Alaska Arctic Observatory & Knowledge Hub: Community-based observations of changes in the seasonal cycle in Alaska's Arctic

Observation tips

What should be observed?

We are interested in what is important about ice and snow for local people. Please record anything that you think is noteworthy.

Observations should include anything that relates to the sea ice or snow and is considered important or noteworthy by the observer from the perspectives of:

  • Hunting
  • Dangerous ice situations
  • The seasonal cycle
  • Under-ice ocean currents
  • Animals associated with the ice
  • Environmental indicators of change or coming events, such as migratory birds
  • Different ice types. If it’s not clear what the correct English term for a type of ice is, please provide an Iñupiaq term instead of or in addition to the English name.
  • Anything else considered important to people in the village

We would like to see if we can learn more from satellite images or other measurements that we make using radar or instruments on the ice that can help people travel on the ice or use the ice safely. Because of that, it is important to note if certain activities that rely on ice cover for transportation or that are affected by the ice take place.

How often should observations be made?

Having an accurate date for the different observations is very important.

It's best to write down the observation on the same day that it was made, rather than wait for the end of the week to write a summary.

It's good to have regular daily observations, even if on some days the notes are brief. For example, on a day in which no noteworthy events or changes take place, one might simply write something like “Today no changes in ice or weather – wind is still out of the south.”

Especially interesting observations


  • First snow fall (does it stay on the ground?)
  • When are there big snow fall or snow drift events? Does the ice flood in some areas during such events?
  • Events, (such as freezing rain) that cover the ice, or strong storms
  • When does the snow first start to melt?
  • When is the snow gone on the land and on the sea ice?


  • Start of ice freeze-up on lakes and lagoons
  • First new ice forming on the ocean (what type, is it just sheets or is it grease ice or pancakes?)
  • Appearance of old ice
  • When does the first landfast ice appear?
  • When is the landfast ice stable to travel on?

Winter events

  • What conditions are favorable for activities on the ice?
  • When does part of the shorefast ice break-out during the winter? how close to the beach and over what distance along the shore does it break out?
  • When and where do big ridges form in the shorefast ice?
  • Is there any old, fresh ice that is part of the shorefast ice?
  • Occurrence of ice push events (ivu); how big and over what distance?

Spring and summer events

  • What conditions are favorable for activities on the ice?
  • When does the ice start to melt?
  • When do melt ponds appear on the ice surface?
  • When is the snow on the ice gone?
  • When does the first open water appear along the shore?
  • When does the shorefast ice go out and how does this happen (all in one piece, grounded ice left behind)?
  • When does ice come back in close to shore after break-up?

Other events

  • Weather associated with changes in the ice or ice events
  • Animals associated with the ice
  • Activities on the ice (for example, fishing, hunting seals and other activities)
  • Indicators of changes that will soon take place with the ice or weather
Umiaq. (Billy Adams)
Umiaq. (Billy Adams)

Coastal Observers wanted!

We are hiring observers for Kaktovik, Kotzebue, Point Lay, and Wales. Learn more