Exploring The Arctic

Jul 23, 2019 | Field Blog

I have previously set up a few Malaise traps for CBG, but for this trip I also had to learn how to set up pan traps, pitfall traps, and to sweep a net around to collect flying insects on land and aquatic invertebrates in ponds. It’s amazing how a net that looks like it only caught plant debris or decaying pond scum can turn out to be full of so many animals when you look closely.

Crystal has been an excellent guide to me on this whole trip. She’s great at making sure that I know what I am doing when we prep for the field, collect our samples, and process them back at the lab. Thanks to her support, I feel confident in my ability to find and collect insects. I will be making good use of that skill when I must build an insect collection for the Insect Diversity course at U of G.

I think I first really realized I was in the arctic when I looked out of the window of the plane and saw frozen ocean stretching out below me in the middle of the summer. The weather here has ranged from warm to chilly, depending on the presence of rain, but if I ever forget what a high latitude I am at, the chill wind rolling off the ocean reminds me.

The tundra is extraordinarily different from the St. Lawrence Lowlands ecoregion I grew up in. It’s very strange to be able to look all the way to the horizon and see no trees. Due to the lack of trees, the birds land surprisingly close to you because they must hunt and roost on the ground. In Cambridge Bay, not a single plant grows higher than 15 cm tall, and grass is only sparsely dispersed. The vegetation consists primarily of Dryas, Saxifrage, and lichens. The tundra is prone to flooding and changing with the rain so the soil is furrowed and soft. The sandy soil, low vegetation, and sedimentary rocks give the impression that the whole land is at low tide and the ocean will come rolling in any moment.

Kugluktuk is on the mainland of Canada and only slightly south of Cambridge Bay, but the vegetation is very different. Here, the vegetation can get as high as your waist, and there is a much greater presence of willow shrubs and grasses. It’s a surprising difference after a week in the ankle-height vegetation, but it shows that even the arctic has a wide variety of ecosystems to explore.

When we aren’t in the field, we come back to our accomodations (the CHARS campus in Cambridge Bay and The Coppermine Inn in Kugluktuk) and warm up with a nice meal. As I understand it, a full kitchen or a dining service are unheard of in most kinds of field work so I feel very fortunate in that regard. It’s nice to get to dip my toes into the experience instead of diving headfirst into camping in the snow with yurts and using scraps of tinder to cook dinner….. but maybe someday!

I am certainly looking forward to going home to my family and friends, but my experience in the arctic has left a strong impression on me.

– Alana

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