The Challenges of Working in Alaska

Breaking ground on a new structure in Alaska is unlike any other project around the country. Alaskan engineers face extreme conditions that work towards compromising the integrity of their builds. Alaskan darkness can block out the sun for as many as 67 straight days in some regions, while others may have as few as 3 hours of sunlight to offer at certain times of the year. Along with darkness, freezing temperatures present difficulties with labor and equipment. While cities like Anchorage enjoy more moderate temperatures, certain cities and regions see average temperatures well in the negatives for months on end.

Dark, cold conditions are truly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building in Alaska. Surface conditions make building challenging and bleak, but the subsurface conditions challenge the safety of structures. From frozen soil to frequent earthquakes, the surface upon which Alaskan engineers work presents mighty challenges. Working with an experienced geotechnical engineer is the best way to ensure that potential hazards are considered and risk mitigation plans are developed. We can help you understand the region and the conditions that will affect your build.

Alaska Subsurface Conditions

Along with extensive Alaskan darkness and cold temperatures, the conditions beneath the ground add another challenge. No matter where you build, a geotechnical engineer will be tasked with conducting a site investigation to determine the unique challenges found at any given site. Cold region engineering presents some of the most difficult conditions to work with.

Alaska Permafrost

A chief concern of any engineer is dealing with the Alaska permafrost. According to the Department of Natural Resources Geological & Geophysical Surveys, Alaska permafrost covers roughly 85% of the state. The northernmost region of the state is covered almost entirely in permafrost, while the southeastern portion of the state enjoys quite a respite seeing little to no permafrost beneath the ground. In some areas, the Alaska permafrost reaches as much as 2,000 feet deep, which presents challenges for cold region engineering that aren’t seen anywhere else in the United States.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports that one of the main issues with building in the frigid Alaskan weather is ground warming. The heat produced by many buildings is enough to produce a thawing effect over time. This thawing impact can cause a building to sink, creating extreme hazards. Once a geotechnical engineer identifies the permafrost and subsequent risks, plans can be made to prevent the ground from melting. Lifting the building up on a steel frame to allow cooling air to pass through is a strong mitigation strategy to prevent thawing.

The extreme Alaskan weather that causes permafrost also contributes to Alaskan seismic activity. A major concern for engineers who must build on permafrost is the potential of frost heave. As ice forms and expands, it can shift and damage structures on the surface. Along with shifting ice, Alaskan seismic activity is incredibly common. Maps produced by the Alaska Earthquake Center show a strong concentration of earthquakes in Southern and Central Alaska, with sporadic activity throughout the state.

Alaska Seismic Activity

Alaska is one of the most seismically active regions in the world. This means that, while the magnitude and location of earthquakes are unpredictable, it’s a given that Alaskan seismic activity will continue to challenge the integrity of construction projects. Old structures can be reinforced, but the most effective way to mitigate potential earthquake damage is to work with a geotechnical engineer prior to beginning your build. A geotech can assess risk factors caused by Alaska weather, permafrost, or earthquakes, in order to draft a risk mitigation plan. Taking an active approach towards preventing hazards is the best way to ensure the longevity and integrity of your build.

Turn to Central Geotechnical Services for Guidance

Whether you’re combating Alaskan darkness, extreme temperatures, or challenging subsurface elements, Central Geotech is here to help. Our team has experience working through difficult conditions across the globe. We’ve dealt with extreme circumstances on public, commercial, and residential job sites and can leverage that hard-earned knowledge to make your work dealing with cold region engineering easier. If you’re looking to discuss an upcoming project, contact us today.