Cold Regions Engineering

Due to the continued depletion of the most accessible natural resources, there is an increasing trend for companies to assess remote locations for new project development, including cold regions and permafrost areas. 

Cold regions provide unique engineering challenges for developers. Many project sites are situated in remote locations, where overland access is difficult and dangerous. Vast distances often place severe limitations on the costs of bringing labour, equipment, and supplies to site, and on the cost of transporting the products to market.

Harsh environments impose unique constraints on the design of projects in cold regions. Climatic concerns include extreme cold, wind chill, icing, reduced visibility due to blowing snow, extended darkness and heavy ground fogs. Water may be in short supply, as the annual precipitation is usually low, and surface water sources are frozen for most of the year. Project facilities, including access roads, tailings disposal systems, water storage dams, waste rock repositories, decant systems, and heap leach systems, must all be designed to operate in these extreme winter conditions and over challenging ground conditions.

Geotechnical concerns may include permafrost (and degradation of), solifluction, frost-heaving, ice rich and saturated soils, and a lack of granular materials for construction. It is critical to characterize these areas carefully to fully understand the impacts that the project may have on the permafrost and incorporate these considerations into the designs. Different and specialized methods of in-situ testing, sampling, and monitoring are used to establish the general characteristics (presence of ice) and geothermal regime of the frozen ground. These typically include:

  • Specialized drilling to maximize recovery of frozen core samples
  • Thermistor installation and monitoring
  • Geophysical surveys
  • Air photo interpretation
  • Surface mapping to identify permafrost related features

Knight Piésold provides investigation, design, and construction support services for mining and power projects. Our expertise is related to geotechnical engineering, permafrost, hydrogeology and hydrology, and we have been involved with the following types of projects in cold regions and permafrost areas:

  • Open pit and underground mines
  • Tailings and mine waste management facilities
  • Foundation designs
  • Site access roads and railways
  • Ports and terminals
  • Airstrips
  • Water dams and water diversion structures
  • Pipelines
  • Renewable energy and hydropower projects

We are experienced in cold regions engineering and have a proven track record in designing sound and cost-effective engineering solutions in cold regions throughout the world. We also have experience working at high altitudes in mountainous regions around the world, where many of these same issues exist.