Hajo Eicken was interviewed on February 28, 2018 by Karen Brewster in his office of the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this first part of a two part interview, Hajo talks about how he came to Alaska and got involved in sea ice research, his early research activities, and his collaboration with local ice experts. He also discusses the importance of combining local and traditional knowledge with science, differences in these knowledge systems, establishing local observation networks, use of observational data, and creation of useful products.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Feb 28, 2018
Narrator(s): Dr. Hajo Eicken
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Educational background and beginning of sea ice research
Coming to Alaska and beginning sea ice research in Utqiaġvik (Barrow)
Starting to work with local people who use and live on sea ice
Looking at larger picture of sea ice, human use, oil and gas development, and climate change
Changes in the sea ice
Importance of local knowledge of ice conditions
Combining local knowledge with scientific data
Creating products useful to local community, industry, and science
Effect of wind and current on sea ice
Difference between Native ways of knowledge and western scientific thinking
Local observing networks
Narrow view of scientific research versus holistic view of traditional knowledge
Use and management of sea ice observation database
Effect of ice berm formation during fall freeze-up on ice conditions and human access
Use of observation network data
Unprecedented changes in sea ice conditions, and effect on subsistence activities
Locally useful products from the weather service about weather and ice conditions
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KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. This is Karen Brewster. Today is February 28, 2018 and I’m here with Hajo Eicken at the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, and this is for the Sea Ice Project Jukebox.
Hajo, thank you. And you are Professor of Geophysics as well as the director of IARC? HAJO EICKEN: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, to get us started maybe you could tell me a little bit about your background. You know, where you’re from and how you got kinda into this sea ice work.
HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. So, my -- my degree is in mineralogy, my -- my undergrad. And then the Masters equivalent, I -- I got that in Germany.
I did my PhD in -- at the University of Bremen, but working at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar Marine Research in Bremerhaven in glaciology.
So I’m -- I'm mostly think of myself as a glaciologist, but somebody who studies, these days, mostly ice on the ocean and various other things related to sea ice.
And I -- I’d been working at the Alfred Wegener Institute for about -- close to ten years, looking mostly at sea ice processes.
How to better understand them, how to represent them in models, how to develop remote-sensing approaches to improve our understanding of how the sea ice works.
And for -- for that work we’d been doing quite a bit of laboratory experiments, but now -- now being like in the late -- mid-‘90s, late ‘90s, I was getting to a point where I really wanted to do more field-based work.
You know, particularly looking at Arctic processes and, there specifically, at the way sea ice is transformed over the course of the summertime.
You know, when the -- when the multi-year ice, the old ice, develops these melt ponds.
The albedo, its ability to reflect light, drops dramatically. Very important part of the -- the role that sea ice has on the climate system.
And for us to do that out of Germany, you know, we -- we -- the -- the Institute had its own icebreakers.
We’d have to go on the icebreaker, sit around not really doing much in the way of fieldwork for three weeks/four weeks 'til we’d get to a point where we could actually get out.
And then, you know, you -- you -- you would count yourself lucky if you had -- like, if you had two days in the same location, that was great, you know.
And that -- so that was interesting work because we really did do quite a lot of surveying across the Arctic.
And in ’91, I was part of the first expedition with a conventional icebreaker to the North Pole, so we covered a lot of -- lot of the Arctic that way, both in the Siberian Arctic -- we’d work quite a bit with Russian researchers in the early/mid-90s.
And -- but then at some point I -- I was sorta interested in seeing, well, you know, this -- this really requires a different approach.
And so that’s where this opportunity here at UAF came up, which was great. Because, you know, as you know, UAF is within commuting distance of the Arctic Ocean.
And I -- I actually, you know, would’ve moved to Barrow, you know. And -- and sometimes I sort of think of Fairbanks as a compromise between my wife, who would’ve preferred Seattle - back then at least - and me preferring Barrow.
But anyway, so in ‘98 is when I started, and then I had the first field experiment in the spring of ‘99 up in Barrow.
And that was work with a microbiologist at the University of Washington, Jody Deming. And we looked at sea ice processes at the micro-scale from the perspective of what constrains life in extreme environments.
And then in the fall, we started these measurements that we’ve been trying to keep going by sort of splicing together individual projects from year to year that look more at the mass budget.
You know, the seasonal cycle of sea ice: how thick does it grow, how’s it transformed, how do its properties evolve.
By putting out instruments on the ice, by developing new instruments that can tell us things about not just how thick the ice grows, but also what its properties are, without us having to go out and take ice cores.
So that started in ‘99. And that -- so initially really, my -- I -- I was excited about this because part of the -- the reason for going up to Barrow was that previous work by Willy Weeks, who you might’ve interviewed.
KAREN BREWSTER: No, I did not, but I know the name.
HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. He -- he was sort of a -- you know, the -- the -- the great big man of sea ice science in many respects, but also by Lew Shapiro had shown that up in that area, at least back then, you had these large expanses of very homogeneous sea ice where the under-ice currents were -- has such an interesting connection.
So -- so in their analysis, they had worked inshore. And they had concluded that the under-ice currents are very weak but steady along shore, which then results in the ice crystals lining up perpendicular to those currents, which makes them very good to work with from a process-studies perspective.
So we -- we did a bunch of work in that area trying to develop models of, you know, how the fluid in sea ice is transported, how the sea ice properties evolve.
And at the same time, though, I’d always been interested in -- which was one of the reasons that made Alaska so attractive -- in working with people who actually live with sea ice.
