North Warning System, Barter Island

North Warning System, Barter Island

by | May 7, 2023

The North Warning System at Barter Island is a long-range radar facility on the Beaufort Sea coast, situated between Arey Lagoon to the west and Kaktovik Lagoon to the east and adjacent to the village of Kaktovik, about 273 miles (440 km) northwest of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and 112 miles (180 km) east of Deadhorse, Alaska. The Iñupiat name for the island is ‘Nu-wu-ak’ and likely refers to ‘the place of barter’. Sir John Franklin applied the name ‘Barter Island’ in 1826 to present-day Arey Island, which lies 6 miles (10 km) to the west, but local and common usage of the name Barter Island was applied to this much larger island and has been published on charts and topographic maps since 1912. Barter Island is one of the largest islands along the Beaufort Sea coast of Alaska with 3,954 acres (1,600 ha) of tundra covering 6 to 10 feet (2-3 m) of permafrost underlain by coastal plain sediments composed of reworked aeolian, alluvial, fluvial, and marine deposits representing the Quaternary Gubik Formation. The radar facility is on the north shore of the island where steep bluffs consist of clay, sand, and gravel interspersed by ice blocks and wedges. The north coast of Barter Island is rapidly changing as shorelines once anchored by permafrost and protected from erosion by the presence of sea ice, are now vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson in 1914 described an extensive Iñupiat-Inuit trade network from the Bering Strait in the west, to the country of the Copper Inuit in the east, and then possibly further east to Hudson Bay, Baffin Island, and northwestern Greenland. The most consistent trade item moving east was Siberian iron which was exchanged for soapstone lamps and bowls that moved west. Soapstone is a raw material mainly associated with the Canadian Shield and is not generally found in the western Arctic. In the eastern Arctic, the near-exclusive use of soapstone for lamps and cooking pots dates to the beginning of the Thule period, about 1000 years ago. Thule immigrants to the region apparently abandoned the pottery of their Alaskan ancestors in favor of the much more durable soapstone. From the Mackenzie Delta region, soapstone bowls were traded west via Barter Island to Point Barrow and Kotzebue Sound. By at least the late 18th century, Russian metal goods, particularly iron knives, were the chief items received by the Copper Inuit for their pots and lamps. At the time of consistent European contact in the mid-19th century, most cooking pots and especially lamps from Kotzebue Sound to Cape Bathurst were made of Coronation Gulf soapstone and the trading site at Barter Island provided the crucial link between Alaskan Inupiat and Mackenzie Inuit.

The North Warning System is a joint United States and Canadian early-warning radar system that replaced the Distant Early Warning Line system for the atmospheric air defense of North America. The Barter Island radar installation was the prototype for 21 stations that were built in Alaska and Canada during the Cold War. In 1947, a lighted runway 4,820 feet (1,469 m) long and an aircraft hangar were built by the U.S. military. In 1951, the U.S. Air Force assumed control of the station which became operational in 1953. The station was operated by civilian contract workers until 1990 when the radar station was upgraded with long-range surveillance radar and re-designated a Long-Range Radar Station as part of the North Warning System now operated by the Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center based at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson. The North Warning System currently consists of 15 long-range radars, with 11 in Canada and 4 in Alaska. The system also includes short-range radars in Canada and Alaska. The radars of the North Warning System are integrated with the Alaska Radar System that has 11 additional long-range radar sites. Read more here and here. Explore more of the North Warning System and Barter Island here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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