Closing the Loop with Upriver Ice Science and Outreach Adventures

6 March 2024

The 2024 Fresh Eyes on Ice traverse team is about to depart on the 3rd leg of a multi-winter journey starting March 8th. Last winter, we began in McGrath, traveled through the Kuskokwim Mts to Shageluk, and then went up the Yukon River to Galena, where Karin Bodony and the Koyukuk NWR were kind enough to look after our snowmachines and gear. Our 2023 journey was wonderful in that we had smooth traveling, productive science studying river-ice silt and open-water zones, and fun visits with students and teachers including the Innoko River School. A particularly bittersweet part of our trip was having PhD student Sarah Clement on our team. Sarah’s science education expertise and hard-core ice drilling energy will be missed this year as she stays back in Fairbanks to work on her dissertation and mother her new daughter Etta. This year Allen and Chris will be joined by MS student Matt Scragg who we expect will bring similar energy and wonder to our river ice adventures. Matt’s been intently focusing his thesis research on a 1 mile section of the Tanana R below Fairbanks and we’ll be excited for him to see ~500 miles of frozen river through fresh eyes.

This year we’re again planning to start on the tails and trails of about 500 sled dogs and 38 mushers running the Iditarod. After visiting students at Sidney Huntington School and doing some local fieldwork, we’ll head upriver on the Yukon towards Ruby and then eventually on to Tanana. Our main science question this year is “How does river freeze-up set the stage for late winter ice conditions?”. To get at this question we’ve studied satellite imagery from October to December to find varying stages and transitions in river ice formation. At locations with sharp transitions in freeze-up, we’ve selected transects to collect data on ice thickness, snow depth, sediment content, and flow velocity and depth to compare current conditions to satellite observations when ice first started forming.

We're most excited about visiting our newest community-based monitoring team in Rampart! There we plan to meet students and community members to learn about ice conditions on this narrow section of the Yukon. We also plan to install a new ice observation camera at "The Rapids" thanks to Steve O'Brien who's fish camp is just upstream. Finally, bringing our snowmachines up the Tanana River through Nenana and back to Fairbanks will complete a loop that we started in 2022. More importantly we’ll be bringing back stories and data to share! Follow our adventures on the Fresh Eyes Facebook Group and our progress on the trail on our Ice Tracker!