News Archive

posted 10/15/03

But Don't You Miss Drifting on Ice Floes?

Kenneth Hunkins on Station Alpha in the Arctic
        Ocean during the International Geophysical Year (1957-8).

Kenneth Hunkins on Station Alpha in the Arctic Ocean during the International Geophysical Year (1957-8). The theodolite was used for navigation by sun and stars before the advent of navigation with artificial satellites, GPS.

Kenneth Hunkins, Special Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, was awarded the American Polar Society Medallion for his lifelong research in the Arctic region and contributions to the field of science.

Hunkins has done most of his Arctic research while drifting on ice floes — frozen seawater approximately ten feet thick or less. Hunkins was on the first IGY arctic floating "Station Alpha" in the late 1950s, when celestial navigation — instead of satellites and Global Positioning System — was used to tell if the station had drifted out of range for supply drops.

Some of the most important geophysical data was collected during that time. A large amount of oceanography computer models for weather and climate currently use the data collected by these IGY floating ice stations. The Alpha station was the first to discover the Alpha Rise, a submarine ridge named for the ice camp, and were the first to take ocean bottom photographs of the deep Arctic (4,000 meters), which was done, according to Hunkins, by "cutting a hole in the ice and lowering a 4,000 meter cable and instrument to the bottom."

Does he miss the Arctic?

"No, not particularly. The last ice station I was on was in 1981, and they're rather strenuous. Ice floes on which the camps are located often break up. We would just hope that a crack wouldn't form on the landing strip, or we'd have to move to a different ice floe."

Though now retired from teaching, Hunkins maintains an office at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and his current research focuses on computer modeling of the physical behavior of Lake Champlain. He recently discovered a 4-day internal wave (seiche) within the lake.