Thursday, July 30, 2009

You may want to sit down for this's a doozy!

To start: I Can't believe It is almost AUGUST, the summer is just flying by! The last few days to end July have been frustrating, exciting and...entertaining. Amanda and I have just started the final stage of the project, as scheduled of course. However we have been encountering problems actually putting in a solid day of sampling!

Below are a list of some reasons why research in the north is sometimes less than what the average person would qualify as "care free" :

Step one...Getting out of bed.

Always of tough one, but I have to say we have been pretty diligent (plus or minus a few days) when it comes to getting up and getting to our 7 am breakfast. The Planktoneer's took very few days off! It is important to make it to breakfast on time, especially when there are so many groups here. If you miss your sitting then you have to squeeze into the next sitting. The cook usually notices too, and gives you a dirty look. Aside from making it to breakfast it's important to get up and assume that we are going out, since every day is a gamble as to whether we will actually make it to our site.

Step two....Getting to our site.

It's of course difficult to determine when all the wonderful sampling days are going to be and then book a truck accordingly. As of late, like Amanda mentioned before, there has been so much fog. It is unbelievable. Our guess is that since Hudson Bay is still partially covered in ice and is therefore contributing to large incoming fog banks. At first when the fog was here we decided it was just plain unsafe to sample. But then the fog stayed. We got desperate to do our sampling. So our rule is now: as long as we can see our truck from where we sample...we should be good.

Also, we had originally decided that if it was rainy, it was too slippery for us to go out...NOW we have decided that as long as we have our "bluff legs", and dress warm enough...we should be good. Even if the people we bring out with us those days, with promises of seeing bears, think we are crazy and hunker down until we are done.

And what about the last looming situation that would prevent us from sampling: Bears? Well we've made some mind frame changes about those guys. You see, with one simple rephrasing of what it is to work in bear country and with the security of "professional bear guards", we can ease our apprehension of bears on our bluff. Without of course, decreasing our vigilance. Which leads us to:

Step three...Staying at our study site to get sampling done.

We have decided to change the words "Bear Guard" to "Bear Monitor". I mean most of the bears we have seen have just scurried away from us when we go about our business. Usually when we see a bear we scurry ourselves...but when you think of a bear trying to mind its own business, as long as they see us and we see them, we can come to a mutual agreement as to what needs to be done. So basically to bear Monitor: we watch it to make sure it doesn't come closer, or we leave if it does.

For example yesterday a bear popped up over the bluff. We watched it as it minded it's own business, then it got into the water and then swam out some 5 + kilometers out to the ice. As we were resuming our sampling a car pulled up to us and asked if there was a way to drive down our bluff closer to the water, to see the three bears. We said "no there's not...and...what three bears?" Apparently these very... considerate, gentlemen saw three sleeping bears just on the other side of our bluff from where we were working (in our blind spot), honked their horn and chased them to OUR side. Some people are ridiculous! They were obviously not local. We have learned that people who live here have a simple respect for bears and don't disturb them unless it's necessary, because you really don't know whose on the other side of lets say a rock bluff that your going to disturb it towards.
Once Amanda, me and our trusty new bear guard established that the bears must have either taken off or laid down somewhere where there weren't going to be people honking at them.. we proceeded to sample.

But wait, that wasn't all the excitement. As we continued at a slightly faster than normal rate to process each pool (by "slightly faster" i actually mean like mach 3 speed ). We were not only constantly looking over our shoulders but swatting mosquitoes and black flies by the HUNDREDS! apparently with the abundance of bears comes the influx of BUGS. It was crazy! and of course, we forgot our bug jackets in the truck...

Just as we were finishing up the last 4 or so pools we heard a bunch of crackers being fired off on the OTHER side of the bluff and saw a conservation guy in a boat seemingly chasing, that's right...Another bear away from our site. what was the logical thing to do at that point now that there were 5 bears now in the area? well of course the obvious answer was to keep sampling....

Finally when we were done our sampling we scrambled back to the truck and jumped in. We were Safe! out of the killer monsoon of bugs and out of harms way of the bears. Just as we were regrouping a truck pulled up beside us and asked us if we were looking at the bear across the road by the tundra pond...So that was hmmm bear number 6 that was in the area??? all within 500 meters of us. Between the bugs and the bears, we felt like we were being attacked by both extremes of the food web,

This morning when we went to go out to the bluffs we had a hard time getting our hands on a shotgun. Of course it was a beautiful, non-foggy, windy (so there were no bugs), and above 10 degree day! But, with no protection and the fiasco we had yesterday...we were definitely not going out on the rocks with out a gun. To be honest, going through school for science, I NEVER thought a limiting factor to fieldwork would be a firearm and a zip lock baggy full of slugs...

We did get out in the afternoon with the help of Riley the volunteer. On the way there and on the way back to the study centre we had the pleasure of seeing a mom and cub hanging out at another bluff.

She was pretty skiddish and extremely protective. Riley said something to us which made the mom take this position in front of her cub. She didn't stick around too long and we didn't stick around to see where she would go.

Aside from the bears we have been entertaining ourselves in other ways in the evenings and when it has been impossible to get to our site.

