TerraSond Limited: Operating for the Good of the Economy and Environment

TerraSond Limited (TerraSond) has grown to become a world-leading provider of geospatial surveying services since its 1994 founding. The company calls Palmer, Alaska, home, while maintaining additional outposts in Texas, Washington, Equatorial Guinea and Brazil. The addition locations enhance the team at TerraSond’s ability to work with clients in both public and private sectors worldwide. TerraSond professionals leverage years of industry experience and a fleet of highly advanced equipment to compile data that facilitates a client’s endeavors safely, efficiently and economically.
The data TerraSond collects contributes to a variety of different projects from informing nautical charting and safe marine navigation to ensuring the safe operation of submerged pipelines. Over the years TerraSond has completed projects as far away as the Red Sea, Greenland and even New Zealand. The company has a wide range of services, which include land and marine geophysical surveying, hydrographic surveying, marine asset positioning and decommissioning, mapping and charting, cable and pipeline surveying, and land surveying and services to support renewable energy developments.
“We have the capabilities to help a client understand the complexity and parameters of forces their project will need to be able to withstand, as well as understand the forces their project can utilize,” expands Tom Newman, president and cofounder of TerraSond.
TerraSond’s technical expertise often comes into play for public-sector authorities like the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as for major oil producers and telecommunication companies. Newman estimates TerraSond’s total volume of work is split evenly between government work, oil and gas work and marine infrastructure, which includes a growing component of renewable energy work.
Navigating the Waters of Renewables
“While the renewable energy work isn’t a huge part of our business, our employees are passionate about it and therefore we have become involved in a good portion of the work that’s available here in Alaska and elsewhere,” states Newman. TerraSond became a member of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) around 2007, joining a host of other commercial businesses, nonprofit organizations and public entities working to develop renewable energy resources in hopes of securing Alaska’s energy future.
“REAP has been Chris Rose’s [executive director of REAP] passion for a number of years and already REAP has been able to accomplish some really amazing things,” admits Newman. Among REAP’s most notable accomplishments has been its support of legislation to establish the Renewable Energy Grant Program to fund renewable energy projects across the state.
In spite of Alaska ranking second for oil production in the country, the state boasts some of the highest electrical rates of any state in the union. Rural communities are especially vulnerable to oil’s price fluctuations since many communities are completely independent of the state’s existing roadway and electrical infrastructure. As a result, managing a community’s basic municipal services can be a major logistical challenge and an expensive one at that, which is where TerraSond comes in.
Stabilizing Energy Supply
The small village of Igiugig, Alaska, enlisted TerraSond to complete a hydrokinetic energy assessment of the Kvichak River, along which Igiugig is located. TerraSond collected data over the course of seven days and four separate field expeditions to determine the feasibility of installing a 40 kW, in-stream hydrokinetic electric turbine. The project calls for 12 turbines to be installed along the river, suspended in the water column and attached to three 30-foot pontoon boats. The column of turbines would be protected from debris and trash by nets installed upstream. The system would connect to the recently updated existing power generation facility in Igiugig and offsets the community’s electrical supply, reducing its dependence on pricy diesel deliveries in the process.
The initial site survey of the village and the river took place during the first expedition and the following three expeditions were strategically scheduled, allowing the TerraSond team to collect data during low-, high- and mid-level flow stages. TerraSond then carried out careful data collection and analysis of the river flow patterns to compile a three-dimensional understanding of the river flow dynamics. A variety of sophisticated instruments from TerraSond’s arsenal were put into play, which included GPS equipment, a multibeam echo sounder, an inertial motion unit and an acoustic Doppler current profiler.
TerraSond associates collected raw data from the instruments, and this data was then supplemented with position and attitude data before being polished up for quality assurance and quality control back at the TerraSond office. The raw data transformed into a final cartographic product with the help of TerraSond professionals and a suite of software products, including ArcGIS, AutoCAD Civil 3-D and Fledermaus, a three-dimensional geospatial processing and analysis program. In doing so, TerraSond produced a highly detailed final product that could be exported in a variety of formats for further use in hydrodynamic modeling applications.
For the Future of Alaska
TerraSond moved so swiftly, in fact, that the team was able to complete its final expedition in October 2011. What is even more impressive is that the team was able to deliver the final report by December that same year, a full two months ahead of schedule.
“The hydrokinetic technology being explored is almost at the stage that wind power was say 20 or 30 years ago, when the technology was still being refined and it was hard to prove the technology was economically viable,” adds Newman. “But villages like Igiugig need power and the Kvichak River flows year-round, so it really seems like this will be one of the places where hydrokinetic electricity might be economical.”
As the renewable energy market in Alaska continues to grow, TerraSond will continue focusing its efforts on its existing customers and fostering new relationships in both public and private sectors. In turn, TerraSond Limited will help facilitate critically important developments around the world to contribute to safe navigation and resource development while also respecting the environment.