Published: April 21, 2023

The 1957 Chukchi and Beaufort ice charts arrived at the University Libraries brittle and torn after decades rolled up in storage.

Rolled up maps before conservation

Student assistant Mak Morton, a senior majoring in art history and a recipient of the 2022-23 Laughing Goat Endowed Scholarship, took on the task of restoring these ice charts through her part-time job in the Libraries’s Preservation unit. In doing so, Morton saved irreplaceable data that is part of the climate record and made progress toward her goal of a career in art conservation and restoration.

The ice charts are part of the Roger G. Barry glaciology collection, acquired by the Libraries’ Rare and Distinctive Collections in 2018. The charts—which are maps of ice flows in northern Alaskan seas—are likely products of an international Cold War scientific study of the cryosphere that lasted from July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958. The project was called the International Geophysical Year (IGY) and the data was collected by the U.S. military ultimately for scientific benefit. IGY involved 11 separate branches of science and data collection from 67 countries. Scientific observations that previously would not have been shared between eastern and western powers were now being jointly created and preserved for the common good of human understanding.

Mak Morton preserving the ice charts

Morton’s first step to preserve the maps involved some gentle dry cleaning using a soot sponge of vulcanized rubber to gently rub the material. The maps were shedding dirt, dust and grit. Once cleaned, they were ready for the next stage. 

"It is gratifying to be able to be the one to physically transform something so damaged and fragile back into a legible and accessible state," said Morton. "We spend so much time looking at screens, I love being able to get back to the tangible physical object and extend its presence and use."

A photo negative of a glacier with the text 'restricted'

This photo is from the Glacier Photograph Collection in the Roger G. Barry glaciology collection and is representative of war-time secrecy before the IGY. Initially listed as an ‘unknown glacier’ it was taken by an unidentified photographer in 1941 and has since been identified as Yanert Glacier in Alaska.

Humidifying and flattening

The media of each map was tested to make sure they were not water-soluble.

A series of photos showing how the maps are misted and flattened

Each map (together with its fragments, if torn) was gently spread out on a clean surface covered with blotter paper and lightly misted with distilled water. The moisture softened the maps making them more pliable. They were then left to dry for about a day, sandwiched between blotter paper and pressed under weights to help them flatten. 

Tear repair

A thin Japanese paper and wheat starch paste is used for tear repair. First, the torn pieces of the maps were reassembled. Strips for the repairs were separated from a larger piece of Japanese paper using a water pen (rather than cutting with scissors). Tearing off the strips with the aid of a water pen produces a fibrous/frayed edge that is ideal for repairs.

The tools and paper used for tear repair

Once tears were set, Morton carefully brushed wheat starch over the paper, applied the mends and allowed for drying.

A series of photos depicting the process for repairing the tear

The final step was numbering the 103 restored charts and placing them in a customized archival box. The project took approximately three months to complete.

The ice charts with the custom archival box

The Chukchi and Beaufort ice charts are part of the larger Roger G. Barry glaciology collection. They were collected by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and came to the Libraries' archives in partnership with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“This material is excellent primary source evidence of both changes in ice and how data collection by scientists has changed over time,” Senior Processing Archivist Ashlyn Velte said. “We have had researchers looking for records of where ice and glaciers existed in the past as well as their size, shape and location in order to compare to today and make better predictions about what will happen in the future.”

For further information about NSIDC, see The First 25 years: The history of the WDC for glaciology and NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado.

Roger G Barry filling a pilot balloon in 1963

Roger G. Barry fills a pilot balloon with hydrogen at Tanquary Fjord in Nunavut, Canada in the summer of 1963.

During his 60+ years in geography and climatology with an emphasis on the polar regions, Roger G. Barry was among the very first to recognize the importance of computers for archiving and sharing climate data. He came to CU Boulder in 1968 and became the founding director of NSIDC from 1971 to 2011.

To learn more about Barry’s career and its significance for today’s climate research see the memorials from the Department of Geography and by Eos from AGU.  

Reflecting on his life and work Barry reflected, “Climatology is a young science, spanning barely half a century, and I have indeed been fortunate to be part of most of it.” He counted among his greatest satisfactions as “working with so many brilliant graduate students,” and “establishing NSIDC as a worldwide resource.” In Memoriam

Learn about the International Geophysical Year (IGY)