IceTrackers: low-cost tracking of sea ice in remote environments

Project Info

Lead Researcher(s)

J. Kasper (UAF-INE)
A. Mahoney (UAF-GI)
P. Winsor (UAF-SFOS)
J. Arseneau (UAMN)

This project is a partnership with:
North Slope Borough/Shell Baseline Studies Program

Pacific Gyre (manufacturer)

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Coastal Marine Institute

University of Alaska Museum of the North


CMI Annual Review, Anchorage, January 2015


Standing on the Beaufort Sea. In new videos by Frontier Scientists the accounts of Andrew Mahoney, University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute assistant research professor, and of Nagruk Harcharek, local whale hunter in Barrow and operations manager for Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. Science, come together to describe Arctic sea ice trends. UAF assistant research professor Jeremy Kasper joins Mahoney over the ice to test and deploy buoys for the ice tracker project. Visit for features on current sea ice science in Alaska.

Project Summary


Sea-ice covers the waters of Arctic Alaska for up to 9 months of the year. The patterns of sea-ice movement can be very complex. For example, comments from local residents and the ice radar measurements made from Barrow (Figure 1), Alaska by Hajo Eicken and Andy Mahoney indicate that ice motion can be quite different over small spatial scales. Measurements of ice motion are important for guiding development activities, building better computer models of ice drift, and understanding the ice environment inhabited by marine mammals.

This purpose of this project is to build and test a set of satellite-tracked IceTrackers that can:

  1. survive winter conditions in Arctic Alaska (specifically that the drifters will function with alkaline battery packs in order to minimize costs),
  2. be easily deployed by local residents using snow-machines and/or by walking over the ice,
  3. be deployed by a low-flying helicopter from an altitude of about 100 – 150 feet,
  4. transmit data in real-time to the public via the internet, and
  5. float and continue sending position data if the ice melts.
  6. be inexpensive enough to allow for deployment of clusters to measure sea ice divergence

Specifically the project will accomplish the following:

  1. Build 20 prototype IceTrackers,
  2. Have residents of Barrow deploy some of these in winter from snow-machine when the Barrow ice radar is operating,
  3. Deploy the remainder from a helicopter to test survivability, and
  4. Compare IceTracker trajectories with concurrent radar imagery.


Figure 1: Sea ice radar image showing the system footprint and the edge of the landfast ice as of January 26, 2015. Dark regions offshore indicate the locations of pressure ridges, rubble fields and other areas of rough ice. Red stars indicate nominal locations for IceTracker deployments.


The main goal of this program is the design and testing of the IceTrackers. If successful and sufficient demand arises in the future for the IceTrackers, Pacific Gyre believes that the cost per drifter could be as low as $1500. This cost is half the cost of the least expensive ice beacons used in the International Arctic Buoy Program. A secondary, but nevertheless important, outcome of the project will be an improved understanding of ice dynamics in the nearshore waters of Barrow. This information will help in future planning of ice dynamics studies in the nearshore waters of Alaska. A case in point that development of the IceTracker drifters is highly relevant is the fuel barge that is currently adrift in the Chukchi Sea. Responders were able to place a satellite AIS tracker on the vessel but they do not currently have a method of tracking ice around the vessel in the event of oil spilling onto the ice. As a flexible low cost platform, IceTrackers are ideally suited to situations such as the drifting fuel barge.