You know, who have -- have very different perspective on sea ice. Because that’s always had been missing.
I’d done a lot of work on sea ice in Antarctica prior, and also on the cruises that we’d been on in the Arctic, that was always very far away from shore.
And so this -- this was very interesting to me.
So what -- what happened then was basically that sort of two things developed in parallel. One was that, you know, Lew Shapiro was a great mentor of mine. You know, who introduced me to people up there.
I met, you know, Richard Glenn fairly early on, Kenneth Toovak. And learned a lot from -- from the locals, you know, the Iñupiat ice experts. What to look out for, you know.
But initially, we just used that in terms of -- you know, so when we deployed our first instruments up there that we -- you don’t want to lose those. That’s a lot of money you have locked up in the sea ice.
You know, I -- I would talk to Kenneth Toovak and other people. George Leavitt was back in those days working with BASC. He -- he really provided good advice.
KAREN BREWSTER: Which is the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium. HAJO EICKEN: Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, you know.
And this was actually -- I mean it was kind of serendipitous because when I came up there, we were -- I think I had the first project where BASC was transitioning into what would have then evolved, which was sort of the logistics provider, you know.
So, initially, I actually negotiated with Glenn Sheehan directly.
You know, without any involvement of NSF (National Science Foundation) as to okay, what can you do to support us, et cetera.
All they had back then was the little garage where you had the snowmachines and the ATVs, and that’s also where we were. You know, that -- that was it basically.
Anyway, so -- so -- so in our work it was -- I was mostly interested in tryin’ to learn more from local experts about safety on the ice. You know, how does the ice develop? What do you have to watch out for? What -- what are your thoughts on where to put instruments?
And that was very good guidance in many respects. But, of course, then you realize, "Whoa! I mean, these guys really know so much more."
And the other -- other good thing that happened to me was that in the fall or winter of 2000 - you were part of that - Dave Norton and several others --
KAREN BREWSTER: Barrow Sea Ice Symposium?
HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, exactly. Organized the Barrow Sea Ice Symposium, which brought together a small group of Iñupiat ice experts and sort of professional academic scientists to look at some, you know, various things that are of importance to the people up there.
And that gave me a really good start into, you know, how do you -- I mean, beyond just sort of talking with people informally, this bigger framework of, you know, indigenous knowledge.
Or -- or I guess back then it was more traditional knowledge that people refer to. And so -- so that kind of got us off on that collaboration.
But then also the other thing is -- which, you know, I guess there’s sort of three or four things happening in parallel in -- So -- so -- so what are those? You know, maybe just to lay it out -- so it’s this -- it’s the part of my work transitioning from only looking at sea ice processes into looking at the impact of climate change on sea ice.
Which really, I mean, was -- was one motivation for the work I was doing, because part of the work was to improve climate models, earth system models.
But I had really not -- I didn’t come to Alaska to look at how’s ice changing. You know, that really wasn’t the primary goal.
But that slowly became more and more important. In parallel then, of course, as you are well aware, in the mid-2000s you had this rapid increase in interest by the oil and gas industry in developing the Chukchi Sea, which led to a bunch of different -- well, you know, sort of a bunch of different questions being raised.
And -- and -- and significant -- well, significant hardship for people who were drawn into that debate. You know, which, of course, was not always very -- you know, wasn’t necessarily a very -- you know, it was a contentious debate as you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: And what -- could you maybe explain the debate? What you refer to as the debate.
HAJO EICKEN: Yes. So the -- I guess one -- one -- or the part that I became interested in as well was -- was, of course, the big question as to can you safely develop offshore oil and gas resources?
In particular in a location that is, you know, fifty, sixty, seventy miles away from the shoreline in an area with very dynamic and challenging ice conditions.
In fact, probably the most challenging ice conditions almost anywhere in the Arctic, you know, with the exception maybe of the high Canadian Arctic. That was the question.
And, of course, for the local communities, you know, they think of that region as their garden or their -- their food pantry.
And -- and knowing the sea ice as intimately as people do up there, of course, they raised a lot of questions that they felt were not adequately being addressed by industry.
And so that actually then turned out to be part of the research that I -- I got more involved and more interested in is -- is how do you --?
You know, if you’re at a public university in a state that has its government expenses paid for directly or indirectly, you know, ninety percent by oil and gas and resource development, you can’t just sort of say, “Well, I’m not interested in these types of questions. I just want to do my process studies.”
You know, you -- I feel we -- that’s part of our role is to serve as an honest broker of information. Provide the best available information to agencies, industry, and those who are opposed to oil and gas development. And that was something that I got increasingly interested in.
And then during the International Polar Year, 2007 through 2009, we did quite a bit.
I was leading, co-chairing a university-wide system-wide committee on Research and the International Polar Year, and the key contribution of that was to bring together over the course of several years various key players from the oil and gas industry, local government, tribal government, NGOs, the regulators, international partners.
You know, we brought in a lot of Norwegians and Russians to look at these issues and had a series of workshops in Barrow, you know, a seminar series, et cetera.
And then all of that again -- sort of this question of: "What do the Iñupiat or other -- you know, the Yupik people for that matter, know about sea ice that we may not know just as well or from a different perspective that’s important in this context?"
So, looping back to, you know, the early 2000s then, at that point, you know, we were starting to see the first -- at least from a research perspective, first manifest impacts of a changing sea ice cover.
