Formed in 1999, the International Ice Charting Working Group (IICWG) is a consortium of the ice services from all over the world. The operational ice services representing nations from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, including all eight Arctic Council nations, come together with a common goal of promoting cooperation between the world’s ice centers on all matters concerning sea ice and icebergs. In 2013, the IICWG began to focus on how the ice services can support an emergency response in ice-laden waters. This focus was on providing current and forecasted information on sea ice and iceberg conditions in the area of the incident as well as for the shipping routes approaching the area. With rapidly changing sea ice, ice information would be critical to planning an effective response. The IICWG formed a partnership with the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) and Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) in 2015 to expand the awareness of the ice services and their capabilities to the oil companies and oil spill removal organizations. In 2016, the IICWG conducted an unannounced emergency notification exercise to validate the contact information for each of the ice services. In an effort to ensure responders would be able to access the most accurate contact information, IICWG published this ice services’ contact list worldwide in classification society periodicals. The preparations of these nations culminated in a Tabletop Exercise at the group’s annual meeting in October 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The exercise scenario involved a major oil spill response in ice-infested waters with participants from the ice services, maritime users, satellite data providers, and OSRL. The lessons learned from this exercise will prepare all of the ice services for a coordinated oil spill response. The IICWG also collaborated with the Arctic Council Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Working Group for future exercises and planning.

The IICWG was formed in 1999 with the goal of promoting cooperation between the world’s ice centers on all matters concerning sea ice and icebergs. Charter nations include the United States, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany, Poland, Japan, Argentina, and Chile. The British Antarctic Survey and the United States Coast Guard International Ice Patrol are also charter organizations. All IICWG representative agencies are presented by country in Table 1. The operational ice services of the IICWG provide ice information to promote safe maritime navigation in the vicinity of ice-laden waters. This ad-hoc, self-funded group comes together to share best practices and scientific advances in ice detection, modeling, and charting. The IICWG also strives to standardize ice information worldwide and acts as an advisory group to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology (JCOMM) Expert Team on Sea Ice (ETSI).

Table 1.

Operational Ice Services of the IICWG

Operational Ice Services of the IICWG
Operational Ice Services of the IICWG

The ice services typically provide daily ice information for ship routing and tactical passage planning during shipping seasons as well as weekly or bi-weekly products for strategic planning and climatology. This longer-term information is usually provided year-round. Ice services also provide Seasonal Outlooks which give predictions of the evolution of the ice distribution over the whole summer season. Graphical and text ice warning products are distributed. In addition, the IICWG worked with the International Hydrographic Organization to develop the S-411 code, the international standard for exchange and display of ice information for Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS).

In order to provide this important navigational data, the ice services typically use satellite data for ice detection. Although visual, infrared, and passive microwave satellite data is used, the most widely used observation platform is synthetic aperture radar (SAR). SAR provides reliable, high resolution observations of the ocean surface in all weather and light conditions. Examples of these platforms include the Canadian RADARSAT-2 satellite and the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1a satellite. In addition to satellite data, some organizations also use aerial reconnaissance data, particularly for iceberg detection. Satellite detection of icebergs is not as advanced as the detection of sea ice. The United States Coast Guard International Ice Patrol relies on data collected by Coast Guard HC-130J aircraft to develop its iceberg warning products for the North Atlantic Ocean. Once the ice is detected, coupled ocean-atmosphere numerical models are used to provide operational ice forecasts. Both sea ice and iceberg models are used.

Since its inception, the IICWG achieved significant accomplishments. The ice services worked together to harmonize the availability and appearance of ice charts. Now, sea ice charts from the ice services are produced using similar standards and color codes (Figure 1). As previously mentioned, the IICWG also developed the S-411 Ice Objects Catalogue for use in electronic navigation charts. The IICWG pushed for creation of Arctic Meteorological Areas (METAREA) and established protocols to coordinate ice information for the Arctic Ocean. In order to provide a single point of access for ice information, the Ice Logistics Portal ( was created for distribution of IICWG charter members’ ice data. With the upcoming requirements for ships sailing in polar waters, the IICWG contributed to the development of ice information and ice navigator training requirements of the mandatory Polar Code scheduled for implementation on January 1, 2017. Working together to improve operations, the IICWG held Ice Analyst Workshops to ensure that ice services personnel learned best practices of ice analysis and modeling from one another.

Figure 1.

Sea-ice concentration charts from CIS, DMI, and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

Figure 1.

Sea-ice concentration charts from CIS, DMI, and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

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Challenges remain for the ice services. The Arctic Observing Network for the atmosphere, ice, and ocean is extremely sparse. Because these physical processes are not well-known or understood, the prediction of ice conditions is extremely difficult. As Arctic sea ice diminishes, greater maritime activity occurs for longer periods of the year. These longer seasons place increased demands on the ice services for both data collection and personnel. In addition, the Arctic is becoming the latest tourist destination of choice. In the summer of 2016, the passenger vessel, CRYSTAL SERENITY, transited the Northwest Passage from Anchorage, Alaska to New York City, New York with nearly 900 people on board. An incident in the Arctic involving a vessel such as the P/V CRYSTAL SERENITY would result in dire consequences. Realizing the potential risk to life, the environment, and property, the IICWG began to focus efforts on preparing for an emergency response.

