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Expansion of Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility completed nearly doubling its size

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 5:20 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility north of Fairbanks is nearly twice as big as it was last year. Construction crews spent the cold winter months digging out additional passageways in the tunnel to expand their research capabilities. The project was part of a 10 year tunnel expansion.

“This winter we excavated almost a thousand horizontal feet of passageway,” said Daniel Vandervort, a research engineer who helped head up the project, “and that expanded the facility to almost 2,000 feet of passageway.”

Crews used special mining equipment to grind away the rock, dirt and ice in the hillside and then move it outside of the tunnel. Because the permafrost tunnel needs to remain frozen, crews needed to work during the winter, which presented challenges.

Vandervort said, “Just the fact that we are doing kind of a unique excavation in the wintertime in Alaska... I think anyone who lives in Alaska for a period of time just knows that even daily life in the wintertime is already harder because it’s so cold.”

At times the inside of the tunnel was 30 to 40 below zero which put a strain on the equipment.

Vandervort said they expanded the tunnel because it “was a little too small before, and we needed more area to do more research on ice wedges or engineering techniques of some kind.”

Scientists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage the tunnel and use it to study things like ice wedges. Vandervort said the tunnel is also used by researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and other scientists from all over the world who study its geological features.

They wanted to finish the project before temperatures outside warmed up, and Vandevort said they were able to complete the tunnel expansion weeks ahead of schedule.

The latest excavation phase completed the 10 year expansion project, and will allow the scientists to conduct better climate and engineering research.

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