Youth scientists shine at GLOBE and Fresh Eyes on Ice Student Research Symposium

29 April 2022

We are all feeling inspired after a memorable gathering of youth scientists in Fairbanks on April 22-23, 2022. The first ever Alaska GLOBE and Fresh Eyes on Ice Student Research Symposium was well-attended by 67 student representatives of 19 different youth groups or classes from 14 communities all across the state. Over 40 more educators, parents, siblings, community members, and scientists attended to support the students and celebrate the amazing work of the youth. This event provided an opportunity for youth to connect to one another and experience the impact of sharing science in community. Our gathering was focused on relationships: building relationships with each other and discovering the relationships in our environment, of which we are all an integral part.

Our first day of the symposium included youth from Fresh Eyes on Ice and beyond who had completed studies using GLOBE, and included youth who had been investigating air quality, berries, water quality, salmon and, or course ICE! One of the most important parts of this symposium was for students, from kindergarten through high school, to formally present their own research projects in a series of poster sessions. The poster session was just like the ones that professional scientists have!

Students from Bethel Regional High present their poster to adult experts and student peer-reviewers. Photo credit: K. Spellman


We couldn’t be prouder of these young scientists. Here are some highlights from the Fresh Eyes on Ice student research projects:

  • Students from John Fredson School in Venetie noticed dark patches in Big Lake when observing it from the bank. They flew a drone over the lake and discovered mysterious star-shape cracks at these dark patches. They learned from a local knowledge holder that these were muskrat push-ups that collapsed during a warm spell. They also used satellite imagery to see when the river froze and how its surface changed. They learned that by bringing together all these different viewpoints they can better understand the big picture of what is happening with the ice. 
  • Venetie students also investigated Big Lake ice and snow thickness using the data they collected over two years. They found that lake ice was thicker this year because of the much colder air temperatures early in the winter, before the big snowfall, and have many new questions to investigate in the future.
  • Students from Innoko River School in Shageluk noted that knowing about ice and snow is very important to their community: for their safety when snow machining, for drinking water, and for fish habitat. Their school has a long history of tracking snow and lake ice conditions. They found that ice thickness this year was similar to the early 2000s. They noticed this year that there were a lot of shiny spots on the lake. They learned from an elder that these were caused by overflow. They measured the ice in these shiny spots with no snow cover and found that ice was much thicker because of the frozen overflow. They used a drone to survey the lake and estimated that 42% of the lake was affected by overflow!
  • Tok School students interviewed a Tanacross elder about her stories of the ice to get a long-term cultural perspective to complement their lake ice thickness measurements and river ice freeze-up drone observations. They learned that the Tanana River used to freeze-up much faster and was very important to access hunting, trapping, and fishing areas. The drone images they took this winter show the river still with open leads in December.
  • McGrath students noted that the river ice is very important to their community so that they can travel in the winter and get wood to heat their homes. They were interested in how ice conditions have changed and what it will be like in the future. They compared their data with historical data and interviewed elders who told stories of how much colder it used to be and how much thicker the ice was back in the 1960s and 1970s. They are also working on break-up forecasting, and found that average April air temperature is a good predictor of break-up timing.
  • McGrath elementary students investigated the cause of the large, disturbing cracks and shelf-ice drop that they observed this year and attribute these cracks to the warmer weather they had this winter, since temperature changes cause the differential expansion and contraction of the ice throughout the ice profile and lead to cracking.
  • Bethel students investigated ice thicknesses and water depths near beaver lodges and discovered that beaver activity is blocking culverts and contributing to flooding in Bethel neighborhoods. They plan to continue their monitoring to help their city manage flooding problems.
  • Upstream Learning students from Kenny Lake and Copper Center also noticed a huge impact of beaver activity: below the beaver dams there was extensive overflow and ice thickness was 10 feet thick! They also studied how water chemistry changes throughout the winter, how temperature and precipitation impact ice growth, and differences in snow/ice/water conditions between lakes and creeks.
  • Eagle students were surprised to find that ice thickness was actually greater on the Yukon River than Long Lake this winter. They concluded that the river lost its insulative snow cover, allowing ice to freeze deeper, because it is more exposed to wind. Next year they’d like to help their community by investigating how the freeze-up process affects their local wellhouse, which typically runs dry for several days during freeze-up.
  • Anne Wien Elementary students in Fairbanks researched different types of snow and ice, how we can use them, and the names for them in Alaskan Native languages. They learned from a story from an Elder that tsitle tu’ (snow water) is good for drinking, and that yeth uga’ (bottom snow) is the cleanest. They tested their own snow and found this to be true.

