NOAA inaugurates new Arctic observatory in Utqiaġvik

For nearly half a century, some of the most important observations of Arctic climate change have been captured and analyzed in a cramped 960 square foot temporary structure at the northern edge of the United States.

This view of NOAA’s Barrow Atmospheric Reference Observatory locates new and old observatory buildings, U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Geological Survey buildings, and downlink facilities by satellite. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

NOAA’s Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory is one of four monitoring stations operated by the Global Monitoring Laboratory, which produces long-term, highly accurate data sets of changing atmospheric composition and is one of foundations of international climate research.

Established in 1973, Barrow was the first research observatory in the Arctic. Built for NOAA by the Navy, it was meant to be temporary, but far exceeded expectations.

Finally, in 2020, after many years of planning, the observatory staff moved into a new, expanded observatory and research facility worthy of the significance of their work.

“Data collected here at Barrow Observatory and through NOAA’s Global Observing Network is critical to helping us understand how our atmosphere and climate are changing and how we can improve our climate predictions,” said Cisco Werner. , NOAA’s acting deputy administrator for research at a ceremony dedicating the new facility Aug. 5.


This map shows the location of the NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory’s Barrow Atmospheric Reference Observatory and surrounding partner research sites. All positions and boundaries are approximate. Credit: Global Monitoring Laboratory (map base provided by Esri)

NOAA’s Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory was established by NOAA in January 1973 on a point of land jutting into the Beaufort Sea, where it is well placed to sample air that is little influenced by sources of local or regional air pollution. Located on nearly 100 acres, the site is also ideal for measuring surface radiation on a natural landscape that will remain untouched in perpetuity.

The new state-of-the-art 3,000 square foot research facility includes a new rooftop terrace, a 30-meter instrument tower, a field science platform sized to hold two metal shipping containers, a server room dedicated computer, a high speed fiber connection to the contiguous United States and a permafrost temperature monitoring facility. It also has new amenities such as a plumbed bathroom and kitchenette, as well as an enlarged and renovated garage.


This graph shows a time series of monthly averages of carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Barrow Base Atmospheric Observatory from 1971 to the present. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

The observatory supports over 200 measurements including greenhouse gases, ozone depleting chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, Eurasia air pollution events known as Arctic Haze, stratospheric ozone depletion, advancing snowmelt dates, and lengthening summers along Alaska’s North Slope. The long-term datasets compiled from these measurements provide scientists with essential information about changes in atmospheric composition and the Arctic region. Arctic modeling and satellite observations will benefit from the infrastructure and science available at BRW that enables in situ observations as part of a larger integrated system. Increasing the number of diverse measurements at the new BRW facility will improve our knowledge of the complex Arctic environment, including hydrology, glaciology, oceanography, earth and biological systems, and related mechanisms throughout the Arctic system.

Built by UIC Nappairit, LLC, a subsidiary of Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation, the facility has been designated as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building by the US Green Building Council.

The new facility also provides NOAA with the ability to provide research opportunities to outside scientists and collaborative research projects.

For more information, contact Theo Stein, NOAA Communications, at [email protected]


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