Iceberg Drift Tracking Beacons


Icebergs and ice islands represent significant hazards to marine navigation and offshore infrastructure at a time when demand for access to Canada’s Arctic waters is increasing.

There is a growing demand for in situ iceberg tracking data to monitor their drift trajectory and improve predictions of ice hazard occurrence and behaviour, yet the high cost of commercial tracking devices often prevents monitoring at optimal spatial and temporal resolutions.


The goal of this project is to determine if the Cryologger, a tracking beacon based on inexpensive, open-source hardware and software, can provide a reliable and cost-effective platform for monitoring the drift of icebergs and ice islands in the Canadian Arctic.

Methods: Design

The Cryologger is based on the open-source Arduino platform ( and built using low-cost, do-it-yourself electronics that can be easily modified to meet the needs of the end-user. Code was written using the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and benefits from the availability of community-generated libraries.

Planned for extended deployments in harsh Arctic conditions, the Cryologger can provide long-term measurements of GPS position, temperature, pressure, pitch, roll, tilt-compensated heading and battery voltage. Data are transmitted over the Iridium satellite network at specified intervals and can be remotely updated based on the desired sampling frequency.

Methods: Deployment

A total of 14 Cryologger drift tracking beacons were deployed from the CCGS Amundsen’s helicopter on icebergs and ice islands along the coasts of Ellesmere Island, Baffin Island and Greenland during the ArcticNet leg of the 2018 and 2019 Amundsen Expeditions. An additional 2 tracking beacons were deployed by helicopter on icebergs near the Milne Ice Shelf, Ellesmere Island in the summer of 2019.

The overall suitability of potential targets was determined by assessing the iceberg’s size, shape and location. At the time of deployment, a compass heading of the tracking beacon is also recorded and a 360° aerial photo survey of the iceberg is performed.


Cryologgers deployed in 2018 have transmitted over 40,000 GPS positions, achieved more than 550 days of continuous operation and travelled a combined total distance of over 8000 km.

Tracking beacons deployed in the summer of 2019 have reported over 7,000 GPS positions but have encountered difficulties transmitting their data due to the use of a new antenna and interference from overlying snow cover.

Two tracking beacons were lost after one iceberg ran aground and broke up off the coast of Labrador in May, 2019 after traveling over 4000 km and a second grounded iceberg broke apart off the
coast of Baffin Island in September, 2019.

Initial results have shown that the drift patterns and speeds differ considerably between icebergs, with a maximum measured drift speed of 6.08 km/h and a mean drift speed of 0.34 km/h.

Data collected by the drift tracking beacons are stored and made freely available on the Cryologger website and the location of the tracking beacons can be monitored in real-time!

Conclusions & Future Work

The success of the Cryologger tracking beacon deployments has demonstrated that low-cost, open-source hardware and software can provide a robust and cost-effective platform for the collection in-situ iceberg tracking data. These data can provide key insights to iceberg drift and deterioration processes in the Canadian Arctic.

Development of the next version of the Cryologger tracking beacon is currently underway and will focus on improving overall reliability, exploring the use of more environmentally friendly materials and making modifications allowing the tracking beacons to transform into ocean drifter buoys once breakup of the icebergs occurs.

New cryospheric research applications are also being assessed for Cryologger platform, which has already been configured for use as a low-cost automatic weather station in Northern communities and a high-precision glacier velocity measurement system.