Ice Information

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5.1 Ice Information is Part of Marine Safety

“To conduct a sea voyage safely and efficiently, a mariner must have a wellfounded understanding of the operating environment. This is especially true for navigation in ice. It is the responsibility of all mariners to ensure that before entering ice-covered waters, adequate ice information is available to support the voyage from beginning to end.” (Ice Navigation In Canadian Waters, TP 5064 E , Page 120)

All voyages into the Canadian Arctic, at any time of the year have the potential to encounter floating sea ice. Early season voyages (June / July) will encounter sea ice that is only beginning to deteriorate and can be expected to be at or near its maximum winter strength. Mid-season voyages (September) can expect to encounter decaying First-Year ice, and quantities of Multi-Year ice that are still very strong. Late season voyages (October) will encounter New Ice, which is a general term that describes recently formed ice, as large bodies of water may become icecovered very quickly. This is also the time of year where existing floes of ice will start coagulating and growing thicker. It must therefore be emphasized that prior to departing for the Arctic and during Arctic voyages that navigational personnel must be aware of the present and forecasted ice conditions for the area in which they intend to operate.

The Canadian Ice Service, which is a branch of the Atmospheric Environment Service of Environment Canada, is the principle provider of ice information products and services for all Canadian waters.

5.2 Categories of Ice Information Products

The following paragraphs place a variety of the Canadian Ice Service’s products in an operational context by sub-dividing them into six principal categories on the basis of time scale and geographic scope. Some of these products or services may change over the next couple of years, however the intent of this section is explain how a voyage may be supported with the various levels of ice information.

  • Tactical Ice Information - This is Current Ice Observations from a wide range of sources including: visual (ship / helicopter), aircraft (a Dash 7, CFR / Can Ice 3 with Side Looking Airborne Radar / visual capability) and remote sensing data from satellites. When CFR flies, it produces three levels of data (radar imagery, tactical charts at 1:1,000,000 and verbal consultation) which can be accessed depending on the ship's equipment. The resolution on the aircraft imagery can be from 40 to 400 metres, influenced by the horizontal distance off the flight track. The primary satellites used are the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) satellites and RADARSAT. The NOAA satellite has a resolution of 1.1 kilometres, but the imagery is affected by cloud and darkness. RADARSAT has a Synthetic Aperture Radar ( SAR ) sensor on board. The SAR imagery used for ice analysis has a resolution of between 50 and 100 metres and the radar return has the additional benefit of being unaffected by cloud.
  • Strategic Ice Information - This will consist of narrative Ice Bulletins and the Daily Ice Analysis Charts. The primary purpose of these products is to provide vessel routing assistance. The Daily Ice Analysis Chart is not intended to be a tactical navigation tool because it lacks the accuracy to provide floe-by-floe plotting. However, in its 1:2,000,000 scale it will guide mariners to areas where more favourable ice conditions can be found. It is worth noting that if there are no Coast Guard ships within the geographic boundaries of a particular Daily Ice Analysis Chart, that chart may not be produced on that particular day. Also if there is only one Coast Guard vessel within the boundaries, only the pertinent sections of the chart may be completed in detail. The above items are available at a nominal cost. For a slightly higher cost, special charts can be produced specifically for each commercial vessel.
    • Short Term Planning - Regular forecasts are not available. Special forecasts for any period can be produced on request. Another Ice Service product that falls within this category is the Weekly Regional Ice Analysis Chart. For these charts Canada's Arctic is divided into three, vast 1:4,000,000 scale regions. The chart contains descriptions of floe sizes, ice types, concentrations, and air temperatures compared to the mean temperatures over the past seven day period. The primary purpose of this product is for climatology, however most mariners find it an ideal planning tool.
      • Medium Range Planning - 30 Day Extended Forecasts are produced twice a month (on the 1st & 15th) and describes expected ice conditions for the whole Arctic in one publication that is sub-divided into three areas: Hudson Bay & Approaches, Eastern Arctic, and the Western Arctic forecasts. A number of marine operators find this item a valuable component in voyage planning especially when they are considering applying the Arctic Ice Regime Shipping System outside of the Zone / Date System. If conditions appear lighter than the mean values, the season of operation in that part of the Arctic may actually be extended.
        • Long Range Planning - A Seasonal Outlook is produced by the Canadian Ice Service in early June, which describes the expected ice conditions for the Arctic summer, and after the completion of the summer season, they also produce a Seasonal Summary which is designed to assist marine operators in writing their own summer shipping reports.
          • Climatological - There are a number of publications produced to supplement the long range forecasts and form a climatological foundation including the annual Arctic Winter Ice Analysis and SAR Imagery, more commonly known as the Ice Atlas which is based upon satellite and aerial reconnaissance of Canada's Arctic in January.

