Dr. Trevor Bell's SmartIce technology wins two awards in one month

Nov 29th, 2021

Chad Pelley

By enabling safety and resiliency in the face of climate change, Dr. Trevor Bell's SmartIce technology has become a shining example of how research at Memorial University is improving the communities we live in.

In the Canadian Arctic, sea ice serves as a necesary roadway for people to travel their land and harvest food. Traditionally, Inuit knowledge of ice safety has allowed them to safely travel these "ice highways," but climate change is making the thickness of sea ice more and more unpredictable. As a result, these ice roads have become increasingly dangerous to travel on.

This dilemma was the inspiration for SmartIce: an ice thickness sensor which has been dubbed by the Canadian Museum of Nature as "the first ever climate change adaptation solution."

By towing an ice thickness sensor on the back of a snowmobile, a snowmobile operator is provided real-time data on ice thickness that helps guide the person safely on their passage. A colour-coded map of sea ice thickness along their route is then made available for other ice road travelers in their community. This real-time map allows people to more safely plan a travel route.

SmartIce was developped in coastal communities and started out in two pilot communities, Nain and Pond Inlet, where travel routes along ice highways to country food is a fundamental part of community culture and well-being. Smart Ice technology is now in use in 24 communities across the Arctic, and the organization has trained and employed over 100 Inuit as producers, operators and technicians.

It's no wonder this technology has been receiving accolades for years now. In fact, Dr. Bell remains the only faculty member at Memorial to have won the coveted Arctic Inspiration Prize twice. The prize is known as the "Nobel Prize of the North," and recognizes research and projects that translate knowledge into action for the benefit of the people of the Canadian Arctic.

Recognition for SmartIce continues to roll in, and in November of 2021, it was recognized by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s Martin Bergmann Medal for Excellence in Arctic Leadership, and weeks later the Canadian Museum of Nature awarded it its Nature Inspiration Award.

“By providing northern communities the opportunity for self-determination in climate change adaptation activities," says the Canadiam Museum of Nature, "SmartIce contributes to Indigenous reconciliation. The museum is proud to award SmartIce [the award] for their role in working with local communities  and using traditional Inuit knowledge to create a novel solution to understand and track changes in our climate.”