Winter Roads, Travel on Ice, Snow Drifting and Permafrost

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1971 to 2008


Projects in Canada, Alaska, and Antarctica. Presentations and guest speeches in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Houston Texas relative to their projects and activities in Canada, Antarctica and Alaska.


Transportation and construction in cold climates presents many challenges. Many locations and communities do not have year round road or water access. Transportation of bulk materials and consumer supplies, and access for construction is by winter road and ice bridges during a relatively short winter season. In some cases disturbance of the tundra leads to melting, erosion and land movements. Often the loads are heavy and repetitive and the surfaces do not stand up to the use or last long enough. In late 1982, Dr. Adam was contacted by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) because of his northern, permafrost and runway experience to design a hard runway at their prime research base at Rothera, Adelaide Island, Antarctica. Prior to the runway construction in 1990, BAS supplies and personnel were brought to Rothera by ship and flown to various research sites and camps by ski equipped Twin Otters operating from a glacier.


The following is a list of significant projects, studies and presentations undertaken by Dr. Adam with some illustrative descriptions:

Winter and Ice Roads and Runways

  • Winter road study of all Provinces and Alaska, 1971
  • Me-Ke-Si Winter Roads, Manitoba. In 1972-73 Me-Ke-Si was awarded operation of most of the 2178 km of the existing winter road system originally constructed by the Sigfusson Transportation Company.
The project consisted of monitoring the opening up and maintenance of the winter roads servicing 30 remote communities.
  • Research on Snow Compaction, University of Manitoba, 1972
  • Advised on winter road networks in Ontario, Yukon, NWT, and Alaska.
  • Norman Wells Winter Road Ice Loop Study, 1973.
Studies of durability and methods of improving surface hardness.
  • Supervision of Manitoba winter road System annual construction for DIAND, 1973-1976
  • Member of NRC Snow and Ice Committee, Ottawa, 1973-1976
  • Advisor to Canadian Arctic Gas on Inuvik Winter Road Test Loop, 1974
  • Studies for Building Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Utilizing Winter Roads, 1971 through 1978
  • Studies for Building Foothills Yukon Pipeline from Winter Roads, 1974
  • Quill Creek Ice Work Pad Study, Quill Creek, Yukon, 1977.
Testing an ice aggregate work pad to provide a durable working surface for pipeline construction. Ice aggregate, a departure from conventional materials for building winter roads and work pads, can be considered an effective tool for protection of sensitive terrain and vegetation during pipeline construction.
  • Authored “Building & Operating Winter Roads in Canada and Alaska”, DIAND, 1978. This book is a synthesis of guidelines and techniques based on the literature and established practices.
  • Winter Road Feasibility Study for Urangesellschaft Mine, Baker Lake, NWT, 1980
  • Conducted the Arctic Pilot Project investigation for the proposed ‘Building Natural Gas Pipeline Across Melville Island’, 1982.
Tested snow fences, 7 types of snow and ice roads for construction, and established dates of construction window.
  • Investigation ‘Feasibility of Runway at Rothera Point, Adelaide Island, Antarctica’ for British Antarctic Survey, 1983 (see Rothera WIKI)
  • Evaluated transportation systems serving northern Manitoba for Public Works Canada, 1984. As communities received land line hydroelectric power, fuel, a main commodity shipped by winter road, was reduced. Profiles were prepared on the transportation to each community. A major finding was that the winter road system remained the most economical solution for shipping freight.
  • Design, construction and testing of Snow Paver and Patcher for Arctic Pilot Project, 1986.
A prototype snow paver to rework and lay down dense snow for building and operating winter roads for a natural gas pipeline project was built and tested. The paver is a modified agricultural soil pulvimixer that uses a burner/blower combination and the rotary action of tine/cutters to pulverize the snow grains and heat the disaggregated mass. The patcher uses a hot-melting technique for rapid maintenance and repair of snow and ice roads and airstrips.
  • Testing of Snow Paver for Department of National Defense for use on Runways, 1988
  • Feasibility of runway on Anchorage Island, Antarctica for British Antarctic Survey, 1988
  • Emergency Advisor to Manitoba Transportation on late Spring bridge erection from ice, 1985. An ice bridge had been built for the construction of a 3-span concrete girder bridge over the Brokenhead River near Ladywood. Test holes were drilled and the ice bridge capacity was estimated at 25 tonnes. This was adequate to support the 18.2 tonne weight of one end of a girder plus dolly and enabled the erection of the girders.
  • Design and construction supervision of runway at Rothera Point Antarctica for British Antarctic Survey, 1989-1991(see Rothera Wiki)
Rothera from Piercy (1) Jan08.jpg
  • Wrote the forward to “Sigfusson’s Roads” (see References) and as ‘a consulting engineer who has an international reputation as a leading authority on winter road construction’ served as an expert witness in the suit against Ontario for confiscating Sigfusson’s roads.
  • Advisor to a mining company on ‘Moving Heavy Equipment over Sea Ice’, Cambridge Bay, NWT, 1999
  • Advisor to project manager, Mackenzie Valley Pipeline on use of winter roads for construction 2002
  • Presented on winter roads and guest speaker, Manitoba Historical Society, Universities of Alberta, Ottawa, and Carlton, Australian Antarctic Program - Hobart, Tasmania, New Zealand Antarctic Program - Christchurch, and to Petroleum Producers Conference, Houston, Texas

Snow Drifting Studies

  • Hamlet of Baker Lake, Northwest Territories.
Hydraulic (sand and water) models to reduce snow drifting problems in Baker Lake.
Recommendations made on snow fences, housing orientation, street alignment, and housing shapes.

  • Regina Rail Relocation Snow Drifting Study – Canadian National Railways.
  • Regina Airport Snow Drifting Study – Transport Canada, 1962.
Design and testing of a total area outdoor model constructed to a scale of 1:30, the first of its kind in Canada. The model was constructed in components to permit orientation to represent prevailing NW and SE winds. The report identified problem areas, evaluated remedial measures and made recommendations for the final design.
  • Canadian Forces Base, Calgary – Defense Construction
Hydraulic-sand scale model to study snow drifting for potential single quarters complex.
  • GATES Building, Canadian Forces Base, Shilo – Smith Carter Architects
  • Cape Dyer (DYE-M) and Dewar Lakes (FOX-3) – Defense Construction (1951) Limited
  • Sturt Point Runway – Integrated Construction Engineering Unit, Defense Construction (1951) Limited
  • Rothera and Anchorage Island Airstrips – British Antarctic Survey
  • Kiggavik Mine Site, Baker Lake NWT – Urangesellschaft Mine & Wright Engineers, Vancouver



Engineering in cold regions is highly technical and projects are costly. Design and operating failures can have devastating effects on the people and projects. Two decades of research and experience contributed greatly to the success of projects in cold regions.

Key players

Kenneth M. Adam, P. Eng. Ph. D. a world renowned expert on ice, snow, and permafrost studies and cold region designs.


Svein Sigfusson, “Sigfusson’s Roads”, 1992. Watson & Dwyer Publishing Ltd. 232 Academy Road, Winnipeg, MB. R3M OE7 Adam K. A., P. Eng. Ph. D. “Building and Operating Winter Roads In Canada and Alaska”, 1978, DIAND Environmental Studies No. 4. ISBN 0-662-01514-2