March 2014

Innovative thinkers

Narwhal for Ice Management: At the helm of Arctic progress

Melanie Cruthirds / World Oil


 As operating and service costs continue to rise to record levels, and global E&P spending is projected to top $720 billion within the year, the idea that oil and gas companies should be working “smarter, not harder,” has never been more critical. With the price of acquiring and maintaining assets higher than ever, firms that can manage and maximize their resources efficiently—including data, people and service providers—are likely to increase their odds for success.


Narwhal for Ice Management integrates visualization and analysis of bathmetry maps, satellite imagery and manual ice observations, for a comprehensive view of the ice environment.

At the intersection of data acquisition and decision-making is where one will find the team and technology behind ION Concept System’s Narwhal for Ice Management software. In today’s data-rich industry, the Arctic stands out as an area in which seismic and other data are not as plentiful. Integrating what information is available can maximize effectiveness. The key point in any operation is to know how to move forward, once data have been gathered. That’s where Narwhal comes in.

Scott Cameron, Narwhal’s product manager, said that the software system provides the ability to combine disparate types of data, sometimes of differing ages and from different vendors, and some of which were not geo-referenced origionally. Offering a clearer operational picture of an Arctic project, the software leverages ION Concept System’s existing knowledge of, and experience with, real-time data integration, said Des Flynn, the group’s V.P.

Instead of consulting different, often unrelated sources for information, like satellite data, weather reports and radar feedback, Narwhal users can employ the software to give them an integrated look at the operation, overall. If you’re a captain heading a seismic survey vessel through an Arctic waterway, the software complements your ability to make real-time decisions, which would now have the added benefit of referencing a coherent picture of historical ice and weather events, among other things.

The firm tapped into the mindset of, these Arctic decision-makers by bringing in subject matter experts like Terry Kennedy, now a senior ice and environmental specialist supporting offshore drilling operations in the Grand Banks, whose background is in ice management. Narwhal is not meant to replace onboard advisers, but instead serves as an added tool in a 30- or 40-year veteran captain’s artillery.

Many operations are in a near-constant state of evolution, and so are the software’s applications and abilities. First tested during a transit operation onboard an ION icebreaker, traveling from Vancouver to Newfoundland along the Northwest Passage, the software has been commercialized since 2013. Narwhal was also verified for site survey use in an operation at Baffin Bay last summer. Having been proven as a viable tool for surveying and transportation, ION Concept Systems envisions immediate possibilities for use of the system in platform defense. As the Arctic continues to open its doors wider, the need to protect such remote assets will rise, too.

In the vein of continous development, the group has ideas for other potential areas in which the software could be used. It is possible Narwhal could be applied to marine mammal monitoring and oil spill detection.

As commercial deployments of Narwhal continue to make their way across the Arctic, continued feedback from users will drive the refinement and ongoing development of the ice management system, according to the company. In all likelihood, the team behind the technology will have a thing or two more to learn from the industry veterans it was designed to empower. WO

About the Authors
Melanie Cruthirds
World Oil
Melanie Cruthirds
Connect with World Oil
Connect with World Oil, the upstream industry's most trusted source of forecast data, industry trends, and insights into operational and technological advances.