The Meaning of Melt: SEARCH at Arctic Encounter Symposium 2023

A team led by Craig George of Utqiagvik harvested a 300-pound block of sea ice for display at 2023 Arctic Encounter Symposium.


Sea ice in St. Lawrence Island Yupik. 


Floating pressure ice ridge. Ice piled higher than neighboring ones. (Pressure ridges form where two pieces of sea ice push together.)


New ice formed within cracks in an ice flow. Good to walk on.


Stream of dense ice carried by north or south currents or pushed by low tide.  Dangerous to walk on.

These are just a few examples of over 90 words and phrases in St. Lawrence Island Yupik describing sea ice and ice formations. 

The St. Lawrence Island Sea Ice Dictionary was written by Elder Conrad Oozeva in 1986 and later was compiled with illustrations and English translations by Igor Krupnik of the Smithsonian‘s Arctic Studies Center. 

Since the Sea Ice Dictionary was shared with the world, Arctic sea ice cover has diminished significantly. Some types of St. Lawrence Island Yupik words refer to ice types no longer seen on St. Lawrence Island (for example, kulusiq–blue ice that shows up first in the fall). 

The meaning of melt

Rapidly diminishing sea ice comes with local and global consequences–and the meaning of this loss reaches far beyond the Arctic, transcending languages, governments, economies, cultures, and ways of knowing. 

At this year’s Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage, SEARCH team members explored the Meaning of Melt.

With 11 different voices speaking on the meaning of melt—and with audience members welcomed to share their own thoughts—we centered what the loss of sea ice means for Indigenous people, scientists, artists, policy makers, and more.

We also discussed the transformative power of individual and collective action around the world, reminding audiences of the Arctic Encounter Symposium that we all have the agency to influence solutions in our own communities.

Utqiagvik crew harvests block of sea ice

On display in the main lobby of the Dena’ina Civic & Convention Center was a 310-pound block of sea ice from the frozen edges of Utqiagvik.

The presence of this fresh, wild sea ice reminded Arctic Encounter Symposium attendees that regardless of where we live, the impacts of sea ice loss reach everyone on the planet.

The hulking block of ice was carefully collected and packaged by Craig George (at left) with the help of Miles Baker, Ross Burgener, Lindsay Cameron, Geoff Carroll, Peter Detwiler, and Frances ‘Jakylou’ Olemaun. 

Sawn with tools and lifted by many strong hands, the sea ice was cut from an ivuñiq (Iñupiaq), or pressure ridge, on the floating but shorefast ice known as tuvaq. The ice was harvested at  71° 16.0’ N, 156° 47.1’W and was composed of mature, first-year ice, or sikuliaqruaq in Iñupiaq.


Arctic Encounter Symposium Platinum Sponsor and Strategic Partner Alaska Airlines shipped and stored the sea ice in advance of this year’s event with significant coordination and kind enthusiasm from Casey Pape.

SEARCH and the Arctic Encounter Symposium express deep gratitude to everyone involved in the collection, curation, shipment, and exhibition of the sea ice.

Everyone’s efforts allowed melting sea ice to be physically present in the room at the largest Arctic policy conference in the United States.