Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 29, 2009

Everyone overnighted in Winnipeg last night and then headed off on flights to their final destinations today. Thanks to everyone for their patience and also their assistance in seeing the students on their way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Departure Day - July 28, 2009

While we were ready to go this morning, the plane we were to take could not land in Churchill because of heavy fog. We ended up spending another day here with a lunch in town at Gypsy's. We'll keep everyone posted on when we are able to fly out!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The last day of field work - July 27, 2009

Today we celebrated two birthdays - Chris and Carla! The cake was awesome! And bananagrams came in handy....

by Spencer

As I type this blog at 5 in the morning, I am reflecting on all that has passed in these last 10 days. Day 10 started just as any other day would with the 7:00 AM breakfast, succeeded by the 7:45 AM briefing, but this one felt different. It was the last one. We went out to collect fish traps, water samples, and physical data on 5 ponds, in which we found fish and tadpoles. We were often reminded that it was the “last time we would tape our boots” or “last time we would hang our waders to dry”. We took one final group picture at the wetland with the last pond as the backdrop. We headed back to the centre, and on the way saw our last set of polar bears. These polar bears were some of the best too. Through the fog we were able to see two polar bears feasting on a freshly beached beluga whale. Along with that we saw orange lichen, with which we had the same fascination as we did with it on day one. We went to the centre, played some bananagrams, then cleaned up all our supplies, entered and checked the last of the data, and packed up. We took one last trip to the dome, where we often found an intellectual conversation being turned into a game of duck duck goose, or vice versa. We headed to dinner, listened to Ymjke’s many stories, and washed dishes for the last time. We then celebrated two birthdays with a large birthday cake. Chris and Carla both received said cake, cards, and chocolates. In addition, Carla received a Winnie the Pooh orange balloon, and Chris received a smiley face balloon. We wrapped up the night with one more lecture, where we really got to think about the research we have been doing and what it all means. We left with the understanding that we made a big contribution, and that this research is an always ongoing process that we can always help with. I look forward to following this project and continuing to think about why the fish ended up where they were and what the frogs calls mean. I will miss everyone and I hope our paths cross again one day.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 9 - The bear in the way and the swim in the BAY!

- by Ymkje

This morning we had to go back to the routine that had been disrupted by our day out yesterday. We went out to collect the fish traps that Ben and Scott had set out for us. On the way there we saw a bald eagle perched on a telephone pole next to the road. While working the mosquitoes (mozzies) were a little too friendly. It was our first really warm day and everyone was sweating profusely.

Then Ben heard a rustle and found a polar bear that was a little too close for comfort so we all had to swiftly make our way to the van ( walking, not running!). This interruption did mean that our morning fieldwork was cut short but also that we could get in some pre-lunch bananagram games.

Because it was finally a warm day we decided to go for a bay dip in Hudson Bay. Even though it was sunny the bay was still quite chilly but we had a lot of fun.

Bald eagle on hydro post on our way to the morning of field work.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day off activities - July 25, 2009 - The Epic Blog

Sunset at the end of a great day off!

Baby beluga!

-by Erica

Today, Saturday the 25th, marks the completion of an entire week in Churchill. In some respects, it seems as though we’ve been collecting data and listening to frog audio for months, while in other terms, it feels like we only arrived from Winnipeg yesterday. Despite the contrast between these perspectives, none of us “earthwatchers” (teen and leader alike), can deny that this has been an incredibly fulfilling week--fascinating field data, exhausting treks through knee deep mud, and countless inside jokes and “great stories”. In other words, we’ve had a very full and genuinely tiring week, and finally, today we had a well deserved day off.
Even though the heavy rain put a damper on the early morning and convinced most of us that our whale watching adventure would be postponed, by 8:15 we were pleasantly surprised and ready to set off for Churchill town. We drove along the twists of gravel road and past numerous orange lichen rocks, until ultimately, we reached the base of the Sea North whale watching tours ( After a brief overview of safety and background on whale species, our tour began. We meandered into mouth of Hudson River, eager to see our first Beluga. At first, escaping birds seemed to provide most entertainment, but eventually we slowed down and were truly surrounded by these incredible whales. Like most overenthusiastic tourists, our entire group became “trigger happy” and snapped away memory cards full of tail shots. Of course, Raffi’s “Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea...” soon became our theme song as we watched splotchy grey less-than-week-old calfs swimming alongside their majestic mothers. It was truly amazing to witness the beauty of 8 white figures arching their spines in unison along foggy horizon, and I think I speak for everyone in saying how grateful we are for this experience.
Soon after, our tour ventured to Prince of Wales Fort on a nearby peninsula. After hearing detailed historical context and specifics on use of the interior, we walked around and snapped photos of ancient engravings, cannons and the misty view from highest point of fort. Upon our return to Churchill we headed off to the famous “Gypsy's”. As delicious as food at CNSC is, it was very satisfying to eat pizza, etc in a different setting. Also, the vast array of dessert pastry options was overwhelming, and after sampling quite a few, I can attest that they were utterly scrumptious.
Next, we drove to the Eskimo museum—an incredible collection of carvings and artifacts from the northernmost region. Personally, Eskimo heritage and culture is not a topic I’m very knowledgeable about, so I was very fascinated by the intricate whalebone figurines that portray so much about native lifestyle. I was also impressed by the detailed stories that accompany each carving, particularly one featuring a young Eskimo boy first witnessing flight of an airplane. I found it intriguing how well this small walrus tusk figurine could capture the stark clash between traditional Eskimo way of life and modern technological development.
After tooling around museum gift shop, a general store souvenir shop, and the local grocery store, we set off for the CNSC. However, our journey back was not so direct, as the incredible sunshine seemed to prevent our immediate return. It was genuinely our first taste of arctic sunshine all week, and the invigoration from the rays made a roadside photo/run and jump around enjoying nature stop completely necessary. Despite massive quantities of mosquitoes, we had a rather “glorious” little adventure that, at least for me, was extremely satisfying.
Eventually, we returned to the CNSC and grabbed an uneventful dinner. Upon finishing, Spencer, Anna, Little Leanne, two others from center, and I went for a very fast paced “jog”/bike (armed with firearms in case of polar bear attack of course) to the rocket and back. In our absence, the others enjoyed numerous rounds of Bananagrams, the “official” game of the trip. We then had very interesting discussion/lecture on plausible solutions to climate change ranging from immediate recycling and choosing healthy grass-fed meat on a local level, to the necessity of clean energy economies on a global scale. They dynamic structure of this conversation allowed us to explore numerous decisions on personal level regarding college and our futures, as well as see examples of current environmental efforts such as the Milwaukee Urban Ecology center, Environment Connecticut, and the Repower America Campaign.
Finally, we ended our adventurous and very “stage one”-esque day with an excursion to watch Arctic sunset over beach—a very fulfilling and fitting closure to an altogether quite satisfying day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Photos from today (July 24, 2009)

- by Chris

Today, as every day, I woke up at 6:50 to the sound of my alarm. I quickly turned it off and decided to get up. Within a minute I was asleep again. When I reawoke the realisation hit me that we were now over halfway and our time is quickly diminishing now until we leave on Tuesday. I briefly hit Stage 2 then but the thought of food perked me up and I headed off to breakfast. Breakfast was very quiet, possibly because Spencer stole Ymkje’s seat so there was no steady stream of stories to keep us amused. The morning meeting passed without incident and I was put on physical data collection with Ymkje and Claire. We were warned several times to bring our bug jackets and we really needed them. Stepping out of the van into a swarm of mosquitoes I realized I had left my DEET spray and my gloves in my room. This meant that across the morning I got about twenty bites on my hands and one on my ear through my bug jacket. After a slog through very wet wetlands we arrived back with all our data. Then there was lunch, in which I discovered that I like Denver. This was followed by an afternoon of listening to frogs, or, as with one of my tapes, listening to an absence of frogs. Another afternoon spent in the ‘secret hideout’ brought us to a very interesting lecture about yellow warblers and their differing nesting patterns. Finally, as several of our number had not seen it, we watched an episode of Planet Earth. I went to bed happily back in Stage 1, very excited for the whale watching and the day off tomorrow.

Day 6 - July 23, 3009

Spiderweb with the morning dew on it. (awwwh)

98% DEET is a great investment with mozzies like these!

Fog for our morning of work!