And -- and, you know, a number of people in the region had already pointed this out at that point. You know, 2002, Igor Krupnik and Dyanna Jolly published the book, you know --
KAREN BREWSTER: The Earth Is Moving Faster Now? HAJO EICKEN: Earth Is Moving Faster Now.
You know, where -- where they pointed to a lot of voices and insights from indigenous experts across Alaska in the 1990s about the degree of changes.
And, of course, you’d heard that in Barrow back then quite-- quite a bit as well.
And it was interesting just anecdotally, you know, in 1999 when we for the first time deployed our sea ice mass balance site, which we’ve been trying to keep going ever since.
You know, so you freeze a bunch of instruments into the ice. You want to be sure the ice at that point is thick enough and stable enough that it doesn’t leave again with all your stuff on there.
And we did that in ’99, the first week of November. You know, I think it was November 5 or something like that, that we put it out.
The ice was over a foot thick, you know. Everybody agreed. The people I talked to locally, "Yep, this is safe. You know, this is not gonna leave." And -- and that was that.
Now, you know -- well, in fact up until last year we -- we, you know, in recent years we had to wait until late January or early February 'til there was shorefast ice that was thick and stable enough to put stuff out there.
And this year it’s even more extreme, you know. I mean, this year really sort of kicks the bottom out.
KAREN BREWSTER: So have you put it out yet this year? HAJO EICKEN: Well, this year you know there’s sort of a number of -- of -- of complications.
So we -- we actually haven’t put out anything at Barrow yet. We’ve postponed that.
We’ve had to also wait because we have a project with industry in the Beaufort Sea, where the same issue -- you know, in the past you could put stuff out there in -- in October even.
You know, because the Beaufort freezes up a bit more early and the shorefast ice is more stable.
And that had to wait until just now. I mean Josh Jones, who’s working with Andy Mahoney, who’s now leading that work, and myself just went out last week actually. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.
HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. So -- so these shifts, you know, they’re massive. But in a way, you know, we sort of in the work that I’ve been doing up there, I think we’ve -- we caught, you know, at least from -- from the type of research that we’re doing, the early stages of -- of -- of these types of changes.
And then, you know, so that -- that continued.
And then in -- in, I think 2006 it was, that Shell came in and said okay that they’re going to start or they’re pursuing these large leases in the Chukchi Sea, some of them in the Beaufort.
And that then suddenly raised the, you know, the relevance of sea ice research in that area from a number of perspectives, but also raised the importance of indigenous and local knowledge of ice conditions.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you’ve mentioned that when the sort of oil and gas questions were coming up that the Iñupiat people had questions that they were asking about things.
Did you then follow through on some of those questions in your own research? To help provide them answers? HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, I mean, the --
KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have any examples? HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. Well, and to be honest, I mean I -- I really can’t claim that we’ve done much, you know. Because it’s a very wide field.
I would say that we’ve contributed in two areas. One is, you know, is this key question of ice use in the coastal environment, the landfast ice.
And that’s been, you know, sort of I think about it -- I mean, that’s been part of -- that’s been a good part of my research is to come up with a framework that allows you to think about that in more rigorous or academic terms.
In terms of, "Okay, how do people use the ice? You know, what’s actually -- what’s important about the coastal ice that matters from the perspective of ice use?"
And -- and those types of ice properties are often very different from the types of ice properties that you would track if you’re looking at climate change and the sea ice cover.
And so we, you know, working with Amy Lovecraft and Matt Druckenmiller, a former graduate student, we published a paper and sort of developed a framework that helped us think about that, drawing on this concept of ecosystem services and translating that into a sea ice context.
And then Amy, Chanda Meek and myself did sort of some follow-up work where we looked at -- mostly them as political scientists or resource scientists looked at it from the perspective of how do you manage these types of potential conflicts even, in terms of ice use.
But some of the graduate students then working with me, most recently, Dyre Oliver Damman, have looked at taking this further in terms of what do we actually -- what can we extract in terms of information about the ice cover that is valuable to local people but that may be much more difficult to obtain now at times where the the ice cover’s changing, more dynamic, and where a lot of locals are now relying on a combination of indigenous knowledge and sophisticated technology.
So, Oliver, who defended his PhD last year, just published a paper that we worked on with a group of people including a couple of people from Barrow, that basically looked at this question of ice stability and trafficability.
You know, how do you move across the ice? How do you -- you know, how do you evaluate the ice safety?
And -- and, you know, he published several papers on this. But one in my mind is a really nice synthesis of the indigenous knowledge perspective, which is expressed in the way local hunting groups or, you know, whalers, a whaling crew, would put a trail out on the ice cover, right?
So -- so, you know, the goal is you’re somewhere on the shore, you have -- you’ve got, you know, a few miles, sometimes as much as five to ten miles of shorefast ice at the edge of the shorefast ice’s open water where the males -- whales migrate.
You want to get there, and you want to have the most -- the safest, fastest, most efficient path out there.
You know, that allows you to get a whole bunch of people out there, get whale meat back, et cetera, et cetera.
And so in -- in -- in many respects, you know, what -- what always struck me is that the way these trails are put in is both a combination of -- or an expression of the geophysics of the ice cover and the way people use the ice cover.
And -- and so it’s a combination of social, you know, Iñupiat knowledge perspectives as well as the actual geophysics of the underlying material.
And so Matt Druckenmiller started looking at that in a really nice set of papers as part of his PhD, and then Oliver took this a step further.
And sort of the culmination of that work now - or one of them - is this paper where he was able to draw on all the trail data that he had, how do people route these trails, analyze that quantitatively, then compare it with aerial imagery that we’ve gotten from a drone that people were excited to -- to work with up there.