For more detailed information regarding these products refer to the Canadian Ice Service's Catalogue of Ice Information Products and Services or call 1 (800) 767 - 2885.

5.3 Radio Aids To Marine Navigation

Information of how to obtain High Frequency ( HF ) radio facsimiles of ice charts, direct tactical reconnaissance charts in 1:000,000 scale, and text broadcast of the Ice Bulletin (describes the ice edge and gives Ice Warnings if required) may be obtained from the following pages in the publication Radio Aids To Marine Navigation . (To obtain either of these publications see the List of Reference Material in Section 8.2)

Volume: Atlantic and Great Lakes - April 1996

Page 2-5 Iqaluit ( VFF ), disseminates a complete package of weather and ice information for the Eastern Arctic. Text products are sent over HF radiotelephony and VHF in the local area and ice charts are sent by HF facsimile. In the summer of 1999, the Arctic’s first NAVTEXT transmitter may be installed here.

Resolute, Killinek and Coral Harbour are now remotely controlled by Iqaluit ( VFF ), and any services requested in those areas should be addressed to “Iqaluit Coast Guard Radio”. Text products are sent over HF radiotelephony, and VHF in the local area with ice charts are sent by HF facsimile.

Page 2-48 Churchill is now remotely operated from Thunder Bay “VBA” and is only operational during the navigation season.

Page 2-59 Iqaluit ( VFF ) HF Radio Facsimile Schedule for all the: Daily Ice Analysis Charts, Weather Surface Analysis & Weather Prognosis charts.

Page 2-60 This section describes airborne facsimile transmissions of observed ice conditions from the ice reconnaissance aircraft. ( UTC Times & HF Radio Frequencies) The actual 'Flight Schedule' for the Ice Service's Dash-7 (Can Ice 3) CFR , ice reconnaissance aircraft is transmitted everyday to all Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers and the Ice Operations Office in Iqaluit ( NORDREG ) outlining its' flight plan for the next three days. In addition to this daily message, Environment Canada also distributes a very general two week schedule for CFR every Monday. On flight days the aircraft can be contacted through MSAT at: 1 (600) 701 - 6359. For additional information please contact NORDREG .Note: Due to the geographic location of NORDREG / Ice Office, and its proximity to the Van Allen atmospheric belts, the received facsimilies on board a ship may not always be clear.

Volume: ‘Pacific’ - April 1996

Page 3-4 Inuvik ( VFA ) transmits the Daily Ice Analysis Charts for Waterway to St. Roch Basin and also Beaufort Sea / Alaskan Coast. A unique feature with this radio station is that they have a little more latitude with their radio frequencies, such that they occasionally transmit charts over the CW 4 MHz frequency instead of the advertised 8 MHz to offer ships (depending upon their position) clearer ice charts. If a mariner wishes to obtain ice charts for other areas, they will be broadcast upon request. Inuvik Coast Guard Radio only transmits the Ice Bulletins upon request.

Page 3-13 Airborne facsimile transmissions of observed ice conditions from ice reconnaissance aircraft. (The UTC Times & HF Radio Frequencies)

Page 3-14 Iqaluit ( VFF ) & Resolute ( VFR ) HF Radio Facsimile Schedule for the: Daily Ice Analysis Charts, Weather Surface Analysis & Weather Prognosis.

Comparison: Level Of Ship Communications vs. Degree Of Ice Information Obtainable

Ice Information 'Available'

Basic Commercial Ships with:

VHF & HF Radios
Radio Facsimile Machine

Standard Commercial Ships with:

VHF & HF Radios
Radio Facsimile Machine

Standard Commercial Ships with:

VHF & HF Radios
Radio Facsimile Machine
Telephone Facsimile Machine

Sophisticated Commercial Ships with:

VHF & HF Radios
Radio Facsimile Machine
Telephone Facsimile Machine
Modern + Bridge Computer (the BBS )

Very Sophisticated Commerical Ship with:

VHF & HF Radios
Radio Fax Machine
Telephone Facisimile Machine
Modern + Bridge Computer (the BBS )
Internet Access
Dir. Aerial Downlink

Tactical Information
The Ship's Current Visual Observations Y Y Y Y Y
The Ship's Radar Y Y Y Y Y
Airborne Radar Direct Downlink         Very Specialized 
Aircraft/Helo, Visual Observations HF HF HF HF HF
Coast Guard Icebreaker Local Knowledge HF HF HF Radios/Phone Radios/Phone
Satellite/Radar Imagery       BBS APT BBS  
Tactical Ice Charts 1:000,000 Scale     T-Fax T-Fax T-Fax 
Strategic Information
Daily Ice Analysis Charts R-Fax R-Fax R-Fax T-Fax
R-Fax T-Fax DIS
R-Fax T-Fax DIS
Short Term Planning
Weekly Regional Ice Analysis Charts     T-Fax DIS T-Fax DIS BBS T-Fax DIS

