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North Slope Subsistence Hunters to Use Tech for Ice Cellar Temperature Monitoring

Permafrost changes could put a year’s worth of food supply in jeopardy


Photo by Ned Rozell

Icicles adorn the entrance to an ice cellar in the North Slope community of Kivalina.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geographic Information Network of Alaska has partnered with an Arctic Slope Regional Corporation subsidiary to create prototypes of the computers. Seven will be installed in spring 2018, with refinements to follow.

Ice cellars, which are dug five- to forty-feet deep into permafrost, are the traditional method for chilling and storing subsistence game. They are logistically the only option available for remote hunters. For some ice cellar users, changes to the permafrost could put a year’s food supply in jeopardy.

The cellar monitors begin with inexpensive, single-board computers called Raspberry Pis as the base. Highly customizable, the Raspberry Pis allowed UAF students Ianjon Brower and Samuel George to create prototypes equipped for the changing Arctic. The prototypes incorporate user-friendly, live-time graphs that display outputs from various environmental sensors, including those designed to measure humidity, temperature, and air pressure.

Although the project will produce data for permafrost researchers via ground-probing sensors, the primary goal is to provide easily accessible information for users to determine their ice cellar’s health.

“We want the ice cellar owners to know what is happening in their ice cellar,” said Vanessa Raymond, principal investigator for the project, “and the prototype we design for them is customized depending on their access to the Internet and what kind of power source is available.”

Photo by Vanessa Raymond

Ianjon Brower tests a solar-powered prototype of a computer that can monitor ice cellars while sitting outside of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute.

What began this summer as an effort to build a single monitoring prototype expanded to seven prototypes with design changes intended for in-town, remote, and extremely remote use. This includes solar and battery-powered prototypes, and potentially, wind-powered as well.

“The Raspberry Pi will be fitted with a 7-inch touchscreen that displays a live graph updating every few hours,” said Brower, lead researcher for the project. “It will give people a basic visualization of what’s going on in the cellar in case things begin to look like it’s going to thaw and they want to move their food out.”

Brower, a senior at UAF from Utqiaġvik, gave a presentation about the computers to the North Slope Borough mayor's office and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

Funding for the work is provided by ASRC Federal Missions Solutions, a subsidiary of the Alaska Native regional corporation for the North Slope.

The Geographic Information Network of Alaska is based at the UAF Geophysical Institute and organizes and shares geospatial data across Alaska, the Arctic, and the world.

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