Assessing the Shorefast Ice: Iñupiat Whaling Trails off Barrow, Alaska

  • Matthew L. DruckenmillerEmail author
  • Hajo Eicken
  • John C. George
  • Lewis Brower


At Barrow, Alaska, local Iñupiat whaling crews annually construct a network of seasonal trails through the shorefast ice during the traditional spring hunting season. These trails originate at locations along the coast and pass through diverse ice features, including ridged and rubbled ice, new and potentially flooded ice, and tidal cracks, before terminating at the shorefast ice edge where camps are established. The safety of this hunt relies on the careful observation of evolving ice characteristics from freeze-up onward and the understanding of how the interplay between ice dynamics, ice thermal evolution, and ocean and atmospheric processes leads to both stable and dangerous conditions. Partnering with Barrow whalers, a multi-year documentation of whaling trails, alongside a geophysical record of shorefast ice conditions, provides insight into how Iñupiat hunters monitor the development of the shorefast ice throughout winter and spring and how individual and community assessments of ice conditions and associated risks, traditions and knowledge, and personal preference determine trail placement. This contribution also discusses how the documentation of human use of the ice environment contributes to integrated observations of Arctic change and adaptation.


Barrow Alaska Iñupiat Local knowledge Shorefast sea ice Whaling 



This research was made possible with the assistance of several experienced Iñupiat whalers: Billy Adams, Jacob Adams, Roy Ahmaogak, Herman Ahsoak, Arnold Brower, Sr., Eugene Brower, Gordon Brower, Harry Brower, Jr., Lewis Brower, Tom Brower III, Jeffrey Leavitt, Joe Leavitt, Warren Matumeak, Ben Nageak, Nate Olemaun, and Crawford Patkotak. Thanks to Ronald Brower Sr., for reveiewing the use of Iñupiaq terminology. We would like to also thank the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, Barrow Whaling Captains Association, and Allison Gaylord and the Barrow Area Information Database. This publication is the result in part of research conducted as part of the Seasonal Ice Zone Observing Network with financial support from the National Science Foundation (OPP-0632398), the Oil Spill Recovery Institute, and the Cooperative Institute for Arctic Research (Project CIPY-34) with funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (cooperative agreement NA17RJ1224 with the University of Alaska).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew L. Druckenmiller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hajo Eicken
    • 1
  • John C. George
    • 2
  • Lewis Brower
    • 3
  1. 1.Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology and WildlifeUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  3. 3.Barrow Arctic Science ConsortiumBarrowUSA

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