Ice Outlook HF HF

HF T-Fax

Med. Range Planning
30 Day Extended Forecasts
Long Range Planning
Seasonal Outlook & Seasonal Summary
Annual "Ice Atlas"
Climatology Notes


  • HF VHF or HF Marine Radio Voice Communication
  • BBS Canadian Ice Service’s Bulletin Board Service
  • R-Fax HF Radio Facsimile via C.G. Radio or NORDREG
  • T-Fax Telephone Facsimile via INMARSAT or MSAT
  • DIS Can. Ice Service’s Dial-In / Fax-back Service
    Enfotec’s ‘Ice-Nav’ or the Ice Service’s ‘Ice-Vue’
  • Internet E-Mail
  • APT Auto. Picture Transmission ( eg. Wx. NOAA with 4km Resolution - $10-15K)
  • Canada Post Mail
  • HRPT High Resolution Picture Trans. (For NOAA AVHRR imagery direct from the satellite - $150k)

5.4 MSAT® - A Regional Satellite System that can Deliver Ice Information

Early in 1996 a new telecommunications network, called MSAT, was commercially introduced. MSAT is a Canadian-owned satellite-based network targeted primarily towards mobile users operating in rural and remote areas. Currently the initial services include: voice (telephone), 4.8 kbps data, facsimile, dispatch radio, electronic mail and voice mail.

MSAT Mobile Communicators are compact, with antennas approximately 20 centimetres high and 20 centimetres in diameter and have been specifically developed for marine applications. The equipment and service costs are significantly lower than those charged by international mobile satellite service providers and due to the satellite's optimal geostationary position over the equator, excellent coverage is available over the Arctic, the Caribbean and 200 nautical miles off the east and west coasts of North America.

The MSAT equipment successfully used from Halifax en route to Resolute, Cambridge Bay and Tuktoyaktuk during an evaluation of the satellite's coverage in the 1996 shipping season. MSAT provided a reliable, efficient and inexpensive method for the reception of ice information in the form of verbal consultation, the paper facsimile generation of ice charts, and electronic mail of text descriptions of ice conditions from the Canadian Ice Service to the ship. The only weak link has been the dissemination of large graphics files such as SLAR or RADARSAT imagery because they are just too big to be sent through the current 4.8 kbps data processors.

MSAT Network upgrades being introduced will include packet-switched communications for applications such as vessel tracking using Global Positioning System technologies. Preliminary testing is underway for a high speed data service between 19.2 and 56 kbps .

For further information regarding MSAT, contact TMI Communications at 1 (800) 216 - 6728 or their service providers:

  • Glentel Inc..........................................................1 (800) 811 - 0833
  • Infosat Telecommunications ........ 1 (800) 871 - 3011 / 207 - 5759
  • NMI Mobility........................................................1 (867) 393 - 7662


5.5 Ice Questions?

If there are any questions regarding ice, or the Canadian Ice Service’s products there are several principle avenues available for obtaining more information:


If there is a requirement for a verbal description of ice conditions anywhere in the Canadian Arctic, or questions concerning a particular ice product produced by the Canadian Ice Service, they are available for consultation on a fee basis by phone (through INMARSAT / MSAT) at 1 (800) 767 - 2885 from 0730 - 1730 EST (1130 - 2130 GMT ). This option may prove to be particularly valuable when a vessel is out of HF range from a Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre.


NORDREG Operations may also be called at anytime (24 Hours) during the summer shipping season through INMARSAT / MSAT or by phone at (867) 979 - 5727 or by facsimile at (867) 979 - 4236.

The NORDREG office staffs a Regional Ice Operations Superintendent that can offer information on ice conditions, specific ice routing assistance, aids to navigation, and Icebreaker support when considered necessary.

  • Phone: ...................... (867) 979 - 5200
  • Facsimile: ................. (867) 979 - 2613
  • E-mail:

Additional information regarding the role of NORDREG may be obtained by reading Notices To Mariners 1-46 Annual Edition No’s 6 & 26, and several pages of the Radio Aids To Navigation (Atlantic & Great Lakes) annual publication. Outside of the shipping season the function of NORDREG is carried out by the St. John’s MCTS Centre which may be contacted by phone at (709) 772 - 2106.

The Canadian Ice Service, Environment Canada

The Canadian Ice Service can be contacted at the following address:

Canadian Ice Service
Client Service
373 Sussex Drive, E - 3
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H3


Telephone: ........ 1 (800) 767 - 2885 / (613) 996 - 1550
Facsimile:........................................... (613) 947 - 9160
INMARSAT / MSAT Phone: .............. (613) 996 - 1550
INMARSAT / MSAT Facsimile:.............(613) 947 - 9160

Note: With INMARSAT , the numbers to dial before the area code may vary by ship.

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