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North Slope Decision Support for Water Resource Planning and Management
Project Number
Last Reviewed Dated

The goal of this project is to develop a general scientific, engineering, and technological support system for water resources planning and management related to oil and gas development on the North Slope of Alaska. Such a system will aid in developing solutions to economic, environmental, and cultural concerns.


University of Alaska Fairbanks Systems, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7880
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3136
PBS&J, Inc., Marietta, GA 30067


Alaska’s North Slope hosts a phenomenal wealth of natural, cultural, and economic resources. It represents a complex system, not only in terms of its biophysical system and global importance, but also from the standpoint of its social dynamic. Water is an essential component of the North Slope environment. Local communities use lakes and rivers for access to subsistence resources and to sustain those same resources and requisite habitat. Energy development in the region is also inextricably tied to water resources. Oil and gas exploration and development requires a great deal of fresh water for ice road and ice pad construction, drilling muds, domestic water supplies, and implementing emerging enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods. A major challenge at the forefront of domestic energy development on the North Slope is the need for best management practices that will ensure benefits for all stakeholders. The creation of best management practices requires stakeholder cooperation that will enable cost-effective development strategies that fit within a broader context of long-term cultural, economic, and environmental sustainability. Successful management of this resource is essential to the broader issue of environmental protection and responsible energy development on the North Slope.

The challenges of developing best management practices for water resources include resource planning and management for efficient and sustainable water use, understanding and explicitly considering environmental impacts and protection, and developing and implementing effective participatory management strategies with representative stakeholder participation from all sectors.


