Remote Arctic coasts are among the most fragile and least understood environments.
Natural events like tsunamis, storms and climate changes can threaten life and infrastructure. These events also can spur major pollution concerns when they impact petrochemical or mining operations.
In a paper to be presented at the upcoming Arctic Technology Conference, Fugro remote sensing manager Todd Mitchell discusses ways to better characterize these sensitive areas to help prepare for better disaster responses.
In "The Remote Coast: Baseline Mapping in Preparation for Arctic Coast Disasters," Mitchell discusses some of the lessons learned and suggests a mechanism for a cost-effective, tiered approach to coastal baseline mapping.
With offices in 60 countries and projects in many more, Fugro employs remote sensing methods from satellites, aircraft, ground vehicles, marine vessels and underwater submersibles, Mitchell said.
"Our clients include government agencies at all levels and the private sector," he said. "Although the largest share of our business comes from the energy market, we support a very diverse portfolio of project types and clients."
For example, he said one of the company's notable projects is the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March 2014.
Remote sensing is "a huge topic and the paper really focuses principally on imagery and LiDAR (laser ranging) techniques for capturing information about the coastline's topography and bathymetry in remote areas as rapidly as possible, because there's a lot of coastline that is not very well mapped in the Arctic," Mitchell said.
Reliable maps are needed to navigate safely near the shore in response to disasters - petrochemical spill cleanup, shipwrecks, tsunamis and the like, he said.
"The risk is that more people may be placed in harm's way during emergency response operations, and the impacts of a disaster on the environment are not characterized accurately," he said. "As activity increases in remote locations, we need a better understanding of the conditions in these remote areas."
Satellite imagery provides coarse, low-resolution imagery, which is cheap or free. Significant energy development, however, may justify more detailed and costly techniques like airborne LiDAR bathymetry, he said.
Remote, sparsely populated areas often lack tax or other economic support to pay for building the baseline, "but shipping passes through areas that are not being developed as well," Mitchell said.
While vessel-mounted sensors may be best for smaller surveys, they can be hazardous in shallow waters, he said.
In his paper, Mitchell discusses use of multispectral imagery from satellites and aircraft to gather data about the land and seafloor, such as soils, potential habitat and vegetation above and below the water surface.
Airborne LiDAR bathymetry can capture information about the sea bottom as well as topographic data on shore. Potential obstacles to its use, he writes, include insufficient water clarity, precipitation, ice cover and lack of facilities to stage the aircraft.
Mitchell suggests that a mix of both technologies might be most effective. Satellite data is relatively inexpensive and the steps needed to calculate bathymetric measures are highly automated. It can be a valuable tool in deciding when to use more expensive, detailed techniques.
It also might identify areas where the best option is a surface vessel.
"There's no silver bullet answer," Mitchell said. "There's no quick fix. These remote areas are lacking in population (and thus fiscal support) and the cost for undertaking a quality job can be significant. Naturally as some industries (such as energy and mineral development) benefit from activity in many of these remote locations, it may not be unreasonable to expect developers to share some of the burden."