platforms. Thanks to the frigid temperatures there, drilling companies were able to use nothing more than water to create temporary islands.


(image via: InfraNet Lab)

For obvious reasons, ice islands are considerably cheaper to produce than other artificial islands. Rather than the warmer-climate method of transporting gravel to make artificial islands, the ice island method requires only the cold Arctic air and the equipment to pump the water to where it needs to be. The islands are constructed with raised edges at the outside to protect the equipment (and the islands themselves) from free-floating sea ice.


(image via: Alaska BOEMRE)

The islands can only be formed in the very coldest part of the year; if the temperature rises above -20 degrees Fahrenheit the salty sea water won’t freeze correctly. Whatever drilling is being carried out on the island has to be completed before the weather warms up and the ice becomes too unstable to hold the heavy equipment.


(image via: InfraNet Lab)

Ice islands can be “grounded” to the ocean floor with layers upon layers of super-cooled ice. When sea water is sprayed into the air it freezes and falls to the ocean’s surface, eventually creating a column of ice that reaches all the way down to the sea floor with an ice island atop it. But grounding an ice island limits its usefulness – movable ice islands that could be hauled to wherever they are needed could be even more useful.


(image via: InfraNet Lab)

Although it is strictly speculation, the idea of using artificial ice islands to house military operations, fishing expeditions, research facilities or any number of other facilities is a compelling one. The idea could even be used to form Arctic enclaves for brave settlers when or if humans begin colonizing previously-uninhabited areas of the planet. Once humans are done with the ice islands, they can simply melt back into the sea, just as if they never existed at all. Of course, additives to make the ice more permanent (such as Pykrete) would be needed for anything other than the most temporary of structures.

(top image via: Alaska BOEMRE)