Permafrost engineering under UAF's Thompson Dr. sets standard for Arctic roads

Published: Aug. 25, 2017 at 9:05 PM AKDT
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A road up to the University has become the model for permafrost construction.

Named after UAF advocates, Morris, Thelma, and Sheryl Thompson, 'Thompson Drive' has become the gold standard for permafrost stability.

Normally, roads in Fairbanks have a layer of asphalt on barely frozen ground.

Once permafrost begins to thaw, the pavement sinks and buckles.

Thompson Drive, however, has several systems in place to super-cool the permafrost during the winter, in order to keep the permafrost from melting in the warmer months, and thereby preventing the roads from getting damaged.

Dean of the College of Engineering and Mines, Douglas Goering, describes the system of gas-filled tubes that work to keep the road cool.

"The thermosiphons have been used in a couple of roadway projects. In Thompson Drive, we use what are called 'hairpin thermosiphons.' So these are thermosiphons that are sort of in a V-shape. The upper part is actually right below the surface of the road, right below the asphalt. The lower part is found deeper, basically down in the permafrost. And the idea is that in the winter time when the road surface is really really cold, the top pipe in that V-shaped thermosiphon gets very cold and starts pulling heat from the permafrost down below."

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