Satellites help scientists predict ice flow hazards

By Julia Taylor

Sun Star Reporter

UAF Assocaite Professor of Geophysics, Hajo Eicken is fascinated by arctic sea ice, and along with graduate and undergraduate students, he is moving research into real time.

The combination of fieldwork and real-time satellite imaging can have a huge impact on communities in the Arctic.

Hajo Eicken talks about sea ice formation and how new technologies and local TEK from Barrow are helping scientists at UAF better understand sea ice formation. He keeps a molecular copy of the sea ice crystals in his office, shown above. - Scott Taylor / Sun Star

Hajo Eicken talks about sea ice formation and how new technologies and local TEK from Barrow are helping scientists at UAF better understand sea ice formation. He keeps a molecular copy of the sea ice crystals in his office, shown above.  Photo by Scott Taylor

Last year, when a sheet of ice broke off near Barrow, scientists at UAF were able to give real time radar tracking to help the people on the ground rescue those who were out on the ice when it broke away. That particular day was foggy and the radar gave the most accurate reflection of where the sea ice was and what the ocean currents were doing at that point, according to Eicken.

While Eicken collaborates with scientists around the world, about a third of arctic ice research is done in a lab at UAF. One of the best resources that he and other scientists have are the Alaska Natives who have lived with arctic sea ice for their entire lives, and who hold what is referred to as traditional ecological knowledge, or TEK.

Diloola Erickson, a UAF undergraduate from Galeena, has helped to transcribe, enter and analyze data from collaborators in local villages. The data that Erickson has added to the project is vital, as it allows TEK observations to be collated with the high tech information collected by satellites, radar and other field equipment.

Arctic ice research in the lab is deliberate, according to Eicken, and allows researchers to create control environmental circumstances, like an oil spill. There are ethical concerns about unnecessarily exposing ecosystems to hazards. Creating smaller versions of those ecosystems gives scientists like Marc Oggier and Kyle Dilliplaine, both graduate students at UAF, a chance to replicate temperature, ocean salinity and other important conditions, and then expose particular animals or plants to hazards that occur when accidents happen.

By studying these small scale hazard events, it helps scientists all over the Arctic plan for what to do if they happen in the ocean.

“What’s great about sea ice research is that lots of people care about sea ice,” Eicken said.

It makes it so that partnerships and collaboration with local, federal, and some international groups help to fund the research in the Arctic Ocean. The relationships that Eicken has built with indigenous communities, and the knowledge base about local conditions that local experts in TEK add to the research, are invaluable. From choosing where to place scientific instruments, to sharing historical TEK records kept by many indigenous communities, the flow of information is a two way process, according to Eicken.
The combination of fieldwork and real-time satellite imaging can have a huge impact on communities in the Arctic.

Eicken is very impressed with the knowledge and understanding that local hunters have of the area, and said that they give scientists information about long term patterns, what potential problems to look for and a sense of the places they live that technical instruments can’t provide.While more people are out on, or breaking through, arctic sea ice, there is not still a fairly narrow understanding of what arctic sea ice research can be used for.

Eicken and his graduate and undergraduate students are looking not only at what is happening now, they are also looking ahead to the issues of exposure and mitigation, so that the state of Alaska can have an accurate picture of the risks and hazards that come to villages, eroded coastlines, and the biospheres both above and below arctic sea ice. Eicken is also collaborating on creating a standard assessment tool for arctic sea ice, so international data is more easily shared and interpreted.

Eicken hopes that with the 2016 Arctic Science Summit Week, which will be held at UAF, that progress will be made on creating an international standard for arctic ice hazards, and how they are described and measured.

Alaska Sea Ice: Hazards and Uses – Presentation and Q&A

Anyone interested in learning more about arctic sea ice research has the chance to attend Eicken’s presentation, as part of the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) showcase lecture series on October 15, at 5:30 p.m. The URSA Showcase lectures are free and open to the public and are held each Wednesday in Schaible Auditorium. Eicken encourages students who are from coastal Alaskan communities to attend and share their experiences. There are opportunities for fieldwork and on-campus internships for students interested in doing sea ice research, especially if they speak Yu’pik or Inupiat.

 

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *