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This film documents the activities that occurred on Drifting Station Alpha in the Arctic Ocean during the International Geophysical Year, 1957 to 1958. The film is narrated by project leader, Norbert Untersteiner, and chronicles the life of the team as they built their camp and set up experiments. Station Alpha was the first long-term scientific base on arctic pack ice operated by a Western country. At the time of its establishment, Russia had already operated six drifting ice camps of this kind. However, due to the strategic importance and sensitivity of the Arctic Basin, little information from these early stations had reached the West. The documentary was filmed and produced by Frans van der Hoeven (Senior Scientist at Station Alpha) and Norbert Untersteiner (Scientific Leader of Station Alpha). Station Alpha drifted in an area of the Arctic ocean located 500 km north of Barrow, Alaska USA from April 1957 to November 1958; the film covers this entire time period. Digitized copies of the film are available on DVD.
We kindly request that you cite the use of this data set in a publication using the following citation. For more information, see our Use and Copyright Web page.
Untersteiner, N. and van der Hoeven, F. 2009. International Geophysical Year, 1957 – 1958: Drifting Station Alpha Documentary Film. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Colorado USA. http://dx.doi.org/10.7265/N5MK69TW
|Spatial coverage||Southernmost latitude: 80° N
Northernmost latitude: 87° N
Easternmost longitude: 180° E
Westernmost longitude: 110° E
|Temporal coverage||April 1957 – November 1958|
Sea ice movement
|Metadata access||View metadata|
|Procedures for obtaining copies||Contact NSIDC User Services|
NSIDC User Services
National Snow and Ice Data Center
CIRES, 449 UCB
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309-0449 USA
phone: +1 303.492.6199
fax: +1 303.492.2468
form: Contact NSIDC User Services
This excerpt from the Technical Documentation from Arctic Climatology Project - EWG Arctic Meteorology and Climate Atlas provides background history on Drifting Station Alpha:
Information on ice stations Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie was drawn from Cottell (1960) and Leary and LeSchack (1996). Alpha, Bravo (the re-occupied T-3 [station]), and Charlie were established under Project Ice Skate through the agency of the U.S. National Committee for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The U.S. Air Force provided logistic support, and the U.S. Weather Bureau directed the meteorological observations. These included upper air data, radiation, carbon dioxide, and ozone studies as well as synoptic observations.
The scientific program included heat budget studies, ice physics, magnetics, oceanography, and geology, and was carried out by a number of U.S. universities and agencies with participation by Canadian and Japanese agencies as well. After IGY, many of these studies continued under sponsorship of the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the U.S. Geophysics Research Directorate.
Positions were determined from observations of sun, moon, and stars with precision theodolites or transits. The recorded positions were estimated to be accurate within one half a nautical mile.
Ice Station Alpha was set up in April 1957, and the scientific program lasted from June 1957 to November 1958, when the station was abandoned due to the ice breaking up. ONR had agreed to run Alpha after IGY; and after Alpha's premature abandonment, ONR supported the establishment of Ice Station Charlie in April 1959.
The main camp was located 500 km north of Barrow, Alaska USA. Along with two satellite camps, these camps formed a triangle with sides of approximately 100 km in length. The geographic area covered in the film footage is approximately as follows:
|Southernmost latitude:||80° N|
|Northernmost latitude:||87° N|
|Easternmost longitude:||180° E|
|Westernmost longitude:||110° E|
Figure 1 shows the path of the station as it drifted.
|Figure 1. Path of Drifting Station Alpha
The green dot marks the spot where the station was established in April 1957, and the red dot marks the end of the project in November 1958. The station drifted over 3000 km during an 18-month time period.
This film covers April 1957 when the drifting station was established to November 1958 when the project ended.
The film is available on DVD and has a running time of 33:01 minutes. It was originally transferred to electronic media by Crosspoint of Lakewood, Colorado USA.
A transcript of the film is also available: IGY 1957-1958: Drifting Station Alpha Transcript (PDF, 27 KB).
Figure 2 shows the front cover of the DVD.
|Figure 2. DVD Front Cover|
Digitized copies of the film are available on DVD free of charge. To place an order, contact NSIDC User Services.
NSIDC houses two data collections related to the Station Alpha DVD. The first is the Arctic Climatology Project - EWG Arctic Meteorology and Climate Atlas data set that contains portions of the data collected on Drifting Station Alpha during its operation from 1957 to 1958. The second is the Comprehensive Ocean - Atmosphere Data Set (COADS) LMRF Arctic Subset data set that contains data similar to the type of data acquired on Drifting Station Alpha but spans 1950 to 1995.
The World Ocean Database (WOD) 2001 CD-Rom contains data from Ice Station Alpha.
Cabaniss, G. H. 1962. Geophysical Data from U.S. Arctic Ocean Drift Stations, 1957-1960. Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories AFCRL-62-683.
Cottell, I. B. 1960. United States Research at Drifting Stations in the Arctic Ocean. Polar Record 10/(66): 269-274.
Crary, A. P. 1966. Air Force Research Achievements on Drifting Stations. Arctic Drifting Stations, edited by J. E. Sater, Arctic Institute of North America, Warrenton, VA: 113-125.
Leary, W. M., and L. A. LeSchack. 1996. Project Coldfeet, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis: 196 pp.
Fletcher, J. O. 1966. Origin and Early Utilization of Aircraft-Supported Drifting Stations. Arctic Drifting Stations, edited by J.E. Sater, Arctic Institute of North America, Warrenton, VA: 1-13.
Salter, J. E. 1968. Arctic Drifting Stations, Arctic Institute of North America, Washington, D.C.
N. Untersteiner. 1961. On the Mass and Heat Budget of Arctic Sea Ice. Arch. Met. Geoph. Biokl. A. Bd. 12, H. 2: 151-182.
NSIDC would like to acknowledge Dr. Norbert Untersteiner for his contribution of the film and his efforts to make it available. We also acknowledge the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center, Boulder; and the NOAA Climate Database Modernization Program for their support of and contributions to this project.
Table 1 lists the acronyms used in this document.
|COADS||Comprehensive Ocean - Atmosphere Data Set|
|EWG||Environmental Working Group|
|IGY||International Geophysical Year|
|LMRF||Long Marine Reports Fixed-Length|
|NOAA||National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration|
|ONR||Office of Naval Research|
A. Wallace and A. Windnagel prepared this document.
July 2010: A. Windnagel added a reference and related data collection to the references and related data collections lists.