At the group’s annual meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland in October of 2013, the IICWG held a focused session on two scenarios involving an emergency response: a search and rescue incident and an oil spill. The resulting discussions revealed that many of the members of the IICWG were not aware of how a response would be conducted or how the ice services would be involved. To build on those discussions, emergency response training was scheduled for the group’s next meeting in 2014 held in Punta Arenas, Chile. International regulations and bilateral/multilateral agreements were discussed in addition to training all IICWG members on the principles of developing an incident response organization under the United States’ standard for the Incident Command System. Ice information would feed to the Unified Command along with other environmental information through the Environmental Unit. Ideally, ice service personnel would deploy to the Incident Command Post (ICP) in order to provide short and long-term ice forecasts in the vicinity of the incident. The response organization would closely consider this information when conducting operational planning in order to ensure the desired response activities could take place with the forecasted ice conditions. In some cases, no response would be possible for some time, and long-term forecasts would be required. In that scenario, the ice services could provide these forecasts remotely from their home offices monitoring the oil using SAR imagery.

In preparing for the 2015 IICWG meeting in Rostock, Germany, the Planning Committee invited Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), an international leader in oil spill response, and the International Tank Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) to participate in a breakout session on marine incident emergency response. Including industry representatives such as OSRL and ITOPF provided the IICWG members with a realistic perspective on response activities in the event of an incident. This session began with a review of the training provided in 2014. OSRL made a presentation on possible response measures in varying ice conditions, and ITOPF described the needs of industry during a response. The resulting discussion brought up many questions for the ice services, including how the ice services would maintain their normal requirements while supporting a response effort and would additional satellite data of finer resolution of the incident area be required in order to accurately predict ice conditions. The group scheduled an emergency response tabletop exercise for the 2016 meeting in order to test these decisions with a realistic scenario.

In February of 2016, an unannounced exercise of the International Ice Services Emergency Response Contact List was conducted. This exercise resulted in the validation of all ice services’ contact information, and the validated list was shared between all services. In addition, this list was published in the world’s major classification societies’ periodicals to ensure wide dissemination of the information. Distributing this list widely ensures that responders can access these ice experts in the event of an incident.

As discussed in 2015, a tabletop exercise was planned for the 2016 IICWG annual meeting held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. A tabletop exercise format facilitated a discussion-based session in an informal setting, so that team members could review their roles during an emergency and their responses to a particular situation. For this exercise, exercise planners used the scenario from the Arctic Council Working Group for Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (EPPR)-sponsored Tabletop Exercise of the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (MOSPA) held on June 13, 2016. The IICWG was coordinating further involvement with the EPPR and wanted to utilize the same scenario to facilitate future collaborative discussion between the two groups. For this exercise, each ice service considered that the scenario happened in their particular area of responsibility. This artificiality ensured that all attendees could actively participate in the exercise.

The exercise objectives were:

  • To learn the needs of the ship owner/responders in the event of an incident and what organizations are involved in a response for each nation.

  • To determine how an ice service will be notified of an incident and in what manner the service will respond.

  • To ensure the IICWG Emergency Response Contact List is up to date.

  • To understand how an ice service would provide specific ice information to a response organization.

  • To discuss how different ice services would work together for a response crossing international boundaries.

The exercise scenario involved the bulk carrier TWINKLE ISLAND and the fully-loaded tanker DELTA VICTORY. Both vessels were underway near shore travelling in opposite directions when heavy fog rolled in. The TWINKLE ISLAND collided with the DELTA VICTORY on the starboard side. Large quantities, approximately 6.6 million gallons of crude oil and approximately 264,000 gallons of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO), leaked from the tanker which carried a Worst Case Discharge potential of 34.2 million gallons of crude oil. TWINKLE ISLAND experienced damage to its starboard side with a Worst Case Discharge potential of 846,720 gallons of diesel fuel. There were 25 crewmembers on board DELTA VICTORY and 21 crewmembers on board TWINKLE ISLAND. No injuries were reported. The master of the tanker immediately notified the local Joint Rescue Coordination Center. The oil drifted along the coast, and environmentally sensitive areas were impacted. There was significant national and international media interest, and the incident limited vessel traffic. The scenario was fictional and was not set in a particular geographic location. Figure 2 illustrates the exercise scenario. The daily sea ice concentration chart used was provided by CIS, but the ice conditions depicted were considered by participants as the conditions occurring in their respective regions.

Figure 2.

IICWG Tabletop Exercise Scenario. The scenario was set in each country’s area of responsibility. Chart provided by the Canadian Ice Service.

Figure 2.

IICWG Tabletop Exercise Scenario. The scenario was set in each country’s area of responsibility. Chart provided by the Canadian Ice Service.

