The Arctic Sounder

Ice measuring in Kotzebue can help snowmachiners and scientists alike

Snowmachiners and any Kotzebue residents pondering ice travel should soon have more information to make the call about ice safety.

Last month, the Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub and the Native Village of Kotzebue deployed an under-ice oceanographic instrument to monitor ice thickness and snow depth at a site offshore of town. In the upcoming weeks, they plan to report regular measurements of ocean conditions, ice thickness and snow depth.

An ongoing initiative directly benefits Kotzebue residents, especially during the break-up season, said Alex Whiting, the environmental program director for the Native Village of Kotzebue, who is a part of the project.

“As we get closer to break up, it starts to get sketchy and people are more generally interested in things like ice thickness,” Whiting said. “It’s all sunny, long days. everyone wants to go out and play.”

For some Kotzebue residents who regularly go ice fishing or crabbing the information might be something they already know, said University of Fairbanks Post-Doctoral Researcher and AAOKH fellow Alex Ravelo. But for some snowmachiners and people who don’t go out on the ice as often, it can be important. Plus, having data about the changes in the ice this year and in previous years can help locals understand trends better said Ravelo who helped with this year’s deployment.

Last week in Qikiqtaġruk (Kotzebue), on Feb. 15, AAOKH worked with observer Bobby Schaeffer and Native Village of...

Posted by Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub on Thursday, February 22, 2024

Kotzebue has had monitoring stations since 2018, originally as a part of the project called Ikaaġvik Sikukun, or ice bridges, which was a collaboration between sea ice scientists, marine mammal experts and local knowledge holders, Ravelo said.

In 2019, the Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub — a collaboration between Arctic residents and the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center — took over the project, providing funding for data collection and processing.


Originally, there were two monitoring stations: one in the bay north of town and another one in the channel. In the last couple of years, only the channel station remained.

On Feb. 15, the village and Knowledge Hub staff installed the measurement system under the ice. This is later than normal: in previous years and in the future, researchers aim to get it out there in January or earlier, Whiting said.

One instrument was installed under the ice to record data continuously from February to May, Ravelo said. Ty Kramer with the Native Village of Kotzebue will also collect data manually every week or about every week.

The measurement instrument, called CTD, or Conductivity, Temperature, Depth, allows scientists to determine changes in water properties and the state of the seasonal ice cycle, according to AAOKH. For example, an increase in salinity in the fall indicates freeze-up, while a decrease in salinity in spring means melting ice at the onset of break-up.

“The fresher the water, the faster it can freeze,” Ravelo said.

The observations on ice thickness, water temperature and salinity will be posted on the AAOKH Facebook page.

Besides benefiting the residents, the data provides scientists with information about conditions, allows them to analyze and predict climate trends and gives them more detail that can help understand variability, Ravelo said.

“But also it gives us a real perspective of why these sea ice measurements are important because they come along with Bobby’s observations that he’s describing in detail,” she said. “It helps us not only understand but ask more questions, right?”

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.