Data Set ID:

International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958: Drifting Station Alpha Documentary Film, Version 1

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 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. The file is available for download in .mp4 format via FTP.

This is the most recent version of these data.

  • Sea Ice > Sea Ice Motion > SEA ICE MOTION
Data Format(s):
  • MPEG
Spatial Coverage:
N: 87, 
S: 80, 
E: 180, 
W: 110
Spatial Resolution:Not SpecifiedSensor(s):VISUAL OBSERVATIONS
Temporal Coverage:
  • 1 April 1957 to 30 November 1958
Temporal ResolutionNot specifiedMetadata XML:View Metadata Record
Data Contributor(s):Norbert Untersteiner, Frans van der Hoeven

Geographic Coverage

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As a condition of using these data, you must cite the use of this data set using the following citation. For more information, see our Use and Copyright Web page.

Untersteiner, N. and F. G. van der Hoeven. 2009. International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958: Drifting Station Alpha Documentary Film, Version 1. [Indicate subset used]. Boulder, Colorado USA. NSIDC: National Snow and Ice Data Center. doi: [Date Accessed].

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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).

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.

Detailed Data Description


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 1 shows the front cover of the DVD.

DVD Front Cover
Figure 1. DVD Front Cover
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Spatial and Temporal Coverage

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. This film covers April 1957 when the drifting station was established to November 1958 when the project ended. 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 2 shows the path of the station as it drifted.

Path of Drifting Station Alpha
Figure 2. 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.
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References and Related Publications

Contacts and Acknowledgments


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.

Document Information

Document Authors

A. Wallace and A. Windnagel prepared this document.

Document Creation Date

July 2009

Document Revision Date

July 2010: A. Windnagel added a reference and related data collection to the references and related data collections lists.

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