Locating Oil Under Ice

Developing a strategy for detecting and mapping oil spills under ice using underwater vehicles

September 6, 2022

Oil under ice

Increases in shipping and oil and gas exploration in the Arctic creates a need for being able to detect and track potential spills in ice-covered waters. This is a daunting task when the oil is hidden by ice and snow.

Equipment and Testing

Existing cameras and sonar systems designed for underwater vehicles that are capable of operating under ice allow for direct detection of oil from below. We took sensors off vehicles and tested their ability to detect oil at the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab outdoor test facility. Oil was injected under sea ice grown in the facility and the sensors rolled on rails below the oil.


Oil under ice was detected and its thickness measured at day and night using existing sensors. Cameras could be used to find the oil and sonar systems then measure the thickness. Using underwater vehicles would allow large regions to be searched for oil. Further testing of these technologies was conducted in a large industry-sponsored demonstration project. Those efforts showed that oil incorporated in ice could be detected using cameras and to a limited extent using sonar.