The Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook

Subsistence hunters and scientists working together to help Alaskan coastal communities adapt to a changing climate

by Lisa Sheffield Guy, Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S.

The Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO) provides Alaska Native subsistence walrus hunters and Bering Strait coastal communities with weekly reports on spring sea ice and weather conditions to promote hunter safety, food security, and preservation of cultural heritage. These reports integrate scientific and local knowledge into a co-produced tool that is used by both local and scientific communities. SIWO is a team effort led by the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. (ARCUS, with funding from NSF Section for Arctic Sciences), with the Eskimo Walrus Commission, National Weather Service (NWS) - Alaska Sea Ice Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks – International Arctic Research Center, and local observers.

Local observations of sea ice, weather, and hunting conditions are provided by observers from five Alaskan communities in the Bering Strait region: Wales, Shishmaref, Nome, Gambell, and Savoonga (Figure 1). These observations typically include a written description of conditions accompanied by photographs of sea ice or walrus (Figure 2). Outlooks are easily accessible and provide a platform for knowledge sharing among hunters in neighboring communities. The outlooks use low-resolution files for easy download from the SIWO website, do not require a user account to access, and are also posted to a public Facebook page. The opportunity to contribute is open, and traditional language and terms are encouraged. These observations from local hunters and community members also provide a valuable tool for validation of weather forecasts, satellite products, and other information for scientists.

Figure 1. Map of Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook focus area with example weekly wind forecast information.

For each weekly outlook the NWS provides weather and sea-ice forecasts and regional satellite imagery. As of spring 2017, the NWS now provides a SIWO-specific page in response to community requests for more frequently updated products. Additional resources from other sources, such as the National Snow and Ice Data Center, are also included in the weekly outlook on an opportunistic basis.

The 2017 SIWO season began earlier than scheduled this year, on 31 March, due to the extreme low sea-ice conditions in the region. Read more about this unique year in our account of the state of the ice at season’s start. Sign up to receive email notifications of new outlooks on the SIWO website, or follow along on Facebook for information on walrus, weather, and ice conditions year-round.

Figure 2. Example of a weekly report from SIWO local observer, Curtis Nayokpuk.