Above the Arctic Circle
July 22, 2011
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - The question always comes up, “If the US Army Cold Regions Test Center conducts testing in the cold, what do they do in the summer?” The answer is simple: reset, refit and continued testing.
From infrastructure and equipment repairs needed from the "60°F winter conditions to various construction projects that must be completed in the extremely short Alaskan construction season to mandatory training and professional development, there is no down time. When you add the testing, verification and inventory of the nine long-term storage tests every summer and the various tests from year to year, CRTC employees are extremely busy.
This summer, CRTC tested the Improved Position and Azimuth Determining System - Global Positioning System (IPADS-G). The IPADS-G is a system used to conduct surveying in support of field artillery operations. The requirement for this test was not cold temperatures, but rather high latitude. The system needed to be tested between 65 degrees and 75 degrees North Latitude, something that could only be accomplished above the Arctic Circle.
This prompted a team of seven personnel (five from CRTC and two from Yuma Test Center) to travel to Coldfoot, Alaska, where the test would be based. Coldfoot is 350 miles North of CRTC on the bank of the Middle Fork Koyukuk River in the Brooks Mountain Range and 65 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Coldfoot was originally a mining camp, but is now a town of 13 and serves as a truck stop along the Dalton Highway. The Dalton Highway, which directly parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, is a 414-mile supply road that begins just north of Fairbanks and ends at Deadhorse, a few miles shy of the Arctic Ocean and near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Despite the remoteness, there is a good amount of large vehicle traffic on the Dalton Highway, about 160 trucks daily in the summer and 250 trucks daily in the winter. The highway has become well known through the reality television series Ice Road Truckers and an episode of America’s Toughest Jobs.
Running this test was going to be something different for test officer Adam Gould. “When you work at CRTC you become an expert at cold. To prepare for a test that was going to be conducted in the summer required different planning.” Instead of cold-weather clothing and icy roads, this test team had to be prepared for the grizzly bears, semi trucks, and swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes.
The test team spent long days and nights driving up and down the Dalton Highway comparing IPADS-G data with survey control-point data, which had been previously established by a Yuma Test Center Geodetics team. The test team varied their shifts, testing during every hour of the day. This allowed the test team to check satellite visibility throughout the day with the IPADS-G. Since this test was conducted in late June there was around-the-clock sunlight, proving that Alaska is truly the Land of the Midnight Sun. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun is above the horizon for 24 continuous hours during the June solstice.
“The test went really well, we were able to get the mission done, collect the data needed and also experience a part of Alaska that many people never will,” Gould said.