Because they’ve got their own drones, as you know, and satellite imagery. And using that approach, he was then able to create, if you will, artificial, theoretical pathways through the ice, and those very well match what the locals do.
And with that recognition now, you can take the next step and say, okay, now you could go to a place where nobody’s been before, say, in an area where you have, you know, a coastal installation or for that matter, you know, artificial ice island that oil and gas industry puts in, and you can determine the best evacuation route, for example.
You know, so that to me is a great synthesis of Iñupiat expertise that’s manifest in the way they route a trail and kind of the geophysics remote sensing understanding of, okay, how can you re-create this in a theoretical framework that has some predictive capability as well, and then make good use of it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and I was gonna ask about how you translate between the two. As you say, you know, like the Iñupiat use the ice a certain way and they look at it a certain way, but geophysicist looks at it differently. HAJO EICKEN: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so how do you translate that so that it’s of use to both groups? HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s the challenge, right? Because here I -- so -- so okay. So, you know, I’ve taken a longwinded -- I’ve given a longwinded non-answer to your question.
Because, I mean, in the end my sense is that what matters to the community or what they express most interest in are these trail maps that Matt started to develop, you know. Oliver then carried on. Matt is actually still doing that, working with us on this, this year.
And those maps are important from the perspective of understanding where are the trails? You know, what’s the thickness along the trails? What are potential hazard points that are important in a search and rescue context?
But at the same time then, the work that Oliver’s doing now, I think is sort of preparing the ground. And there’s some people in Barrow who are already at that stage where they’re using some of the satellite imagery, or some of the other information, that they can draw on this type of understanding to help them be safer on ice that’s increasingly dangerous. You know, increasingly unstable.
And, you know, with increasing number of rescues or evacuations necessary. So that’s one -- one example.
Another aspect of that work where I would argue yes, we’ve made a bit of a difference is the master’s thesis that Josh Jones did where -- you know, getting back to what I explained earlier, you know, in the 1970s/early ‘80s, Willy Weeks and a number of other geophysicists did work in Barrow where they looked at the currents under the ice and concluded, well, the currents are weak, you know.
And they just go along the shore in one direction, and that’s what’s responsible for some of the particular ice properties up in the area. And that’s true.
But at the same time, you -- you know, when I came up there, and in general sort of geophysicists’ understanding of the large-scale Arctic ice pack is that the ice is being moved around by the winds.
You know, it’s the wind that determines which direction the ice goes. Sea level tilt has -- has a role to play on long time scales, like months to -- to, you know, the annual cycle.
But if you wanna -- if you wanna know which way a piece of ice is gonna move, really, the wind is what’s gonna drive this. Because in general in the Arctic the currents are fairly weak.
You know, there’s fairly -- the tidal currents are not very strong at Barrow. You know, the tidal amplitude is less than a foot.
And so, at least myself, but my sense was most other people, always thought, well, okay, so that means, you know, if you want to understand ice stability in a place like Barrow, you look at what the winds are doing. You know, what’s the ice pack doing?
Whereas locals, you know, the Iñupiat always emphasize, "No, it’s all about the currents." And it isn’t just about the currents themselves, but it’s -- it's -- it's about sort of the way the currents evolve over time.
And I have to admit, I mean, it took me a long time to even understand what people were talking about. In part because of different vocabulary, but in part also because the fairly complicated story, you know, where they would tell you, "Well, you know, if the wind veers around -- you know, if the wind direction changes counterclockwise or clockwise, that makes a difference."
You know, it makes a difference how long the current has been increasing in magnitude. And they just measure this by dropping something on a line into the water. And I have to admit I’ve never really been able to make sense of this.
And then Josh Jones did a really nice study that drew on a collaboration that we’d set up with colleagues in Japan, where we jointly deployed under-ice moorings that measure the current velocity, measure the ice thickness.
And again that was a great example of a collaboration because the -- the -- the current meter mooring that told us most, if not pretty much everything, about this was put out in the spot that Eugene Brower and Joe Leavitt had identified, you know, from their expertise saying, "Well, this is the area where we think you should be putting instruments out."
Because that’s where the ice cover is very susceptible to these breakout events. That’s also where they knew you would have a really strong expression of these current patterns.
And we put these moorings out by working with the North Slope Borough’s work boat. You know, where we had to try and figure out, "Okay, how do you dump, you know, a couple of tons of bottom weights?" You know, big bags of gravel basically, and all these instruments out there.
So we’d done all that, and then Josh took all of that data and he showed something that I think people hadn’t appreciated up until that point.
Because he really worked out what’s the forces acting on the ice. What’s the responsibility of the wind. What’s the responsibility of the current.
We'd put up an ice radar that Andy Mahoney had -- had developed and installed.
And if you put all of that together now, I would argue that if you have all of these pieces of information, you are able to anticipate and -- and -- and potentially predict these breakout events.
But at the same time, I think we also have a way to -- to sort of put a framework in place where it could help locals.
I’m pretty sure the new generation. Understand what’s going on, in particular when the conditions now are so variable, where it gets more difficult to actually learn the types of things that people have been learning over the past, you know, few centuries.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, as you say, it was difficult to understand -- HAJO EICKEN: Period. KAREN BREWSTER: -- before. HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, exactly. Yes. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: ‘Cause as you say, you know, in the interviews everybody always says, "Oh, it’s the wind and the current." It’s never just -- seems to never just be one. HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because something else -- say, "Oh, well what about this time? That happened." "Well, yeah. That’s because this other thing happened, and -- "
It is amazingly complicated and they’ve got it figured out. Those old guys had it figured out. HAJO EICHEN: Yeah. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: So. And -- and as you said, it’s a question of vocabulary and understanding the context, and you somehow seem to have been able to bridge some of that.
HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. Yeah. I’m not, you know, a -- I -- yes and no. I mean, I -- you know, the longer I work with people the more I understand, you know.
Or the more -- I also question, well, what is the direct contribution that we can make? You know, from a geophysics perspective.
In particular for communities like that,you know, I would argue that we can make a much bigger contribution. That’s something we’re doing now with, you know, let’s say regulatory agencies or agencies that are looking at, you know, breeding habitat of ice seals.
Things like that where all of this comes back up, but where these agencies or industry just aren’t able to deal with the way knowledge is -- is -- is shared and acquired and transmitted by the people up there.
You know, they require sort of a more conventional scientific framework. Or rather, conventional scientific framework. And --and that’s, I think, where we -- we’ve made good progress.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you said -- earlier you said something about you looking at ice and processes that they look at versus how a geophysicist would look at it.
And I don’t know if you have any example of that. HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. Well, I mean the -- you know, currents under ice is already a good example, you know.
Because in -- in -- I mean, from the perspective of the Iñupiat, they’re focused on what’s easily observable in the field while they’re out there, right? So that’s where they watch the wind.
They -- they might even watch the movement of clouds at different altitudes. They watch the current, but they can’t measure the current strength, so they’re really looking at, okay, how’s the current acting on a line that’s dropped in the water.
You know, and they kind of integrate all of that.
Whereas us, you know, we would just separate everything right from the start and just see, okay, can we quantify each of these processes and then develop a model that puts it all back together again and is able to make a prediction about whether a breakout is gonna occur or not.
But -- but there’s other -- other ways too that I think are important. So for example, you know, people are very familiar with, you know, how meltwater or slush on the surface of ice develops.
You know, in the spring that’s important because it’s potentially a hazard, you know. Or at the very least it’s a nuisance if you’ve got a bunch of meltwater standing on the ice.
And there, people think more about it in terms of well, we know there’s sort of a daily cycle of this and so, at least traditionally, people used to like to travel in the early morning hours.
You’d go out at four in the morning or something and not -- not at noon or in the afternoon. And that was just the way it is.
And people had a really good knowledge of yeah, you know, the water on the ice comes up, goes down again.
But to them -- you know, what I’m interested in -- because that meltwater then also lowers the albedo, determines how the ice behaves in the context of the climate system -- people would, you know -- wouldn’t be interested in knowing all the details about okay, what’s the permeability structure of the ice, you know, or what’s the microstructure of the ice.
In part because you can’t really directly observe that, and it just doesn’t matter. You know, it’s not relevant to them.
But for us that was critical, because you really need to have that understanding of permeability if you want to extrapolate some of these process studies that we’ve done in the coastal areas to all of the Arctic, say.
KAREN BREWSTER: And the other thing you’ve done are these local observing networks. HAJO EICKEN: Yes. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe talk a little bit about those?
HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. Yeah. So -- so that gets back to this question of, you know, what do you have to observe if you’re interested in -- in learning how people are using the ice, how that use of the ice is changing over time, and also how you can make better predictions that benefit people who are out on the ice or among the ice, you know, among ice floes in a boat.
And also in the longer term, how those changes in the ice cover impact human activities on a broader scale.
And, you know, the -- and there’s different ways to do that, but the approach that we took was to say -- You know, and that’s where the International Polar Year came in, because that was, you know, I -- I -- I would say largely due to the efforts of Igor Krupnik in particular.
You know, an opportunity where for the first time there was this big geophysical effort. You know, the polar year typically was sort of thought of as the International Geophysical Year, or maybe the International Natural Science Year.
But -- but Igor really was -- was an activist in saying, "No, this has got to be about the people."
So, as part of that and really also thanks in large part to Igor’s nudging and mentorship, we -- you know, the -- sort of the approach that I had taken was to say, okay, if -- you know, we want to better understand how people are using the ice, so we can’t just go out.
You know, prior to that, what you would do was -- and the weather service does this, other agencies do it. You know, like that’s what the Canadians did.
You know, they’d go out and they’d say, okay, we -- we -- we -- here’s a protocol. You give that to somebody in the community and you tell them, "Okay, we want you to measure" -- you know, like the thickness of the ice or the temperature of the ice.
Or we want you to measure when -- the first day that the ice forms or the first day you see a piece of ice in the open water or whatever it is. But it’s all very standardized and that’s it.
And I had looked at some of those cooperative observer weather forms in the archives in Anchorage, and one thing that strikes you is, you know, the weather service uses all the information where, okay, you got a number in here. You know, that’s something we can key in.
But then you look at the comments and those are the most interesting part of the whole thing. You know, where people actually -- in this case on St. Lawrence Island. I think it was Gambell just had an outstanding observer, who just had a bunch of really detailed but highly relevant information buried in the comments.
So -- so the approach that we took was to say, well, we won’t tell the people - our collaborators, the expert collaborators - what to observe. We will just ask ‘em, "You observe what you think is important about the way you use the ice."
And then we will take that and over the course of several years we’ll try to develop -- jointly develop some type of protocol that reflects that.
