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Ice Observatories

We operate coastal ice observatories in the villages of Barrow and Wales, Alaska (shown in the map below). Both sites consist of a coastal webcam and radar. In Barrow, we also maintain a sea ice mass balance and sea level station, as well as produce forecasts for the early summer break-up of landfast ice. Near each site we also perform regular ice coring and ice thickness profiles (visit Data for more information). See below for general details and the menu at left for links to individual observing site components.


In addition to providing a visual impression of the sea-ice conditions off Barrow and Wales, webcam images establish a longer-term record of key dates in the seasonal evolution of the sea-ice cover, such as: onset of fall ice formation, formation of a stable ice cover, onset of spring melt, appearance of melt ponds, beginning of ice break-up in early summer, removal or advection of sea ice during the summer months.

The webcam in Barrow is installed atop a 4-story building in downtown Barrow (71° 17′ 33″ N, 156° 47′ 18″ W). The camera is looking approximately NNW. The webcam in Wales is mounted on top of the Kingikmiut School at the base of Cape Moutain. The camera is looking approximately WNW. On a clear day, both Fairway Rock and the Diomede Islands are visible. Both webcam images are updated online every 5 minutes.


Near-shore ice is monitored with Furuno 10 kW, X-band marine radars, which are positioned close to the shore on rooftops, and can operate at ranges up to approximately 11 km. Xenex digital controllers allow full remote operation from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Radar backscatter maps are produced to provide important information on the movement, deformation and stability of the coastal ice cover.

The radar in Barrow is installed atop a 4-story building in downtown Barrow (71° 17′ 33″ N, 156° 47′ 18″ W), and operates year-round. The radar in Wales is mounted on top of the Kingikmiut School, and operates only during the ice season. Radar still images are updated every 10 minutes, and 24-hr animations are produced at the end of every day at midnight local time.

Sea Ice Break-Up Outlook

This is our take on sea ice break-up in Barrow based on regional weather forecasts. Plots are updated daily. This outlook is geared toward ice in the Chukchi Sea North of Barrow (NARL and North) rather than ice directly offshore downtown Barrow.

Mass Balance and Sea Level Site

An automated ‘mass balance site’ is annually installed in growing, undeformed landfast first-year ice in a small embayment SW of Pt. Barrow. This site measures snow depth, ice thickness, and the water-ice-snow-air temperature profile. Also at this site are underwater acoustic altimeters that monitor local sea level.

Iñupiaq Sea Ice Knowledge - Project Jukebox

Project Jukebox at UAF (Karen Brewster and collaborators) compiled interviews conducted with Iñupiaq sea ice experts from Barrow and neighboring communities, drawing on research by Matthew Druckenmiller, Dyre Oliver Dammann, Lewis H. Shapiro and others from our research group.

The interviews and additional information is available at the Project Jukebox website: Project Jukebox

Additional information

A detailed overview of the various components and research objectives of the Barrow Sea Ice Observatory are presented in the following paper:

Druckenmiller, M.L.; H. Eicken; M. Johnson; D. Pringle; C. Williams (2009) Towards an integrated coastal sea-ice observatory: System components and a case study at Barrow, Alaska. Cold Regions Science and Technology 2009, 56 (1-2), 61-72 . (pdf)


This project is supported through the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS) with logistical and technical support provided by the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) and the Native Village of Wales. We also gratefully acknowledge the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), the Bering Sea School District, and Kingikmiut School for supporting installation of the webcams and radars. This material is also based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. OPP-0632398. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The sea ice radar is supported through the DHS National Center for Island, Maritime, and Extreme Environment Security (CIMES).