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University of Alaska Fairbanks launches “Fresh Eyes on Ice” project

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 4:16 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The University of Alaska International Arctic Research Center has launched their “Fresh Eyes on Ice” project to the public.

According to Katie Spellman, Research Assistant Professor at the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the project calls on community members to participate by photographing bodies of water like the Chena River as it freezes.

“Fresh Eyes on Ice is aimed at getting new observers, new eyes, fresh eyes observing the ice conditions in Alaska,” Spellman explained. “We’re really interested in how the process of freeze-up is happening and how it’s changing in Alaska, and we need as many eyes on the ice as possible.”

The project has existed for three years on a smaller scale; but with a new sponsorship, it’s expanding to include many more participants.

“This year, we got some special sponsorship from NASA to expand ice observing to anybody and everybody who is along any river,” Spellman elaborated. “You can be walking along the Chena River, stop, snap a photo through the Globe Observer app, and be contributing to this effort to understand how ice is changing in Alaska.”

The unique conditions during freeze up make other forms of large scale data gathering less than ideal according to Spellman.

“We have a couple of ways we can understand ice,” Spellman continued. “Some is from historic information - when did river boat captains pull their boats out of the water in the past? Then there’s all these historical photos that you can use to look at the ice conditions in the past. You can also use images from satellites. We have a whole fleet of satellites orbiting our earth. They can take pictures from above and give you a pretty good sense of what’s going on during freeze up and break up.”

But Spellman also explained that there are challenges at this time of year. “During freeze-up, the cloudiness can obscure the photos from satellites, and as the days get shorter, the amount of light affects how much those remote sensing images can capture the rivers. So, freeze-up is a particularly data poor time for science.”

The data collected is also shared with other organizations to assist them according to Spellman. “We have a partnership with the National Weather Service,” she said. “All the data in freeze-up in mid-winter and in spring are contributed to the National Weather Service River Forecast Center, and they use it in their predictions for flooding in the spring and for open-hole travel safety in the winter. So all the data is shared across the partners in the project. Tanana Chiefs Conference, NASA, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the National Weather Service.”

According to Brooke Woods, Fisheries Analyst and Outreach Coordinator for the Yukon River Intertribal Fish Commission with Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), the data gathered will benefit Alaskan Native communities along rivers.

“TCC signed on as a partner because it is very important, in that our Tribal citizens along the river better understand the changing climate and how that impacts freeze up and break up,” Woods explained. “Our river systems are very important when it comes to travel, subsistence, trapping, and gathering firewood for the winter. In my village of Rampart, we’re seeing later freeze-up and a majority of the river in front of our villages has not froze entirely like it typically does. So we have concerns about our traditional trail system that we use to cross the rivers, and that’s very much the case in most of our villages.”

Woods also commented, “I feel like the Fresh Eyes on Ice project really centers Alaskan Native communities and Tribal members, and will be an asset to the research and key to observation because they are the people on the ground living within the river systems.”

Participation on the Fresh Eyes on Ice project can be done either at the project’s website or by downloading the Globe Observer app.

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