The Barrow Symposium on Sea Ice, 2000: Evaluation of One Means of Exchanging Information between Subsistence Whalers and Scientists

  • Henry P. Huntington
  • Harry Brower, Jr.
  • David W. Norton
Keywords: Sea ice, Traditional knowledge, Inuit, Safety, Science, Remote sensing, Epistemology, Whaling, Research, Barrow, Alaska


A Barrow Symposium on Sea Ice (BSSI) was held in early winter 2000. The National Science Foundation (U.S.) funded this symposium as the keystone event in a project designed to ally traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) with formal ice research and remote sensing. The goal of the project was to stimulate substantive interactions between scientists and technicians who study sea ice on one hand, and Inupiat Eskimos (primarily whaling captains and their crews) who use the ice routinely for travel, camping, and hunting, on the other. From different perspectives, at different scales, and for different purposes, the two groups have accumulated extensive knowledge of ice characteristics and dynamics. We evaluate strengths and weaknesses of the workshop format as a means of exchanging information between scientific and traditional knowledge.... To continue to develop the interactions and shared purposes that characterized the BSSI, a core group of participants needs to meet periodically to review progress on sea ice research in the region, and to seek ways to promote further collaboration between ice observers from the subsistence community and scientists. Research on sea ice appears likely to continue to flourish near Barrow. Both whalers and scientists are eager to share information and insights. Facilitating that exchange is not a trivial task. To be successful in the long run, the promising start made by the BSSI needs to be followed up with refinements in collaborative field research, as well as by regular opportunities for scientists and whalers to learn from one another.
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