Fresh Eyes on Ice encourages community to share ice observations

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) As break-up season continues in Alaska, the Fresh Eyes on Ice project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is calling for any observations community members have about freshwater ice in their area.

The Yukon, Kuskokwim and Koyukuk are areas of concern for ice-jam flooding. (Alex Bengel/KTVF)

According to Chris Arp, Research Associate Professor for the Water and Environmental Research Center at UAF, the project is designed to improve observations of fresh water ice on rivers and lakes, with a focus on the state of Alaska. Citizens, scientists and community-based monitoring teams supply information which is then used by the National Weather Service to analyze trends.

While the project typically receives observations and information from school groups in their target communities, statewide school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a need for more observation, so the project is asking Alaskans to step up and provide information in their communities.

Arp serves as the principal investigator for the project. He spoke to the benefit of having this information, saying, “Every year there’s potential for flood risks during river breakup, but this year the ice has been a little bit thicker than normal, at least thicker than it has been in the last several years. And the snow pack in a lot of interior Alaska is quite high, so the combination of higher snow pack and more runoff from that snow and thicker ice makes the potential for ice jam floods higher.”

Arp went on to say, “The National Weather Service has put the probability of ice jam flooding on some of the larger rivers as above normal for this season, so that’s one of the reasons we want to try to get these observations to the National Weather Service and to inform our science, so we can help keep communities safe during this time of heightened flood potential on Alaska rivers.”

The Kuskokwim, Yukon and Koyukuk rivers are key points of concern, with ice-jam floods expected in early to mid-May.

Katie Spellman, Research Assistant Professor at the International Arctic Research Center at UAF said, “We encourage observations of any water body. The big rivers are the focus for flood prediction, but every observation matters. It helps us understand ice safety at a broader scale, and how ice conditions are changing through Alaska.”

According to Spellman, the effort to enlist the community in these efforts has yielded results. ““We have been really trying to use social media to get the word out to different communities, and it’s been amazing to see the trickle out,” she said.

Spellman emphasized the continued need for community members to submit observations, saying, “Any photo will contribute to the effort to understand how ice is changing.”

Regarding Alaska’s role in understanding break-up season trends, Arp said, “Alaska is a state that is probably most sensitive in experiencing climate change, and ice is one of those things that is responding rapidly to climate change. And it’s also something that people use to get around on in the winter, to find places to go hunting and fishing.”

Observations can be submitted by any person in the state through a portal on the project’s website at fresheyesonice.org . They can also be sent via email to the National Weather Service or by calling 1-800-847-1739. Submissions should include the location and a sentence about what is being seen at the freshwater location.

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