A HISTORY OF THE PROJECTFor more than a decade Wendy Eisner and Kenneth Hinkel of the University of Cincinnati have been working with their collaborators to improve understanding of the basic processes responsible for these important elements of the northern Alaskan landscape. With support from several programs at NSF, they have combined remote sensing, GIS, field data collection and use of traditional Iñupiaq ecological knowledge.
The dominant landscape process on the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska is the continual formation and drainage of thaw lakes. Thaw lakes form where water pools atop permafrost. About 20% of the surface of the ACP west of the Colville River is covered with thaw lakes and ponds, and another 26% can be identified as drained thaw lake basins (DTLBs). Much of the remaining surface has been affected by the repeated filling, thawing, draining, and erosion processes associated with the thaw lake cycle. Long-term landscape and vegetation changes in drained thaw-lake basins (DTLBs) are significant in arctic environmental change issues, including estimates of soil carbon reservoirs, permafrost dynamics, surface hydrology and coastal and riverbank erosion.
Iñupiat elders have expressed concern about the changing landscape, interest in scientific findings about those changes, and a desire to share their knowledge of local ecosystems with scientists and others with similar concerns. Community members of all ages have indicated that they want the ecological and historical knowledge of their elders to be documented. An NSF project enabled Eisner, Hinkel, and University of Georgia collaborator Chris Cuomo to explore the intersection of Iñupiaq knowledge and landscape-process research in the Arctic in greater detail. Fifty-two Iñupiat elders, hunters, and berry pickers from Barrow, Atqasuk, Wainwright, and Nuiqsut were interviewed and 50 hours of videotaped interviews were produced. The research team received invaluable support from the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium and translators Lollie Hopson (Barrow), Ethel Burke (Atqasuk) and Ida Panik (Wainwright).
This website: Arctic Cultural Cartography, represents our first effort to return this information to local communities for use as an educational and resource management tool. The information contained here and in the “Iñupiaq Web GIS” represents only a portion of the database that has been collected. This is a demonstration site, and it is anticipated that the feedback we receive will enable us to develop a complete site in the near future.