Successful management of the water resources is essential to the broader issue of environmental protection and responsible energy development on the North Slope. This project, will address the challenge of establishing best management practices for North Slope water resources through the development of a prototype Decision Support System (DSS) designed to maximize solutions to the concerns of multiple stakeholders.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Researchers have completed documentation and have included all feedback from outreach presentations. NSDSS information and a web link have been sent to all stakeholders ( The final version of the stakeholder workshop outcomes has been finalized.
  • The research team hosted the final workshop in September 2012 and met with attendees (Alaska DOT personnel, university researchers, and industry) to discuss the NSDSS. Industry participants included BP, ConocoPhillips, and Exxon for whom researchers demonstrated the tool’s ability to aid in ice road planning when there are multiple users withdrawing from the same lakes. A case study of the proposed Umiat gravel road was presented, which outlined the usefulness of the NSDSS in planning the many ice roads that could be constructed along the Umiat Road in order to expand natural resource exploration and production in Alaska.
  • The NSDSS case study of the Chevron White Hills Ice Road during the 2007–2008 exploration season was presented at the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) 2012 Spring Specialty Conference on GIS and Water Resources. The presentation included peer review and input from conference attendees on possible improvements to the planning algorithm. A separate presentation on Lake Water Budget Modeling under future climate scenarios was prepared and presented at the same conference.
  • The lake water balance model and ice road planning models have been completed. The lake layers tool allows users to click on a lake and retrieve information such as bathymetry and lake levels. Feedback from the third stakeholder workshop has resulted in several enhancements to water budget modeling.
  • Researchers met with members of the life science National Science Foundation Data Conservancy (DC) Team at John Hopkins University to outline the NSDSS ice road planning process and related data needs. Based on the discussions, the NSDSS Ice Road Planning process will be used as an exemplar case in the DC project created in 2009 to develop cyber infrastructure and methodologies for preserving and presenting scientific data for the global community. DC team members will document the NSDSS project over the next year as the DC program develops a standard for national and global data research infrastructure organizations that will be used by researchers as a collaborative tool to advance science, research, and learning.
  • The University of Alaska–Fairbanks held a workshop April 27–28, 2011, to release the NSDSS to stakeholders. Factors such as optimal water use, construction costs, and environmental impacts were considered in ice route planning. Workshop invitees included oil and gas managers, federal and state agencies, water resource planners, and arctic researchers. User feedback was utilized as the system was prepared for public release.
  • The research team held online demonstrations of the NSDSS for NETL, Conoco Phillips, the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources, and the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game. Changes to the Tool were made based on feedback during the meetings.
  • Researchers met with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss the NSDSS ice road planning tool functionality, which will ensure that proposed ice road routes avoid endangered species.
  • Recent additions to NSDSS development include a lake water budget model, a lake water dissolved oxygen model, and a model database that allows users to publish their ice road plans. Data from the latest national hydrography dataset (NHD) was added to the geospatial lakes layer. The environmental analysis tool was added to the NSDSS web portal and allows for calculations of lake net basin supply and water quality. These analyses are needed during the ice road planning process in order to determine if sufficient water will be available to build ice roads under possible climate change scenarios and the impact of water withdrawals on the lakes and species within them.
  • An ODM publish database has been created in the NSDSS so users can publish monitoring data and data analysis results. A data publisher tool allows users to create new sites and variables, and load data from MS Excel into the ODM publish database.
  • The main meteorological database for the North Slope is operational; the prototype system and more datasets will be added as they become available. The data inventory currently consists of 26 North Slope meteorological stations, three stream gauging sites, and more than 100 snow survey sites. Additional radiation variables, soil temperature and moisture data, and stream flow data will be added to the database.
  • Software development activities included adding the natural systems modeling components and ice road planning decision support modeling to the NSDSS workbench. Applications included in the workbench are the ice road route optimization tool, ice exploration season analysis, water budget modeling for ice road source lakes, and water quality modeling for ice road source lakes. A Silverlight-based web portal is being developed to provide easy access to the information system and modeling components.
  • A second stakeholder workshop was held November 9–10, 2009, at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks. Many state and federal agencies and academia were represented including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Energy/NETL. Researchers obtained end-user input on system functionality and worked with stakeholders to identify the next set of high priority data to be included in the NSDSS.
  • Researchers began development of a metadata cataloging service, which is the key technology for database federation. Acting like a broker, this service receives requests for data, directs the requestor to the correct network database containing the data, and instructs the requester on how to access the data.
  • A novel ice road planning model has been designed and initially developed. The model incorporates spatial databases, mathematical optimization, and user-defined values to determine multiple options for ice road routes and tradeoffs between these options relative to various planning objectives such as cost, construction time, and minimization of uncertainty. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) Water Resources Section is particularly interested in this tool.
  • The prototype information system has been developed. This system implements a database federation concept that links new and existing databases together into a network of web-based data services, or a cyber-infrastructure, which helps avoid the unnecessary redundancy of developing an entirely new database to contain existing data.
  • Researchers worked closely with the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA), which provided data used to develop an NSDSS mock-up workbench during the first workshop. GINA has an extensive set of aerial and satellite imagery, as well as vector-based GIS data of hydrography, roads, and political boundaries. GINA representatives continue to provide important data necessary for the development of the NSDSS.
  • A first stakeholder workshop (January 2009) provided a formal project introduction to some 45 North Slope stakeholders. The workshop was designed to engage stakeholders in the development of initial specifications for a prototype of the NSDSS. A detailed water balance and water withdrawal permitting usage scenario was presented to the group as an initial step. Participants were invited to modify and refine this usage scenario based on their prior experience and collective knowledge. Minimum information system and model requirements were then identified based on the results of the group usage exercise. Later, participants divided into working groups to develop additional usage scenarios and associated system requirements. The results of this background research and stakeholder interactions formed the basis for the NSDSS prototype design.
  • Researchers examined existing water management, water use, and ice road planning practices on the North Slope. Key stakeholders and managers of water and other related natural resources chosen for their considerable institutional and scientific knowledge of the region, were identified and contacted. This background information was used to develop likely stakeholder usage scenarios for the proposed North Slope Decision Support System (NSDSS) water management tools.
Current Status

The project ended on March 31, 2013. A final project presentation was held on May 13, 2013. The final report is available below under "Additional Information".

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL – Sandy McSurdy ( or 412-386-4533)
University of Alaska Fairbanks – William Schnabel ( or 907-474-7789)

Additional Information