So that you -- you know, so that -- like, and for example, people just don’t -- like, ice thickness. Knowing the ice thickness down to the centimeter or the inch just doesn’t matter to people, you know. So, they were never interested in that.
It matters to them is the ice thick enough that I can walk out on it. And -- and that’s a very simple measurement, you know.
And you have a name that goes with it. You know, if it’s sikuliaq, you can walk on the stuff.
And it was those types of sort of connections that really got us into -- and the fact that we were extremely lucky with having --
The first three observers that we worked with were Winton Weyapuk in Wales, Joe Leavitt in Barrow, and Leonard Apangalook in Gambell.
And all of them were just amazingly knowledgeable, you know. But also patient, understood what we were trying to do, and just had -- and were just outstanding observers.
And so if you look at those observations, you know, that’s sort of the thing that struck me was -- and that was one of the lessons I think we learned is that, you know, if you -- as a geophysicist you just look at, you know -- or even more focused, you know, I’m a person who’s interested in sea ice thermodynamics.
I’m interested -- I’m interested in the dynamics, but really what I did most of my research on was, okay, how does sea ice grow and melt. Right? So that’s a very narrow view.
And to me, even thinking about, okay, now here’s another piece of ice that comes crashing into the piece of ice I’m studying in terms of growth and melt. Hey, I couldn’t care less, you know.
If there’s a seal on that piece of ice, hey, that’s even less relevant.
And if there’s a bird flying above all of this, who cares, you know. That has nothing to do with what I’m doing.
Whereas, Leonard, Winton, and Joe, they all emphasized and fully understood all these interconnections. And some of them were direct causal interconnections, like how bowhead whales respond to change in the ice conditions or currents.
Some of it was more, you know, is part of their world view, you know. Say the way they think about snowbirds. You know, snow buntings and how they’re linked to the whales in ways that I -- I don’t fully understand, but they do.
And they observe that in a -- within their knowledge system.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s the timing of the snow buntings returning? And that's when the whales are coming. HAJO EICKEN: Exactly. Exactly. That’s when the whales are coming.
And so just -- Actually, when was it? Yesterday? I get a message from Billy Adams, who’s one of our observers now working with us in Barrow, who said, "Yep, you know, snow buntings are as far as Wainwright. The first ones are showing up in Barrow or Utqiaġvik. And people in Point Hope are seeing the first wave of the whales come past."
So, the -- I mean, to some extent it’s sort of a cliché almost. You know, you say, "Well, indigenous knowledge or indigenous people if they’re living in communities on the land have this holistic world view."
Well, what does that mean? But what it really means is in a research context, which to me is an important aspect of the knowledge, is that they are observing.
Like somebody like Leonard Apangalook, you know -- which is something that really came out nicely in this book that Igor edited, as part of the IPY, on SIKU. You know, sea ice knowledge and use (SIKU: Knowing our Ice: Documenting Inuit Sea Ice Knowledge and Use).
I mean, somebody like Leonard Apangalook probably has about a hundred different variables, you know, or what I as a researcher would call a variable, in his head.
I should say “had.” You know he passed away. But -- and he was tracking those, right?
So he was able to to say, well, you know, I noticed that here’s -- here’s when the foxes start to change color. Here is what the sea ice is doing. Here’s what the fall weather is doing. Here’s what the whales are doing. Here’s what the little sea creatures that get washed up on shore are doing. You know, it covers everything.
And a really important thing is that some people sort of then think, "Oh, yeah, they -- they -- they keep track of all of this stuff, but this is all unconnected, you know."
And if somebody tells you that the snowbirds have anything to do with when the whales arrive, I mean, those are things that are unrelated. You know, it’s not that the snowbirds are talking to the whales or, you know, whatever even in any way directly related to them.
But the key point is that’s not what people are saying. Or that’s not how I understand it.
But the key point is that they see how these various variables change over the course of the year and they’re able to detect subtle changes in the phase or the offset between events or the way various parts of the environment -- the living and the dead environment interact with one another.
And that puts them in a position to see transitions, you know. Big transitions.
Say, what we’re seeing now in the Bering Sea. Like, literally this year, my sense is that people were picking up on the precursors of that already, maybe as early as ten/twenty years ago.
Just because they’re not just looking at the water temperature, but they’re looking at the system as a whole. Or at least indicators of the state of that system.
And that in my mind is a very important aspect of indigenous knowledge. And maybe also local knowledge.
Where, you know, we -- sure, if you -- if now we’re in a position to measure all of these things.
You know, that’s part of the goal of the -- of the -- of the Sea Ice Observer Network (SIZONet) is that after working with these experts for a number of years, we now know what we need to track, and we can collect time series of these things, and maybe start to anticipate and predict some of these transitions better ourselves.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I was wondering that with the SIZONet, you’ve kinda created a database from these observations. And so how do you translate?
As you say, it’s all this holistic -- for science seemingly unconnected. But science requires things to be in boxes. HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, right.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you have coded things and created a database. How have you managed to do that?
HAJO EICKEN: So -- well, so -- so -- so the mechanics of it are, you know, we’ve been working with a group at University of Colorado at Boulder. ELOKA, Exchange for Local Knowledge of the Arctic, who’ve sort of done the database development.
And there the challenge was initially that we didn’t just know what the various fields or variables were gonna be, but it was all very unstructured, you know. Or schema-less is -- is -- is the technical term.
And it sort of then over the course of several years, this evolved into a more standard database, where we now have over six thousand individual observations from a number of communities. In total, I think we have close to a dozen communities that reported at various points in time.