- by Claire

The day began with a very groggy and quiet breakfast as we were all still somewhat asleep. We then started the day's work with a quick briefing where we were warned to prepare for "buggy"-ness. Consequently, we made sure to arm ourselves with bug jackets and Deet while we were suiting up our gear. However, no bug jacket and amount of bug spray could prepare me for the large numbers of mosquitoes swarming around outside. I almost went crazy from the constant buzzing in my ear and the slight tickles of bugs biting me. Luckily, I think I survived the morning without any new bites (although I don't think I can speak for everyone since mosquitoes seem to think I am not very tasty).
By the afternoon, our morning drowsiness was no longer apparent as we sang "Banana-phone" out loud and competed in several fast-paced "Bananagrams" games. That night, we had a lecture on climate change where Leanne presented us with more information and evidence on climate change's effects. We then followed it with a strange movie, "Encounters at the End of the World", but felt it did not make sense and decided to switch to a more interesting and serious "11th Hour" with Leonardo diCaprio.
Erica had reminded me this morning that today marks the halfway point of our trip. We definitely have come some ways from the first day and can do most of the field and lab work on our own. We have also bonded more and have found a "secret hideout" and even did laundry together!

Laura's birthday - July 22, 2009

There was a moment this morning when I woke up to the most unique setting. The sun was shining, mist was coming up from the ground and my lungs, once so sodden with chemicals from the city, felt like they were busting with life. I thought: This is it; this is what the fight was for.
Rewind to a few months ago. I am lying awake at four in the morning, the bleakest, loneliest time, listening to cars come and go, and all that is going through my head is this isn’t fair. What sort of Statistic am I? I’m 16 17 and I live in a world being destroyed by carelessness. I am furious and terrified and everything hurts. I was 16 when I decided I wanted to do my part to fight against climate change. And I had to fight tooth, foot and nail to convince my father it was the right thing to do. He’s very anti-climate change. He believes everything happening to our earth is natural. He told me I was too young to understand how the world worked, and I had to fight him. I fought him, and won.
It was this win that lead me to spend my birthday with amazing people at the Arctic’s edge, volteenering my time to scientific research with an aspect of climate change.
As I jumped out of bed and headed down to breakfast with Anna I figure I’m still at stage one (Everything is new and exciting, you feel terrific).
I stayed at stage one throughout the whole, entire day. Especially when I got a birthday card from Anna, Erica, Claire, Ymkje, Spenser, Chris, Scott, Ben, Leanne, LeeAnn, and Carla. It felt incredible that even though all of us had just met for the first time, everyone could work together and have such a good bond.
Even early in the morning, when I would normally be asleep still, we all functioned well. We had breakfast –awkward silences filled by Ymkje’s stories- and at 7:45am we had our usual briefing where we find out about our jobs for the day ahead. Then after getting ready, and suited up in full gear –waders, bug jackets, boots, bags- we all perked up and ventured though the swarms of mosquitoes to do field work. This time the walk Ben set up for us to do was....very gruelling. So much so we all had to put our energy into each step we took....not. The work load was very easy and mosquitoes were at a minimum today.
It was Leanne who fist spotted the polar bear swimming in the freezing water of Hudson Bay, near our field sight. Polar bears are very fast creatures, and so it came to no surprise that this majestic creature swam in and out of our sight in a give five minutes. It was only a short sighting, but a satisfying one at that. During the day we also saw many tadpoles, fish, and even caught a BCF.
Later on in the day, after dinner, we had a lecture focused on Polar Bears. Did you know that there are less that 1,000 polar bears in the western Hudson Bay population, and that in Canada there are only 15,000 polar bears. It is thought that there are 25,000 polar bears worldwide, yet polar bears are not endangered species?
As, grudgingly, it was my birthday today (I hate my birthday); LeeAnn had baked a fabulous chocolate cake with the best frosting top to celebrate the occasion. My nana would probs dislike me for saying this, but the cake was the most amazing cake I have ever come across. And eating most of the cake –me and Anna going back for seconds- we watched a film before heading off to bed. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I can’t wait to see what is in store for tomorrow.

-By Laura.

Happy Birthday Laura! A good celebration with the team.

The group in the dome - "the secret hideout"


Erica brought the most intense and addictive game that exists and that we have ever played - B A N A N A G R A M S !!!! The tiles are useful for endless fun.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 21, 2009

- Photo by Erica at the end of our morning of field data collection.

-by Ymkje

Today we had to walk for a long time to reach each pond and the terrain was squishy. The walk did however allow us to get some good conversation in, and let us get to know each other better as well as learning about the landscape such as the beach ridges we were walking on.

On the way back to the van the wind fell and the mosquitoes quickly came at us and we were covered by them. We had been lucky all day and hadn’t been pestered by them yet.
The afternoon was filled with lab work and the boys went out to set fish traps for tomorrow. When they came back they told us that they had seen a polar bear! They even had a picture, though the bear was far away and only a white fleck. I felt like I had finally reached “Stage 2” that Earthwatch had warned me about in the expedition briefing; ‘Disappointment in the reality of the situation.’

