North

Tradition meets technology for new ice tracking in Tuktoyaktuk

Check the ice and weather conditions from the comforts of your own home in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., with new technology that incorporates traditional knowledge.

What is the ice thickness in Tuk? There's a website for that

Tuktoyaktuk locals install SmartICE sensors along Husky Lakes on Feb. 11, 2020. The sensors are part of a project to gauge weather and ice conditions in the North. (Submitted by Tyrone Raddi)

Did you know you can check the ice thickness from the comforts of your home?

Well, in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., you can.

Combining traditional knowledge with modern-day technologies, Canadian-based social enterprise Sea-Ice Monitoring And Real Time Information for Coastal Environments, also known as SmartICE, works with northerners to install stationary and mobile sensors to gauge ice and snow conditions with real time data.

Recently, they installed  sensors near Husky Lakes. 

"It makes a huge difference," said Tyrone Raddi, local and SmartICE project coordinator in Tuktoyaktuk. 

Not having to guess the ice thickness has given harvesters and travellers more confidence on the land, Raddi said, as the warming climate continues to create uncertainty on the ice.

The effects of climate change have been documented in the north in recent years with records of ice-free lakes, rapid coastal erosion and thawing permafrost — sometimes resulting in browning lakes.

Tuktoyaktuk locals install SmartICE sensors along Husky Lakes on Feb. 11, 2020. The sensors are part of a project to gauge weather and ice conditions in the North. (Submitted by Tyrone Raddi)

Modern day ice measuring 

The project uses stationary and mobile sensors. The stationary sensors, known as SmartBUOY, gathers the ice measurements, based on snow, water and ice temperatures while the mobile sensor SmartQAMUTIK, is sled-based technology to measure ice thickness along travel routes. 

The information is then compiled to create maps with GO, SLOW and NO-GO zones, along with community-based interest markers, such as base camp locations, cracks in the ice, potential hazards and seal holes. 

The idea for the project was inspired by an unusual winter in Labrador almost a decade ago.

"[We] found approximately one out of 12 people were going through the ice in an unreasonably warm winter and the ice wasn't freezing over like it used to," said Zack Coombs, SmartICE Field Operations Manager.

Not wanting to replace traditional knowledge, the social enterprise worked on building partnerships with Northern communities to train and employ northerners as operators and technicians of the technology.

"It is really interesting to the youth, because they get to play with these new high tech gadgets and see how they work," Raddi said. 

Receding ice, expanding programs

The initial pilot site for the project included Pond Inlet, Nunavut, and Nain and St. John's in N.L.

But with the recent addition near Tuktoyuktuk, SmartICE operators and northerners are excited for expansions.

"Seeing conditions in your home before you even leave makes you better prepared for what you might be coming into," Raddi said.

Within the territories, the company is looking to expand to Paulatuk, Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour and there are a number of other potential expansion sites listed in Nunavut, including Gjoa Haven, Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Taloyoak and Arivat.

Tuktoyaktuk locals install SmartICE sensors along Husky Lakes on Feb. 11, 2020. The sensors are part of a project to gauge weather and ice conditions in the North. (Submitted by Tyrone Raddi)

With files from Lawrence Nayally

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