About Field Sites
Utqiaġvik (BARR) is a terrestrial NEON field site located on the coastal plains of the North Slope of Alaska near Utqiaġvik, AK (formerly known as Barrow). It is the NEON Program’s northernmost field site. The 50 km2 (12,400 acre) site is within the Charles Etok Edwardsen Barrow Environmental Observatory, about 500 km (310 mi.) north of the Arctic Circle on the shores of the Chukchi Sea. The site represents the polygon tundra and lake systems across the northern extent of the North Slope of Alaska. The landscape is extremely flat with a max elevation of 15 m (50 ft.) above sea level. Field site boundaries overlap other ecological research networks, allowing opportunities for larger datasets and longer time series. BARR is part of the NEON Tundra Domain (D18), which includes the northern and western parts of Alaska. D18 hosts three other NEON field sites in Alaska: two aquatic sites and the TOOL terrestrial site, all located on the North Slopes of the Brooks Range.     
The climate at BARR is characterized by long, cold winters; short, cool summers; persistent wind driven by the nearby Arctic Ocean; and extreme seasonal variation. While the winters are frigid and dark, 24-hour sunlight in the summer breathes abundant life into the dynamic tundra ecosystem. Snowmelt and freeze-up conditions drive the hydrological cycle at the field site. As expected, temperatures are relatively very low throughout the year, with an average mean temperature of -12°C (10°F). Much of the 105 mm (4.1 in.) average annual precipitation occurs in the summer months as well. When the sun sets in mid-November, it won’t return until late January. Much of NEON’s field work is done in the summer, but sensors collect meteorological data 365 days a year.   
The region was never glaciated, and the surface is mantled with Quaternary deposits of alluvial, aeolian stratified sand, or glaciofluvial origin. 
Soils at BARR contain permafrost as the site is located in the zone of continuous permafrost. The soils are characterized as Typic Histoturbels, which have a thick layer of organic matter at the surface and are often saturated for long periods of time. The high organic matter in the soils at BARR is mostly due to persistent cold temperatures that limit decomposition and promote the accumulation of organic material from vegetation. This organic material insulates the underlying permafrost.   
Continuous permafrost beneath BARR soils isolates water to the surface, so soil drainage is little to none. Combined with limited relief, water pools in lower areas and leads to ubiquitous lakes and ponds. Small topographic highs form ice wedge polygon troughs, creating water channels during the summer. After the snowmelt period, which is typically in early to mid-June, evapotranspiration plays a significant role in the hydrological cycle due to the 24-hour sunlight. Additionally, chemical taliks - subsurface zones which remain unfrozen due to a high concentration of salinity in the groundwater - also occur at BARR. 
Hundreds of miles from any tree, vegetation must be strong enough to survive the harsh conditions of the Arctic Tundra. Grasses and sedges are the dominant vegetation, but dwarf shrubs and ericaceous communities exist within the drier parts of the site. According to the National Land Cover Database, the dominant land cover type is Sedge Herbaceous, with Emergent Herbaceous wetlands covering 20.8% of the site boundary. Water sedge (Carex aquatilis) is far and away the most common plant species at the site, accounting for almost 40% mean cover. Other common plants at BARR include the tussock-forming cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum) and tundra grass (Dupontia fisheri).  
Terrestrial species at BARR are limited to homoiothermic (warm-bodied) mammals and birds, with no reptiles or amphibians indigenous to the region. Some of the native mammals found in the site include caribou (Rangifer tarandus), muskox (Ovibos moschatus), and arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Additionally, the site is within the possible range of polar bear (Ursus maritimus). The area also makes up important breeding and nesting territory for migratory birds. Some common bird species that frequent the area include loons, ducks, geese, shorebirds, passerines, owls, ptarmigan, and eagles.