But because of the sight it was decided that we would take the van in the evening and try to find a polar bear. And we did (see previous post for photos)! We all managed to get some pictures, like a bunch of bad tourists, and I immediately jumped back up to stage 1: ‘everything is new and exciting; you feel terrific.’

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The first polar bear sighting - July 21, 2009

So here's the first bear that part of the group saw this afternoon. Note the white dot on the right.....

The Ithaca, a wrecked ship in Hudson Bay

Later that night....

An actual visible polar bear was sighted on the rock bluffs near the coast. The team went for an evening safari following an evening lecture and found this bear.

A catchup of day 2 - July 19, 2009

by Anna

Today is the first full day of our expedition here at CNSC. At last--after months of antagonizing waiting--we have ventured outside on to the Arctic Tundra in our space-suit like neoprene hip-waders. Before beginning research of "Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge", we are going through a process of adapting to our new surroundings and learning how to use research instruments. Our first task of the day was walking through a wetland in waders while also dip-netting small organism submerged in water, all the while hoping we don't get a booter and join the stickleback fish. We were also introduced to a special water-quality measuring device that can simultaneously measure:temperature, pH, conductivity, and oxygen concentration.

Near the end of our first hike we witnessed the landing of a research helicopter just outside of the CNSC center. After lunch we constructed hand made (under voluntold work conditions) fish traps from reused 2 Liter soda-bottles. After completing 40 traps, we built enough to set-out on a survey of frogs and stickleback fish populations in the surrounding wetland ponds. Just before departing for our first official research hike we learned how to use a GPS device; including how to set mark points and record coordinates of the ponds for when we return the following day. The hike was not only physically demanding over constantly changing pond and peat moss terrain, but we also dealt with getting wet when jumping into the pond and submerging the traps. All the while the wind consistently built in speed as I felt the bag of traps I carried turned into a training resistance parachute for runners. Although we hiked at a fairly fast pace set by Dr. Cash leading us through the wetlands, I was still able to stop for a moment notice silicated coal and the brightly colored orange lichen.

Upon our return to the CNSC, we met Spencer at dinner, who unfortunately missed his plane yesterday. Both Chris and myself survived our first 24 hours in Churchill with only the clothes we had on upon arrival and were finally reunited with our luggage. After dinner we drove to Churchill to pickup Carla from the airport. At last our entire Earthwatch team together with many varying stories of how we got here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20, 2009 - The work tasks....

Dr. Cash labeling vial of stickleback fish.

Laura constructing fish traps in the lab. Anna with the bag of fish traps (hand-made from recycled material, see above).

The guys in the field (nice toques Spencer (we think he's the random guy) and Chris!).

Erica in the lab... no words for that....

by Spencer

I’m riding a polar bear through the campsite, then buzz, the alarm sounds. It was only a dream preceding my first day at work in the field and labs. Its 06:50, but the window light seems more of an 11:00. I get dressed and go to breakfast, prepared daily by the wonderful staff at the research center.

Our group is fairly groggy as we line up for oats, cereals, fruits, muffins, and other choices of continental breakfast. As we sit to eat, we discuss what lies ahead for us in the day, and whether putting sugar on toast is normal. This topic of cultural differences is an ongoing and fascinating one as we find out what our friends from across state lines and from across the pond live like. We finish breakfast, wash dishes, and head back to our dormitories to pack our daypacks. As we’re doing this, I look at the time and ask, “Don’t we have briefing in three minutes?” to which I get a reply of rushed packing and running down the hall to get into the classroom on time. 5 minutes late. We’ll do better next time.

We get information on the three types of data we will be taking. We split into teams, myself paired with Chris. Back to the rooms once more to make last minute clothing changes, then back to the lab to get fitted for hip waders and booties. After that we get our data collecting devices, measurement tools, sample containers, and other miscellanea, then we’re out. Chris, Dr. Fishback, and I get started in the first pond with a water sample, then 15 probes measuring temperature, pH levels, conductivity, percent saturation, depth, and GPS locations. Continue this process for 5 more ponds and we find ourselves hungry and ready to go back to the research center. We, along with the groups measuring and collecting other data and samples, head to the van, then back to the center. We clean up and go to lunch, with a bit more lively conversation than our early morning one. We still have some free time, so we go back to one of our rooms and play cards and bananagrams. After many attempts of understanding the language of the banana, we reconvene in the classroom at 13:30. We learn a bit about field notes, then we head into the lab to process our samples and data. Chris and I, working on water quality, process the samples of water we took by filtering them to send to labs. Even though many filters got clogged and our gloves got infected changing the iPhone from K’naan to Tom Petty, we finally get it done. We then go to download the data from the YSI, which was a difficult process that ended in manual data entry due to a full memory on the main computer. Thanks to work experience though, this was done efficiently, allowing us to join the group working on the blog setup.