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The participants were divided into the following groups:

  • Academic institutions

  • Maritime industry

  • Satellite data providers

  • Ice service representatives broken into three regions – Europe (Russia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland), North America (Denmark/Greenland, Canada, U.S. National Ice Center, International Ice Patrol), Southern Hemisphere (Australia, Chile, British Antarctic Survey).

The exercise was broken up into five sections with ten minutes of discussion followed by briefs to the group. For questions in Part 1, all groups provided briefs. For all other sections, one country from each region (Europe, North America, and Southern Hemisphere) provided a brief.

Exercise Questions

Part 1

  • Ice Services – who would be involved in this response in each country? National and bilateral/multilateral agreements were provided to assist with this determination.

  • Maritime Industry – What would be happening on board the TWINKLE ISLAND and DELTA VICTORY? What are the needs of the vessels?

  • Academic Institutions and Satellite Providers – What could be provided to assist with the response effort?

Part 2

  • Is this scenario possible in the ice service’s area? Where would it most likely happen?

  • Where would the Incident Command Post be located? Is logistical support available?

  • What time of year would ice information either be irrelevant (no ice), critical (during freeze or melt periods), or non-critical (during complete freeze up when no response activities could take place)?

Part 3

  • How would the ice service be notified? Each ice service was asked to validate the IICWG Emergency Contact List.

  • If this scenario happened during a critical time period, how would the ice service respond?

  • Would personnel operate out of normal work spaces, or would they go to the Incident Command Post to support the response effort directly?

  • How would this incident impact the ability to continue regular charting responsibilities?

Part 4

  • What information would the ice service expect to provide?

  • How would the information be presented? Can it be interpreted by a non-expert?

  • What information would first be needed? Would satellite imagery or another form of reconnaissance be used?

Part 5

  • National response resource inventories could not sustain the response, and the primary response nation sought assistance through bilateral and multilateral agreements. Which agreements apply? Who would the ice service seek assistance from? How would the ice services of the supporting nations work together to assist the response effort?

Part 6

  • Is there a requirement for the ice service to be the authority on ice information for an emergency response?

  • Would the responsible party be able to hire commercial entities to provide this information?

  • What if their forecast conflicted with the ice service’s forecast?

The table top exercise was valuable in helping to develop a common level of understanding among the ice service personnel and their clients and stakeholders. It highlighted a number of lessons learned where the IICWG could work to improve their collective response to emergency incidents.

Lessons Learned

The Arctic is much better prepared for this situation than the Antarctic – although the scenario is much less likely to occur in the Antarctic. There are a number of bi- and multi-lateral response agreements in place in Europe and North America as well as the pan-Arctic agreements on Search and Rescue and Marine Oil Pollution that the Arctic Council brokered. The Northern Hemisphere ice services are well connected through formal agreements such as the North American Ice Service and the European Ice Services, as well as informally through their mutual collaboration in the IICWG. The Northern Hemisphere ice services all can access model forecasts for ice and oil drift. In addition, they can access several reliable sources of satellite data and employ highly-qualified ice analysts with years of expertise to interpret this data. Other than the formal Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) agreements, there are few international response agreements in the Southern Hemisphere although the Chile-Argentina Antarctic Patrol agreement is one exception. The Southern Hemisphere ice services are not well-connected to provide mutual assistance to one another. The Southern Hemisphere ice services suffer from a lack of data (both satellite and in-situ) and ship-shore communication limitations. There are a small number of Antarctic marine ice experts who rely on informal, personal contacts with other agencies for support.

The IICWG created the International Ice Services Emergency Response Contact List that was validated by the unannounced notification exercise in February 2016. This list is a valuable resource that should be publicized and made more widely available, recognizing that there may be a need for two lists – one that is public and another that is only for use within the ice service community.

The capabilities of the ice services are not universally well-known in other communities, including Rescue Coordination Centers, Search-and-Rescue organizations, marine oil spill response organizations, the oil industry, and the maritime insurance industry. Ice services’ knowledge of satellite data availability and acquisition methods and their image interpretation skills are strengths that could be useful, if more widely known. In a response scenario such as this exercise, the ice services are not the main actors but are in a supporting role – which may be more or less important depending on the ice situation. The ice services must work through the lead response coordinator who, in turn, must be aware of their capabilities. Ice services should ensure they maintain up-to-date guidelines for their personnel to follow in an emergency response situation.

Future Work

Following the tabletop exercise in October of 2016, the IICWG requested and was invited to participate in the Arctic Council EPPR Working Group meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark in December of 2016. A presentation was made by the IICWG to request partnership with EPPR in future exercise to improve the preparedness of all involved for an Arctic emergency response.

The delegations represented on the Arctic Council unanimously agreed to this collaboration. EPPR members were invited to the next IICWG meeting to be held in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia in September 2017 where an Antarctic Search and Rescue Tabletop Exercise will be held. The IICWG plans to participate in the next EPPR exercise which will be hosted by Finland in 2018.