A catalog of the cryosphere

researcher on ice island during IGY

An item from the ROCS Archives casts light on research conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey on Fletcher's Ice Island (T-3) during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958. The caption in the report reads: "This photograph shows a rodman moving into position during surveys of the locations of geophysical lines. The smooth surface was typical of the ice island with a snow cover present. The ridge in the background is formed from sea ice thrown up against the edge of the island."

Today scientists study the Earth with satellites and computers, but their interest in past climate precedes these digital tools. So while NSIDC is best known for its massive archives of digital Earth science data, it also holds an archive of non-digital, or analog materials. Journals, photographs, films, and publications help document the state of Earth’s frozen regions stretching more than 100 years in the past, as well as the history of science and exploration in cold regions.

NSIDC has been organizing these materials into distinct collections, and just released the first catalog records for one of these collections. Scientists and historians can now go online to peer into the International Polar Year Data and Literature collection, at the Roger G. Barry Resource Office for Cryospheric Studies (ROCS) at NSIDC. More than 800 digital items—photographs, data charts, publications, audio files, and even a video—relating to the first two International Polar Years (IPY) 1882-83 and 1932-33 and the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957-58 reside in this public, searchable catalog, most of which are available for download. To search and access the collection, see the International Polar Year Historical Data and Literature Web page.

Searching the archives

The ROCS Archives specializes in historical science materials related to Earth’s frozen regions. Its holdings include thousands of maps, photographs, prints, expedition journals, and more.

Included are materials from early expeditions to Alaska, the Alps, South and Central America, and Greenland, as well as historical records of the activities of the World Data Center and the National Snow and Ice Data Center. These materials include approximately 1,400 maps, 8,000 photographic prints, 1,400 glass plate negatives, 1,600 color slides, more than 7,000 ice charts, and 38 cubic feet of manuscript materials. In addition, NSIDC holds 144 cubic feet of film and 34 cubic feet of the records of the history of NSIDC. All of these materials, garnered since the late 1800s, document the birth of glaciology as a field of study, the history of the WDC for Glaciology, Boulder, and more recently the history of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Cataloging items like these is a long and painstaking project. Unlike a book in a library, which often comes with a ready-made catalog entry, each collection in an archive must be evaluated, classified, described, and indexed individually before it can be entered into the catalog. NSIDC and ROCS continue the long-term project of cataloging the many collections in the archives. Some holdings have been partially digitized for online viewing, including the Glacier Photograph Collection and the Dehn Collection of Arctic Sea Ice Charts, 1953-1986, and these items can be found in NSIDC’s data catalog. However, many more analog resources remain to be described and cataloged.

Items in the ROCS Archives can be viewed on site at NSIDC. Contact the ROCS Archivist with more specific questions about holdings or to arrange a visit to NSIDC.

Learn more about the ROCS Archives holdings.

Search the ROCS Archives online catalog.

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