We upload Erica’s photos and write captions. Once more some leisure time, then dinner, followed by a lecture. This lecture, led by a professeur from the University of Oklahoma, spoke to us of his studies with the Daphnia plexus complex. An interesting lecture about the loss of full melanic daphnia, to mixed, non-melanic, and full extinct ponds. We found about how the temperature rises are a direct cause of this. After our lecture, it was off to the upstairs classroom to work on the blog once more, check out Google Earth images of our next day, and watch videos on Earthwatch Institute. Our last 30 minutes until bed is filled with talking once more about our favourite Skins characters or where our parents met. Bed time.

The beginning - July 18, 2009

by Erica

My alarm clock buzzed at 4:30 AM Eastern Standard Time. After significant effort and multiple “snooze”s, I managed to twitch my eyes open; upon recalling why in the world I was up so early (I am NOT by any means a morning person), I trudged to the coffee pot. Halfway through my first cup it dawned on me that today had finally arrived—I was traveling to Churchill in merely a few hours.

After literally sitting on my suitcase to squeeze in my AP Bio books, I was ready to go. My mom and I “hit the road” around 5:30, only 15 minutes after we’d planned. Our drive to JFK went relatively smoothly, and after waiting in a fairly substantial security line I hugged my mother goodbye and was on my own. I boarded flight from La Guardia to Minneapolis, and as I slowly gained full consciousness, my enthusiasm level skyrocketed. I reread the expedition briefing for the third time, finished last chapter of Wuthering Heights and attempted to complete a page or so of Calc packet.

Once the first of three legs of plane travel had landed, I eagerly wandered through the airport and was pleasantly surprised to see Anna, of Wisconsin, standing nearby the boarding platform. We managed to switch around our seats and bonded over random common interests and funny stories, altogether a very exciting plane ride to Winnipeg. Then, Anna and I exited through customs (lady interrogated me intensively over my “pleasure” vacation with no volunteer work whatsoever...) and found Carla, Laura, and Claire waiting for us. Despite a ripped contact, we managed to grab coffee and introduce ourselves in a somewhat conscious manner. Then together we went to the platform of our final leg of travel—the calm air Saab to Churchill. We found Chris and Ymkje and all six of us, (minus Spencer, who we have yet to meet due to delayed flight...) boarded the most adorable propeller plane I’ve ever seen. On impulse, I brought out my camera and snapped numerous shots of the wings and of my fellow passengers boarding, and grinned at the airplane worker who laughed at my tourist’s amusement. This ride was rather noisy, and somewhat on bumpy side, but the prospect of being in a 30 person propeller plane on our way to arctic’s edge made it all worthwhile.

Finally, our group arrived in Churchill, accompanied by large smiles on our exhausted faces. We met the LeeAnn, Ben, and Scott in terminal and set off for the drive over barren yet beautiful landscape to research center itself. Eventually, we see the infamous figure of “birdfish” painted white on blue and realize we have ultimately reached our destination. My first impression of the center is entirely positive—a very comfy and homey building filled with enthusiastic researchers and students from across the world, all united at the dining room over delicious food and concept of scientific studying in arctic climate. Despite losing Chris and Anna’s luggage, and infinite amounts of mosquito bites, our journey to study at the “Arctic’s Edge” had been very successful, and all over quite pleasant. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

Departing Winnipeg for Churchill!

First day (minus Spencer -- random guy) trying out the field gear

Project Overview

This joint research project (funded by Earthwatch Institute), brings together the Institute, Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC) and Maryville College. The research will add important baseline data collection with regards to the wetland habitats of the diverse landscape around Churchill. The multidisciplinary approach to consider water quality and ecology of these wetlands is of vital importance to understanding the capabilities of various species to adapt to changes in the arctic treeline environment. We hope that the students on the team will gain a better understanding of the importance of water quality and ecology and their seasonal fluctuations in these wetland environments. As well, students will learn standard water sampling techniques in the field and lab and standard ecological assessments of habitat. The variety of wildlife and plants encountered in Churchill will provide a learning opportunity for everyone! A captive audience at the CNSC will allow students to discuss their work with many.