IAB Research Project Description

Dangerous Ice: Human Perspectives on Changing Winter Conditions in Alaska

"On Dangerous Ice" is a product of the research team of William Schnieder, Karen Brewster, Knut Kielland, and Chas Jones in consultation with Charlie Campbell, Wally Carlo, Sam Demientieff, William Demoski, Ronnie Evans, Espen Jervsjo, Dave Norton, Neil Scannell, and Charlie Wright. The book was produced by the Oral History Program, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, and Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Any and all uses of these images must include photographer credit.

Booklet released (Nov. 2013): "Dangerous Ice" http://bit.ly/DangerIce


Project summary:
The project team will document dangerous ice conditions on the Tanana River in Interior Alaska through a four-tiered approach:

1) documentation of stretches of the river where weak ice, open holes, and overflow conditions create dangers for winter travelers,

2) archiving and posting oral and video recordings made at the sites that describe conditions by date of observations on the web,

3) conduct workshops with local river travelers and ice scientists to discuss ice dynamics and the interchange of local and scientific knowledge, and

4) present project questions and findings in several river communities in interior Alaska.

Our project objectives are to document dangerous ice conditions throughout the winter and to produce videography and oral records of observations made by long-term local river travelers and physical scientists. The documentation consists of oral descriptions and video recordings of conditions. These serve as a reference for analyzing both the physical conditions and the way participants call upon experience and training to frame their descriptions and evaluate conditions. A second objective is to record the observations on an existing online data base to extend the longitudinal record of locations with dangerous ice that affect the safety of winter travelers
Video and audio documentation of this project is online at Project Jukebox: (http://jukebox.uaf.edu/site7/dangerice).
The primary method is on-site field observations and video recording of conditions and discussions. The project team depends upon long-term local river travelers to identify dangerous sites and these are then visited by both the local travelers and ice scientists. This allows us to draw upon both knowledge systems, combining local observations with universal principles of ice dynamics. This method lets us examine how these groups share information and describe commonly experienced observations.
Often efforts to combine local knowledge (LK) with scientific research end up trying to test one observational framework for understanding against another resulting in misunderstanding and “fragmentation of meaning” (Cruikshank 1998:45).
The project starts with local knowledge of what local people describe as dangerous ice conditions; it draws upon their year round observations of river dynamics, and their experience with traveling conditions on the ice. The scientists are asked to observe conditions and provide scientific evaluation of causes and effects.
This approach serves as a model for incorporating different observational frameworks into a fuller explanation of conditions. This approach is particularly appropriate in the Arctic where people live and work on the rivers and have long term experience with winter ice conditions.

Project Funding

National Science Foundation
1 Oct 2009 – 30 Sep 2012
IAB Proposal #2009-31r
UAF Grant #5909
IAB Project #184

Outreach & Media

News and Outreach Articles

  • UAF study of Tanana River ice leads researchers to write book on safe travel
    [ link | pdf ]

Media Contact

Marie Thoms
Communications/Web Manager
Institute of Arctic Biology
302A Irving I
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000
email: methoms@alaska.edu
phone: 907.474.7412