Sea ice and weather modeling data use in search and rescue operations in the Arctic: a case study in Utqiagvik, Alaska

Dina Abdel-Fattah is a Natural Resources and Sustainability Ph.D. Student at UAF and she is being advised by Dr. Sarah Trainor. She is also an ACCAP research assistant and works on Dr. Nathan Kettle’s Arctic Domain Awareness Center (ADAC) funded project, Developing sea ice and weather forecasting tools to improve situational awareness and crisis response in the Arctic, which seeks to create a prototype sea ice and weather forecasting module for hazard planning in Utqiaġvik.

As part of this project, Dina investigated the potential use and application of radar, satellite, and other tracking data for sea ice and weather conditions in maritime-related Search and Research (SAR) operations in the Arctic. Specifically, her research looked into how sea ice and weather modeling data can help support emergency responders by looking into a recent SAR event for a missing small vessel due into Utqiaġvik in July 2017.

She investigated the data that was generated during the SAR event via an archival analysis of email communications regarding the SAR as well as the U.S. Coast Guard case file for this event. Interviews (n=17) with relevant stakeholders were also conducted over the course of Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 to understand how this SAR event unfolded but also to understand SAR data needs more broadly. Data needs in this study were defined as those related to supporting an emergency response.

This research holds implications for future use and uptake of modeling data in local SAR operations in Utqiaġvik specifically and potentially across Arctic Alaska. Given that local SAR operators are predominantly the first line of response to maritime emergencies in the North Slope, the ability to share and provide a set of resources to support SAR operators can be beneficial, particularly in a rapidly changing Arctic. She recently presented her research in Washington DC for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Centers of Excellence Science and Technology Summit.