Arctic Foundations specializes in frozen barriers and frozen soils technology

Petroleum Directory; Petroleum News; July 18, 2004

The frozen North may have met its match in Erv Long, principal owner of Arctic Foundations, Inc. His 50-plus years of northern engineering and the instinctive wizardry that comes with understanding both the land and weather cycles, puts Long right up there in the category of Permafrost King, or at least the guy who is up to the challenge of developing frozen lands building technology.

“As man has widened his horizons and encroached on these frozen areasthroughout the arctic and sub-arctic regions of the world,” says Long,“one of the major engineering and construction obstacles has been thepermafrost. Our frozen lands have become more and more of a designchallenge to planners, engineers, and contractors alike.”


Understanding permafrost is not only important to civil engineering andarchitecture, it’s also a crucial part of studying global change andprotecting the environment in cold regions, according to the IRCInstitute for Research in Construction. Permafrost is soil that remainsfrozen throughout the year. It occurs as large continuous areas offrozen soil, or in scattered patches surrounded by soil thatexperiences normal freeze-thaw cycles, or discontinuous permafrost. Inall cases, an active layer of soil that experiences normal freezing andthawing during the seasons overlies permafrost.
“Permafrost soils must be kept frozen for the soil not to lose itsbearing capacity,” cautions Frostline Northern and Remote Technology inHousing. “When soil has relatively high water content in the activelayer, measures must be taken to keep it frozen. When soil containsmassive ice deposits, extra care must be taken in the design of thefoundation if this is the case … Buildings transmit heat to theunderlying soil through convection and radiation. This can thaw frozensoil, leading to displacement of the foundation.”

The company

Arctic Foundations Inc. has more than 50 years experience as aninnovator in foundation construction and technology for frozen soilsand frozen barriers. Long started the business in the early 1970s whilestill working at the Corps of Engineers. He recognized the advantage offreezing previously thawed unstable ground and the need to maintainpermafrost; in the late 1950s he developed the Thermopile system andwent on to patent his thermal transfer process.
Initially he did his design work at night and hired others to operatethe business, and then in 1976 he retired from the Corps and took overactive management. Because manufacturing costs were high in Alaskaduring pipeline construction years, Arctic Foundations contracted itsmanufacturing in Seattle from 1972-78. In the early 1980s the companybought its Anchorage facility and eventually added adjacent property.The complex is now comprised of 12,500 square feet of building spaceand 53,000 square feet of yard space, including a metal spray andfusion plastic coatings shop and a pressure vessel shop, one of few inAlaska. Arctic Foundations employs a core six people and seasonallyexpands up to 17, depending on contracts. “Welding is the key to ourquality. We have several excellent permanent, full time welders,” saysLong.

“The Corps installed the first commercial units in 1960 at the Auroraand Glennallen communication sites,” says Long, “and they are stillfunctioning and maintaining their permafrost stability today. Sincethat time we’ve designed, manufactured and installed thousands ofground freezing and thawing systems and units throughout North America,Canada, Greenland, and Russia.

“We’ve become a leader in state-of-the-art permafrost foundations,ground stabilization pressure vessels, Thermopiles and Thermoprobes andfrozen barriers and we continue to develop and advance Thermosyphontechnology as techniques improve in related sectors of the geotechnicalindustry.”

The technology

Arctic Foundation’s primary product is the Thermosyphon, or pressurevessels with aluminum and fusion coat epoxy finish, also calledThermoprobes. The Thermosyphon is strictly a heat-transfer device,basically a closed evaporation condensation system, extracting excessheat out of the earth, when used to maintain frozen conditions.
“Let’s go from the top down,” explains Long. “Air colder than theground causes condensation on the inside of the top of Thermosyphonthat reduces pressure in it. That reduction then permits boiling of theliquid below ground which causes reduction in temperature and permitsheat to transfer from soil to the Thermosyphon.”

The technology was used in the vertical support members on thetrans-Alaska pipeline and to stabilize the foundation of the terminalson each end of the Colville River crossing for the Alpine project,along with hundreds of other projects.

Thermosyphon barrier freezing technology compares favorably to many ofthe non-freezing technologies to depths of 50 feet — and is unbeatableat greater depths for project durations of five years or longer,according to the company, including microbial barriers, sheet piling,slurry walls, grout injection, pump-treat-inject, in situ vitrificationand membrane barriers.

• Temperature of the barrier can be controlled to ensure the necessary liquid-solid phase change.

• Frozen barriers can be developed in soils that are saturated or relatively dry.

• Can be applied at any depth from the ground surface, or itsapplication can be restricted and applied only to a predetermined zonebelow the surface.

• Can be used to form a vertical, horizontal, or angled impervious barrier, or as an encapsulating soil mass.

• Excavation is minimized as Thermoprobes are installed by drilling or driving.

• A system can be installed quickly if necessary.

• Regulatory Issues are typically non-controversial due to minimal environmental impact.

• Active-passive hybrid systems are used in climates where low wintertemperatures do not prevail or where freezing is required prior to theonset of cold weather.


According to Long, thermo design of a foundation to maintain permafrostmust extract heat from building of seasonal thaw from above, geothermalheat from below, warmer soils surrounding the site, buried water andsewer lines, runoff from building roofs, and surface drainage. Designmust also allow for seasonal thaw without affecting the totalfoundation area.

“For foundations, our clients are the engineers. We build to their specs,” says Long.

Containment and frozen barriers

Confinement of a buried hazardous waste can be accomplished by directlyfreezing a contaminated soil mass or by surrounding it with a frozenbarrier.
“AFI’s Hybrid Thermosyphon Technology is a well-established technologythat is ideally suited to the long-term containment and immobilizationof many subsurface hazardous wastes that the USEnergy.html'>Department of Energy has targeted as part of theirenvironmental management program,” Arctic Foundations told PetroleumNews. “These contaminants include tritium, strontium 90, DNAPLs, andmany others. Few technologies can match ours.”

The most recent and pertinent application of contaminant control was ademonstration project at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in whichthe HRE Reactor Pond was surrounded with a frozen barrier measuring 300feet long, 12 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. Installed during the summerof 1997, the system continues to operate, functioning as planned. It iseffectively stopping the flow of radionuclide contaminants from thepond and is doing so in a very cost effective, trouble-free manner.

Mining and dams

Ground freezing can be a beneficial technology for dam building withoutregard to any specific industry, or the purpose the dam serves. Afrozen dam can be even more effective than a traditional type becausefreezing can more effectively seal multiple soils types in the dam and,if necessary, well below it, as evidenced at the Panda Dam and EkatiDiamond Mine in Canada’s Northwest Territory, and a tailings dam in theRussian Far East. Long is currently discussing business with ArcticFoundations of Canada and Canadian mining groups. The technology heuses for mining and dams is the same as that employed for permafrostfoundations or frozen barriers.
Arctic Foundations serves clients in multiple industries, including oiland gas, mining, state and federal governments and individual business— anyone who needs to maintain frozen ground over long periods of timeor who requires a frozen barrier or foundation.

By Susan Braund, Petroleum Directory Contributing Writer


Editor’s note: Susan Braund owns Firestar Media Services in Anchorage, Alaska.