McGrath elementary students show off their science! Photo credit: C. Simmons


Each of the student teams got the change to have peer-review and feedback from two science or education experts. They also got the chance to be reviewed by other youth, and to review projects themselves. Thank you to Malinda Chase, Becky Gallen, Mary Walker of the Association of Interior Native Educators, Dave Jones of the University of Montana, Karin Bodony of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Monica Gosselin of Tanana Chiefs Conference, and Chris Arp, Dana Brown, Katie Spellman, Melanie Engram, Laura Oxtoby, Cristina Ornelas, Allen Bondurant, Maggie House, and Mimi Lesniak of UAF for serving as reviewers.


The rest of the day was full of fun GLOBE, Alaska Native and other science, culture and technology learning experiences. Activity stations included:

  • Training and experiments with sampling water quality with GLOBE Alaska (Thank you Greg Kahoe and Christi Buffington),
  • Learning about birch green-up from Alaska Native knowledge and western science with Association of Interior Native Educators and GLOBE Alaska (Thank you to Clara Anderson, Maxine Dibert and Elena Sparrow)
  • Storytelling activities and interviews about the students’ experiences with their research with Goldstream Group, Fresh Eyes on Ice and Arctic and Earth SIGNs (thank you to Katie Spellman, Kelly Kealy, Laura Oxtoby, Maggie House, Delia Allen and Angela Larson)
  • Mini-drone building and flying with Alaska Satellite Facility and Fresh Eyes on Ice (thank you Helena Buurman, Matthew Balazs, Dana Brown, Allen Bondurant, Chris Arp, Melanie Engram, Cristina Ornelas, Karin Bodony)
  • GLOBE training for teachers (Thank you Christi, Greg and Maggie)


Upstream Learning student from Kenny Lake, AK, share his family's story of Fresh Eyes on Ice science near a beaver lodge. Photo credit: K. Spellman

We closed our first day with an awards ceremony, Alaska Native dancing with Sonny Luke’s dance group (Thank you to Nicole James and AINE for arranging the dancing), and dinner. Our Fresh Eyes on Ice teams stayed for and ice themed game night and deserts. Everyone went to flight school to get one-on-one training on piloting their drones, and enjoyed some friendly competition for prizes in Ice Bingo, Don’t Break the Ice, and Ice EcoChains card games.


Dancing to the Raven Song with Sonny Luke's drum group. Photo credit: C. Arp.


On our second day of the symposium, we had some special time with just the Fresh Eyes on Ice teams. We got the day warmed up with a rousing Fresh Eyes on Ice song with Katie, then the Fresh Eyes on Ice scientists and UAF undergraduates presented their posters while the students raced to complete a scavenger hunt by talking with the scientists about their work.

Anaktuvuk Pass students talk to UAF undergraduate Fresh Eyes on Ice researchers and UAF scientists to complete a poster session scavenger hunt. Photo credit: K. Spellman


All of the Fresh Eyes on Ice student and adult representatives participated in a statewide data jam led by Dr. Laura, where they closely analyzed their own local snow and ice thickness measurements, and compared it with data from their peers all across the state to see the big picture. Dr. Chris then led the group in predicting the date of break up based on the historical data for the rivers and lakes in each of  the communities. We can’t wait to see whose predictions are the closest!


Students from Galena, McGrath and Fairbanks compare ice and snow thickness data (Left). Student from Bethel shows their group's predicted break up date of the Kuskokwim near Bethel based on historical data (Right). Photo Credit: K. Spellman 


Before joining the Earth Day celebration at Pioneer Park, we went on a field trip to observe ice conditions on the Chena River and practice submitting our photos through GLOBE Observer. The river was still ice-covered downtown, but just a couple miles downstream there were ducks enjoying the open water. The students used their observation skills to figure out why this happened. They figured out that hot water released by the power plant in-between keeps part of the Chena River open throughout winter.

 Fresh Eyes on Ice teams make GLOBE Observer observations of the Chena River on our day 2 field trip. Photo credit: K. Spellman


This was such a fun event where we all got to connect, build community, and learn from one another. We thank Katie Spellman for leading this wonderful symposium, Christi Buffington for doing a big share of the organizing and planning, Tohru Saito for managing the logistics, Nicole James for being the go-to person for event preparation, the helpful staff at the Wedgewood resort for hosting us, Elena Sparrow for her vision in founding Alaska GLOBE, and all of the educators who have been working on these projects for many years with us (our heroes). Most importantly, we thank the students for their hard work (as hard as ice!) and for shining bright like the sun on clear ice!


Youth scientists sport their new official Fresh Eyes on Ice winter hats! Photo credit: C. Arp. 



Article by Dana Brown

and a little bit from Katie Spellman