And for these we have a range of different observations.
And the way we’ve been using those has been sort of -- we’ve taken different approaches.
And -- and I do have to preface this by saying that, really, the most sophistic -- we haven’t really been very sophisticated yet in working with the full richness of the data.
But one example is that, you know, the seasonal cycle is very important to people, so I’ve had a Masters student, Marie Kapsch, who looked at can we use the community-based observations to calibrate our satellite data in such a way that what the local observers see at the local level is translated into something that we can extract over larger regional scale.
And so we’ve done that and based on that looked at how have the break-up and the freeze-up seasons changed.
And that’s quite important, where you use the data both in terms of creating the -- the algorithm that you develop that allows you to say, okay, this is when the freeze-up starts or when the freeze-up ends, et cetera, et cetera.
And then also to validate some of this down the line.
Another sort of different way is where you use -- you use the observations to learn about things that you really hadn’t been aware of.
And so here a great example is Winton Weyapuk in Wales was making these observations of what I guess -- and I’m not even sure whether he called it ice berms or we sort of figured this out in talking with him.
There’s an Iñupiat name for this, as well. Qaimġuq (berms of frozen slush ice), which is like this -- this sort of -- you know, and again that’s where nomenclature is important.
Because sometimes you get ice that just gets pushed up on the beach and you have a ridge. You know, a pressure ridge, where you have pieces of ice that are just piled on top one another. And so some people call these beach ridges or -- or whatever.
You know, but what -- what -- what Winton was reporting on -- and I think it really took me two years to sort of figure out, okay, this is actually important, is that in the early freeze-up season you get -- you -- you -- you build up these berms that are just frozen. Either frozen seawater, sea spray, or refrozen water that gets washed up in the surf zone.
And those berms are actually really important, because they’re the most effective coastal protection mechanism during fall storms.
If they form -- you know, Shishmaref was a good example. We have an observer there, Curtis Nayokpuk, who really emphasized that, you know, the Corps of Engineers came in and they built this artificial seawall, and that thing ice started eating away at that, you know, literally a month or two after they put it in.
But in those instances where they had these ice berms form, you had much less of an impact or severity of coastal flooding and erosion.
KAREN BREWSTER: And these ice berms must only form under certain conditions. HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: I mean, I'd think, in earlier days it would be cold, stay cold, it would freeze more smoothly. And now with fall storms -- HAJO EICKEN: Exactly. Exactly. KAREN BREWSTER: -- and things are creating these berms, that didn't used to exist? HAJO EICKEN: Get bigger. Exactly.
And you have it in the -- So -- so, that then led actually to -- so, David Atkinson, who used to be here at IARC (International Arctic Research Center) is now at the University of Victoria in Canada.
He had a graduate student that actually looked at this problem, worked with us. Who worked with communities both in the Bering Strait area, St. Lawrence Island, and Norton Sound.
And what she found was that in Norton Sound these berms now are so big that they’re a major nuisance. I mean they’re -- they do protect the -- the -- the shoreline, but they can get, you know, ten-fifteen-twenty-feet high.
So people actually -- it prevents people from getting access to the beach. You know, because they freeze up and then they’re there for the year.
And you can’t really get through those easily because it’s pretty -- pretty tough ice.
But for that then we developed a mostly conceptual model, but with a quantitative component, to say, okay, under what conditions -- what are the weather conditions, the ocean conditions, and the ice conditions that have to be in place for these berms to form.
So that’s another sort of example how we used it. How we used the data.
And then, now, you know, that whole effort is -- you know, SIZONet has sort of transitioned into what we call A-OK, the Arctic -- or Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub (AAOKH), that’s led by Olivia Lee and Donna Hauser.
And Olivia has used the observations that people like Winton and other hunters have made in terms of marine mammals like, in particular, bearded seals, walrus, other seals and their association with ice.
That gets more into the direction of learning things that you just normally don’t have information on, because these hunters spend a lot of time out on the ice. They observe the seals in their habitat.
Yes, it’s focused on the hunting activities, so there’s some bias there. You know, they’re not going to report -- they’re not just gonna sit there and watch a seal that they wouldn’t hunt for, for, like five hours.
Anyway, so that’s where -- where the -- this observing database is at.
But the potential there I -- I -- I would argue is much larger. And we’ve seen other people use some of the information.
You know, in setting this up we’ve been working with these different communities and basically developed a process where they give permission of how the data are being used. You know, what aspect of the data is being used.
And so for some studies, you know, a subset of the data that’s freely available or sort of process data are being used by a range of other people.
You know, some with government agencies, like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has the Office of Restoration and Response, where they’re interested in sensitive habitat or information about locations that might see, potentially, oil coming ashore if there were a spill.
So they’ve looked at some of this information.
So that’s where I feel, you know, that the model itself, sort of how this works, is helpful.
And, I mean, one -- one really -- something that we -- you know, I mean, you might even say it’s kind of stupid that we didn’t think of this, but I think all of us never had this in mind, but then Winton Weyapuk really highlighted the use of the database as a teaching tool, as an instructional tool.
So he worked quite a bit with students at the Wales school.
We also worked with the Bering Straits School District in using the database as a -- you know, in the classroom, and actually had a -- a Masters student who was working with the North Slope Borough School District, Irene Holak.
And she actually really tried to integrate this into the curriculum, as well.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was wondering if you could, looking at all those observations over time, start to see patterns? That then that’s something that science likes to utilize is patterns.
HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, I mean, you know the big -- I mean the pattern is that it’s just these changes that we’re seeing are just unprecedented, you know.
I mean, the -- I think -- so the pattern that we’re seeing is, you know, that -- and that’s another interesting aspect of this is that the observers that we have are located at a transect throughout the whole extent of -- of -- when we started the project, the whole extent of the seasonal ice zone in Alaska.
You know, so the ice that forms new every year.
So we had people on -- in the Nelson Island region, YK Delta (Yukon-Kuskokwim River delta). Or specifically Simeon John had somebody working with us out of -- oh, gosh, the name of the community escapes me now. But --
KAREN BREWSTER: Is it Mekoryuk? HAJO EICKEN: No, it was further -- further east, you know. Sort of more on the southern part of the YK Delta.
And then St. Lawrence Island, Bering Straits region, and the North Slope.
And really what we’ve seen is that sort of the -- the -- the -- like in -- like, take St. Lawrence Island, you know. So the Masters student I mentioned earlier, Marie Kapsch, she did a study that looked at what’s the access to walrus by hunters on St. Lawrence Island in terms of ice conditions. Because that really is the key thing.
It’s not just are the walrus there or not, but what is the access people have.
And so she showed how in the, you know, the late ‘90s/early 2000s, people on St. Lawrence Island basically switched the way they pursue walrus because the ice conditions at that point were already so broken up that they could get their boats out through the shore ice and pursue walrus in the offshore ice pack.
That was good for people because it basically gave them a longer window of time.
KAREN BREWSTER: ‘Cause they used to do it out on the solid pack ice? HAJO EICKEN: Yeah. Yeah.
And had to wait until they had access, so it was a much more -- as I understand, and I don’t know the details, but from what I learned from people was it used to be, okay, you sort of -- you did your bowhead whale hunt that was separate. And then you did the walrus hunt.
They didn’t overlap, you know. They had their specific time windows.
And then what we found is no, that -- the walrus hunt time window became much longer initially. But now it’s shrunk and this year, you know, we have the Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO), this collaboration with Eskimo Walrus Commission, the weather service, and others.
We just had a call earlier this week. I mean, there is no ice between Gambell and the Russian mainland.
I mean, people don’t even know where the walrus are, you know, the mothers and calves.
So this year is an absolute extreme. Something that people in all the region haven’t seen, and we certainly haven’t seen in the satellite records since ’78/’79. So --
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I know Diomede (Island) has had open water that these storms just came in. HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
So the pattern is -- you know, the pattern is how at the southern edge of the area where -- that we’re looking at and where we have people making observations, has gone from, you know, sort of a classic ice regime where you have freeze-up and the ice linger -- hangs around and it’s severe, and then you have break-up and you can do stuff in the transition seasons.
You know, over-- like, ten, twenty years ago that transition to okay, the ice conditions were now so open and mobile that they could do a whole bunch of stuff during that transition season or sorry during the winter as if it were transition season.
But then the ice retreated really rapidly, so that the access window for community north -- communities north of the southern parts of the Bering Sea was much shorter, with the walrus coming through in a very short period of time.
Whereas up in Barrow, you know, it started out being just your regular seasonal sea ice cycle, but now they experience conditions that are much more similar to what the Saint Lawrence Islanders had, you know, ten, twenty years ago.
KAREN BREWSTER: So that walrus -- what is it? HAJO EICKEN: Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook. SIWO.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, yeah. And what is that? Is that like SIZONet? It's the same idea? HAJO EICKEN: Well, it builds on it, you know. So it uses --
So that was something that again was a product of the International Polar Year. You know, it was Igor Krupnik, Vera Metcalf as the executive director of Eskimo Walrus Commission, and Gary Hufford, who you know. You know, he used to work for the weather service in Anchorage, right? I think you --
KAREN BREWSTER: No, I don’t know him. HAJO EICKEN: No? Okay.
He retired since, but with those three and myself, we -- and -- and Jim Overland, who’s a NOAA researcher out of Seattle.
You know, we’re looking at this and we realized that there’s -- with these changing ice conditions, there’s both an opportunity to get better information about how good are some of the weather service products in these coastal communities building on what we’d been doing with the SIZONet observations or the observers.
But at the same time then also provide better information products, both ice forecasts and weather forecasts, to people in those communities.
And so in 2010 was the first time we started that and it’s been going ever since.
And the goal is that during the walrus hunt season, so basically March through June, the weather service puts out products that are specifically focused -- focused on the northern Bering Sea, southern Chukchi, for anybody who’s just among or on the ice.
Because ice safety is a key concern there. Or safety at sea, basically.
And the local observers report on, okay, here’s how good or bad those forecasts are.
That information gets fed back into the system, and at the same time all of this information is shared through a website, through a Facebook page, other channels of communication, so that people in general have a much better understanding of, okay, what’s happening here in terms of ice conditions.
Again mostly from a safety perspective, but now increasingly it’s also interesting just from a walrus resource management perspective, as well.
KAREN BREWSTER: And are the people in the communities going to that website and Facebook page and using the information? HAJO EICKEN: Yeah, I mean, that’s the idea. Exactly.
But the weather service, yeah, puts out these regular products now through the Anchorage ice desk or the sea ice program in Anchorage.
And the idea is that that’s information that -- or, you know, we’ve done surveys with the community partners. I mean, they know how people are using the information.
So it’s sort of both providing better information, but then also using different channels of getting that information out to the hunters or others who are spending time on or among the ice.