Past Land Management and Use
Human habitation in Alaska has been dated back to at least the Pleistocene (11,500 years ago). However, the earliest archaeological findings that indicate human settlement near Utqiaġvik date back only 1000 to 1500 years ago. Prior to European arrival, Iñupiat peoples were found across the Alaskan Arctic. The subsistence harvesting experience gave them intimate connection with the strongly cyclical environment. People ventured out onto sea ice to hunt for bowhead whale. If a whale was caught, a festival called Nalukatuk would take place to celebrate the harvest, commemorating it with a blanket toss, where participants are tossed in the air while other members hold the edge of the blanket. The Nalukatuk tradition carries on today. Slick, small boats called Umiaqs were used to hunt walrus and seal later in the season when the sea ice opened.
The nearby town of Utqiaġvik was incorporated as a city (called Barrow, AK) in 1958. However, the area has a research history that dates back to the late 1800s. In 1881, the U.S. Army Signal Corps encamped in the area on an expedition focused on investigating the northernmost point of U.S. territory. Government and independent expeditions soon followed and focused on ethnological, geographical, and zoological studies. Later, in the 1940s and 1950s, construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line and exploration in the National Petroleum Reserve brought new people to the area and increased research interests. In the late 1940s, the Arctic Research Laboratory (later renamed as the Naval Arctic Research Lab (NARL)) was built. NARL was established as a scientific research laboratory where scientists could, under contract with the Navy, conduct environmental research. This laboratory supported a large number of atmospheric, biological, oceanic, and terrestrial research activities. In the early 1980s, all research support at NARL ceased, and the Naval Facility was decommissioned and eventually turned over to the Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC). Both short-term and ongoing research continue to be based out of the UIC-NARL facility. In 1992, UIC set aside the 30 km2 (7466 acre) reserve known as the Barrow Environmental Observatory (BEO), which was established for long-term environmental monitoring efforts. The BEO is next to the NOAA-Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory site, which monitors atmospheric parameters and is involved with many research agencies.
Today, Utqiaġvik is still known for its subsistence-harvesting Iñupiat community. Over 60% of the approximately 4400 residents of Utqiaġvik are Iñupiat Eskimo. Recently, the community formally changed the name of the city from Barrow back to the traditional Iñupiat name Utqiaġvik.      
Current Land Management and Use
The Barrow Environmental Observatory is managed by the Ukpeagvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC), an Alaska Native Corporation founded in 1973 following the Alaska Native Claims Act in 1971. Today, UIC employs over 3500 people and provides commercial services across the state. A branch of the corporation, UIC Science, LLC, supports and facilitates field research operations in the observatory. In 1992, the 30 km2 (7466 acre) Charles Etok Edwardsen Barrow Environmental Observatory was established for environmental research. In addition to the field site, UIC Science provides physical infrastructure in the form of offices, labs and equipment. Local Inupiat whalers, hunters, and survival experts provide institutional knowledge and skills to support a wide variety of scientific functions in the Observatory. Today, the Observatory supports 40 to 50 projects a year. Researchers from around the world, including NEON technicians, come together to study this dynamic tundra ecosystem, where eroding coastlines and diminishing sea ice make a changing climate evident.  
NEON Site Establishment
The plot establishment and initial sampling readiness review in BARR began in July 2017. Dry runs of observational sampling began in late 2017. Instrumentation systems went online and began producing data in April 2017.
 Terrestrial Observation System (TOS) Site Characterization Report: Domain 18. NEON.DOC.003901vB
 About Utqiagvik. City of Utqiagvik. 2014. http://www.utqiagvik.us/index.php/about-utqiagvik
 Barrow, Alaska, Changes Its Name Back To Its Original 'Utqiagvik'. NPR. 2016 https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/01/503979353/barrow-ala…
 Feature Detail Report for: Utqiaġvik. USGS. 2000. https://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=138:3:0::NO::P3_FID,P3_TITLE:1398635…
 Birnirk National Historic Landmark. National Park Service. 2020. https://www.nps.gov/places/birnirk-site.htm
 Overview of Environmental and Hydrogeologic Conditions at Barrow, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey. 1994. https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1994/0322/report.pdf
 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information’s (NCEI) 1981-2010 climate normals (NCEI 2015).
