FAIRBANKS — Members of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geographic Information Network of Alaska have partnered with an Arctic Slope Regional Corp. subsidiary to create prototypes of computers that will monitor temperatures in ice cellars to assist those in Alaskan villages who still use ice cellars as a traditional form of refrigeration.

Ice cellars are a form of refrigeration created by digging a deep hole in the frozen ground in which food is kept cold. 

While data collected from the computers will assist permafrost researchers at the university, the central goal of the project is to provide information to those using the cellars in their everyday lives, said Vanessa Raymond, principal investigator for the project.

“We want the ice cellar owners to know what is happening in their ice cellar,” Raymond said. “And the prototype we design for them is customized depending on their access to the internet and what kind of power source is available.”

This is an important issue for many who rely in the cellars as changes in climate have begun affecting permafrost levels in the ground. Changes to the permafrost can greatly affect the temperature and structural integrity of a cellar and potentially put a year’s food supply at risk.

The cellar monitors are made with inexpensive, single-board computers called Raspberry Pis. These computers are extremely customizable and can be altered to fit the needs of each individual cellar. 

UAF students Ianjon Brower and Samuel George created the prototypes from the Raspberry Pi computers to be able to withstand changing Arctic temperatures and conditions.

“The Raspberry Pi will be fitted with a 7-inch touchscreen that displays a live graph updating every few hours,” said Brower, lead researcher for the project. “It will give people a basic visualization of what’s going on in the cellar in case things begin to look like it’s going to thaw and they want to move their food out.”

Brower, a senior at UAF from Utqiagvik, gave a presentation about the computers to the North Slope Borough mayor’s office and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

The project started with the intention of building just one sensor. However, it has now expanded to seven which are able to be customized for different uses including in-town, remote and extremely remote use. The computers can also equipped with a solar, battery and wind generation options depending on location.

According to the university, the computers incorporate user-friendly, live-time graphs that display data from various sensors, including those designed to measure humidity, temperature and air pressure.

The project will begin with seven computers installed in different areas throughout 2018. Some changes may be made to the project and placement of computers based on data gathering and success.

Contact staff writer Erin Granger at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.