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The Evolution of Product Dissemination at the National Ice Center

Although there have been many advances in remote sensing technology and the technology employed by analysts to process and enhance remotely sensed data in-house, the technological advances that are most visible to National Ice Center (NIC) customers are those made in product dissemination.  Throughout the 1980s, product dissemination relied primarily on the U.S. mail. It could take several days from the time a product was published to the time that product was received by a customer.  However, by the mid-1990s, most NIC customers could receive products the instant they were published online and in a digital format.

Making and Mailing Photocopies

In the early 1980s, NIC analyses were produced using paper, pencils, and light tables, and the method of product dissemination was equally archaic.  Once an entire hemispheric ice analysis was completed at the end of each week, the tedious process of product dissemination began.  Each week, literally hundreds of photocopies were made of analysis products.  These copies were sent by the U.S. mail to customers around the world.  The process of making copies and addressing and stuffing envelopes typically took several analysts the better part of a Friday afternoon.  Copies of NIC analysis products were also sent to the World Weather Building in Camp Springs, Maryland, either by mail courier or delivered in person by a NIC analyst.


The U.S. mail continued to be a method of disseminating NIC products into the early 1990s.  Additionally, a new fax system called “autopolling” was introduced in 1991 as a second form of product dissemination.  With the autopolling system, a customer was assigned a username and password, which was used to access the system.  Each NIC analysis product was assigned a product number that could then be requested by the customer.

Digital Products

Through much of the 1990s, products were delivered through the U.S. mail and the NIC autopolling system.  However, by the late 1990s, a new digitizing system moved NIC analysts away from paper and pen for good and into the world of digital ice analysis and chart production.  NIC analysts were now able to produce a digital graphical product, as well as a spatial data product that could be easily ingested into its customer’s own Geographic Information System.

As digital products became the standard for NIC, the Internet became the preferred method of product dissemination.  Paper charts were no longer produced, and the autopolling system was slowly phased out of service.  Today, the NIC still relies on the Internet to get products to its customers.  NIC analysis products can be accessed at