 Mulligan, USDA. (2019).NEON Site-Level Plot Summary Barrow Environmental Observatory (BARR), March 2019. https://data.neonscience.org/documents/10179/2361410/BARR_Soil_SiteSumm…
 Michael SanClements, Robert H Lee, E D Ayres, Keli Goodman, Morgan Jones, David Durden, Katherine Thibault, Rommel Zulueta, Joshua Roberti, Claire Lunch, Adrian Gallo, Collaborating with NEON, BioScience, Volume 70, Issue 2, February 2020, Page 107, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biaa005
 U.S. Geological Survey, 2005, Mineral Resources Data System: U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia. https://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/
 About UIC. UIC Alaska. 2020. https://uicalaska.com/about-uic/
 UIC Science, LLC. UIC Alaska. 2020 https://uicalaska.com/our-companies/uic-commercial-services/uic-science…
 Shortest Day in Alaska. Alaska Channel. 2020. https://www.alaska.org/advice/shortest-day-in-alaska
 Potter, B. A., Irish, J. D., Reuther, J. D., & McKinney, H. J. (2014). New insights into Eastern Beringian mortuary behavior: a terminal Pleistocene double infant burial at Upward Sun River. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(48), 17060–17065. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1413131111
 Chance, N. A. (1990). The Inupiat and arctic Alaska: An ethnography of development. Holt Rinehart & Winston. Retrieved June 2020 from https://web.archive.org/web/20191031064620/http://arcticcircle.uconn.ed…
 Schroeder, R. F., Andersen, D. B., Bosworth, R., Morris, J. M., & Wright, J. M. (1987). Subsistence in Alaska: arctic, interior, southcentral, southwest, and western regional summaries. Technical paper, 150.
Remote sensing surveys of this field site collect lidar, spectrometer and high-resolution RGB camera data.
This site has a flux/meteorological tower that is 9 m (30 ft) tall with four measurement levels. The tower top extends above the vegetation canopy to allow sensors mounted at the top and along the tower to capture the full profile of atmospheric conditions from the top of the vegetation canopy to the ground. The tower collects physical and chemical properties of atmosphere-related processes, such as humidity, wind, and net ecosystem gas exchange. Precipitation data are collected by a tipping bucket at the top of the tower.
Soil Sensor Measurements
This site has five soil plots placed in an array within the airshed of the flux tower. Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) at soil surface, soil heat flux, solar radiation, and throughfall are measured at the soil surface in each soil plot. Soil moisture, soil temperature, and CO2 concentration are measured at multiple depths in each soil plot.
At terrestrial sites, field ecologists observe birds and plants, and sample ground beetles, mosquitoes, small mammals, soil microbes, and ticks. Lab analyses are carried out to provide further data on DNA sequences, pathogens, soils, sediments, and biogeochemistry. Learn more about terrestrial observations or explore this site's data products.
Field Site Data
Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation
Site Access Allowed
Site Access Details
Reseachers should coordinate with the site manager and submit appropriate site research-access permit.
NEON Field Operations Office
NEON Field Operations Address
3352 College Rd.
Fairbanks, AK 99709
NEON Field Operations Phone
Mean Annual Temperature
Mean Annual Precipitation
Dominant Wind Direction
Mean Canopy Height
Dominant NLCD Classes
Emergent Herbaceous Wetlands
Average number of green days
Average first greenness increase date
Average peak green date
Average first greenness decrease date
Average minimum greenness date
Number of Tower Levels
USGS Geology Unit
USGS Geology Name
Unconsolidated and poorly consolidated surficial deposits
USGS Lithologic Constituents
Alluvial, colluvial, marine, lacustrine, eolian, and swamp deposits
USGS Geology Age
Other Domain D18 Field Sites
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