Monitoring Lake Ice and Snow in Alaska – The Alaska Lake Ice and Snow Observatory Network (ALISON) Project
The Alaska Lake Ice and Snow Observatory Network (ALISON) project is one of the “Climate Steward” examples provided in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate Change, Wildlife, and Wildlands Toolkit for Formal and Informal Educators. The project, now completed, allowed students and teachers to conduct research on snow and ice depth, density, cover, and thickness; this information was then incorporated into a larger dataset to establish a baseline from which to measure the effects of climate change. While the official ALISON project has concluded, many teachers who participated in ALISON continue to incorporate the science behind the project into classroom curricula.
Alaska is expected to face sea level rise, erosion, increased temperatures, loss of snowpack, and melting ice. Ice thickness and duration are indicators of climate variability and change, but data is limited in Alaska. The ALISON project was designed to support observation and data collection on lake ice and snow in the state. This project is one of the case studies in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Climate Change, Wildlife, and Wildlands Toolkit for Formal and Informal Educators, developed to aid educators in communicating how climate change will affect the environment and how people can become “climate stewards.”
The ALISON project was made possible through the support of a National Science Foundation grant, the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the University of Alaska Natural Resources Fund. ALISON leaders provided equipment to volunteer teams. Participants measured ice thickness, snow depth, snow density, and snow/ice surface temperature, and record observations on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, precipitation), typically once a week during the field season. The data collected were then sent to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute; these datasets can be used to document ecosystem changes and facilitate future projections.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The official ALISON website is no longer functional. Over the 10 years the project was active, data were collected in 22 sites across the state (e.g., Horseshoe Lake, Poker Flat Research Range, Fairbanks, Barrow, Mystic Lake, Nome, Shageluk, and Wasilla). Datasets from ALISON participant activities can be used to create a baseline from which to measure changes in ice and snow, especially in the face of climate change. Many teachers who participated in ALISON continue to use the program’s methods, setting up their own study sites for K-12 climate science education. This program is an example of how community-based, citizen science efforts can contribute to the greater knowledge base.
A recent project––Fresh Eyes on Ice: Connecting Arctic Communities through a Revitalized and Modernized Freshwater Ice Observation Network from the University of Alaska Fairbank––is building off of the work of ALISON. The project will use updated techniques for community-based data collection, revitalize existing datasets, and expand observations using satellite, aerial, and in situ sensing techniques. The project is also funded by a grant from the NSF Office of Polar Programs.
Gregg, R. M. and Braddock, K.N. (2021). Monitoring Lake Ice and Snow in Alaska - The Alaska Lake Ice and Snow Observatory Network (ALISON) Project [Case study on a project of the University of Alaska - Fairbanks]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated August 2021)