Chiller Failure Causes Catastrophic Loss of Climate Research Data

  April 26, 2017

By Naomi Millán

Recent compounding HVAC system failures at the University of Alberta caused the loss of priceless climate data when 180 meters of ice core samples melted.

The samples, almost 13 percent of the Canadian Ice Core Archive (CICA), had been collected between the 1970s and mid-2000s. Each core would cost between $500,000 and $1 million to replace, according to an article in Science. They had been previously stored at the Geological Survey of Canada's Ice Core Research Facility in Ottawa, and had been transferred to the university in March of this year.

“Careful thought and attention went into planning every design detail, from the cross-country transport to the facility itself, and we all thought there were no weaknesses,” said Martin Sharp, glaciologist and research lead for CICA in an article from the university.

The storage units for the ice cores had last been commissioned in October 2016 and tested for five months before the ice cores were transferred. However, on April 2, two malfunctions caused the loss of the ice cores. High head pressure conditions reportedly caused the chillers to circulate hot water. Additionally, high temperature alarms were not being transmitted to the central control system due to a database failure, according to the article. Temperatures in the coolers reached 40 C (104 F) and were discovered when a high heat alarm in the building dispatched the fire service.

The university will be installing redundancy for the storage cooler's alarming pathway and the refrigeration system will be modified to mitigate the effects of any future chiller failure.

This Quick Read was submitted by Naomi Millán, senior editor of Building Operating Management magazine, naomi.millan@tradepress.com. For more information on dealing with HVAC system failures, check out https://www.facilitiesnet.com/11310fmd


Read next on FacilitiesNet