Engineering work in Shoal Cove is underway to provide the first ever iceberg surveillance system to track frozen giants as they pass over the location of Nalcor's intended Strait of Belle Isle marine cable crossing.
The contract was awarded to Provincial Aerospace, a subsidiary of Provincial Airlines, on August 19, and according to Lower Churchill Project vice president Gilbert Bennett, the monitoring service will cost $1 million a year over the initial contract period of two years.
There is an option to extend for two additional years if needed.
As one of the world's largest horizontal directional drilling contractors, Alberta-based Mears Canada continues their three-month project to bore a 10-inch diameter hole 2100 metres across the Straits and contractors are installing the needed hardware at the site for the monitoring service.
Mr. Bennett said both projects underway on the Northern Peninsula go "hand in glove."
"What we are trying to do with the horizontal directional drilling program is to make sure that we understand the rock and the issues there and we're satisfied it's an appropriate alternative," he said.
"For icebergs, there are a series of technologies we are using here, satellite imagery, over flights in the past to track where ‘bergs are going so this [monitoring] is just another tool in the tool set that we are using to make sure we have enough information on this issue."
The program will consist of a single radar tower, set up in Shoal Cove, with a range covering the entire Strait. It will feed remote live images into Nalcor's offices in St. John's.
Along with the radar, there will be a high definition camera that can be remotely operated providing images to St. John's for further analysis.
The data will enable Nalcor to monitor and determine the size and behaviour of icebergs in the Straits in a hope to better understand the dangers they could pose to the link.
"This is just one other component of our field investigations for the Strait of Belle Isle crossing," he said.
C-CORE, a St. John's-based research and development corporation, was enlisted by Nalcor to conduct iceberg risk analysis along with bathymetry work, or the study of underwater depths of ocean floors.
Mr. Gilbert said their initial work showed that in the north east entrance end of the Strait there was a shallow water depth of about 65 metres.
"So we know that if an iceberg grounds it'll stay there until it melts but what we are interested in is what happens if the iceberg melts a little bit and continues to float down and what happens to its draft as it continues down the Strait because it can roll and actually increase its draft," he said.
C-CORE's study gave predictions on what that draft change might be, which was in turn used to ascertain the minimum water depth Nalcor needed in the Straits.
That target depth is between 70 and 75 metres, Mr. Bennett said.
Mr. Bennett said the chance of an iceberg hitting the cables once they have been laid was "very small".
"It's in the order of one in a thousand years," he said.
If the unthinkable did occur, Mr. Bennett said there were contingency plans in place adding it was part of the reason three cables would cross the strait because if one should be damaged, the others could still run at full output.
The connection to the maritime link means if the cables were damaged, Nalcor could import power from Nova Scotia," he said.
"We have a number of ways around this."