I was fortunate to go on a tundra buggy ride this past weekend with the University of Guelph field course that's up here. It was great being on one. They are gigantic. Unfortunately for the first 5 hours we could not see a thing because of fog (surprise, surprise) We were lucky enough to get to see one bear though. But he didn't do anything, he seemed way to fat to even move. It seems that we encounter a much larger variety of bears at our study site than when we actively pursue them.

I was also invited to join some Guelph researchers on a zodiac to do some dredging for their bar coding project. We found some pretty cool things like brittle stars, starfish, jelly fish, belugas (we didn't catch those in the dredge though) and a gigantic bergie bit that we went to check out.

Despite everything that we saw, the bergie bit was something I will never forget. Mostly because it almost hit our zodiac when it broke apart when we were next to it.

Here's the bergie bit before...

And here it is after...

On a not-so-nice, rainy day a couple of days ago we went exploring in our truck after sampling. We were keeping an eye out for a beluga carcass that had apparently washed up on the shore and a gigantic bear that was seen near it. What we found were bears...two big bears. The almost unfortunate aspect of seeing the bears was that we had actually gotten our truck stuck before we saw them. Apparently rain and soft roads make even softer roads. It only took us a minute or two to push the truck out of the mud but in the process the three pushers (Amanda, our bear guard Katrina, and myself) got in the way of the spinning tires. Well one thing led to another and while Karen and Riley (the volunteers here that we bring out with us) were watching the bears we finally had had enough with being cooped up in the research centre and took it out on eachother in a good ol'fashion mudfight!

Here are some after shots...

And then we had to clean off in the was chilly...

Another thing that has been occupying the researchers brain this week was preparation for an CNSC Olymp-athon. Amanda will give you the break down and reveal the results. But I think I will give you a hint in saying that one of the challenges was to "get our hands on" a particularly elusive creature of the north...the famous Ptarmigan

AND ON TOP OF IT ALL..Amanda fell into a pool today. I'm pretty sure it was mutual laughter but it was pretty funny :) Ingrid...recognize THAT pool...he he

Monday, July 27, 2009


Posts coming...stay tuned!

Life without Ingrid...

Well we've had a few days to get over the shock of Ingrid no longer being with us here in Churchill, but we definitely miss her tons! Her departure was delayed a few hours (ok almost a whole day) by fog that has continued to plague us off and on, however the good news is da bear on da bluff that was interfering with da science seems to have moved on since our last encounter. Friday afternoon myself and Erinn brought two friends out to the bluff to sample a few pools. We were manipulating a particularly large pool when all of a sudden Erinn's sharp eyes spotted a wave with a big black nose. Yep you guessed it, a bear! This one almost seemed to come out of nowhere and swam right up a beach connected to our bluff. He stood up, got our scent and continued to prowl around the beach. He was definitely too close for comfort and we packed up and made a hasty retreat back to the car. It sure gives you a reminder of how vigilant and careful you have to be while doing northern research! Below is an aerial photo of our bluff (Airshots Aerial Photography, 2009) that we have posted before with a few modifications. The red circle shows our approximate location during this last encounter with the bear and our get away car also shown.

So our work on the bluff over the last little while was been hit and miss when it comes to bears and fog but over the last 2 days we have had success despite the rainy weather and have been able to get caught up on our sampling. We continue to have other adventures as well and we will highlight those soon. We only have about 2 weeks left here so we will be working hard to get the remaining of our work done.

I've had some requests for some pictures of inside the research centre here at the CNSC. So here are some shots:

The main lab.Our lab bench at any given time (you can also see our Bay Dip trophies prominently displayed).

The Arctic Hallway- this connects the lab and kitchen to the dorm area.

Quiet lounge in the dorm area.

These are just a few of the spaces we frequent but perhaps it will give you a little taste of our home up here!

We've had a lot of pictures of our bluff and similar bluffs on the blog but we have also had the chance to visit some drastically different study sites. Here is a picture of me hanging out on some scaffolding at the fen (I'm the mysteriously shrouded figure in the dusk).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My last post

So this will be my last blog entry from Churchill... But before i get into that, i'd first like to send a shout-out to Carol Gorie from Waterloo...Thanks for the card, it was so sweet, and we've been bragging to everyone at the Studies Centre about our "fan mail" :P It's great to know that people are reading and enjoying our blog!

Next, to fill you in on the goings-on at the Studies has been super busy and crowded here these days. In addition to the regular researchers, there are two student groups staying here at the moment, totalling ~80 occupants. It's a bit hectic, but it's also fun, because one of the school groups is the Guelph field course, so we're in the company of some good friends and acquaintances.

One of these is Dr. Larry Weider, who has been studying the Churchill rock pools for over two decades. We got the chance to help him in the field the past two days, rock-bluffing, hunting zooplankton, and asking questions.

Larry is unmistakable in his usual bright blue jacket, toting his tupperware and dip net. Here he is with Amanda the rock pool protege.

Unfortunately, the weather has been sorta crummy recently. We've either been working under dark, cold, and dangerously windy conditions...

or a thick fog that makes it hard to see polar bears at a distance.

We could hardly see the bluff from our usual parking spot on the road!

Sooo foggy. Normally we would re-consider sampling under these conditions. But we were given a special task that had to be done by a deadline. This task is to collect zooplankton, keep them alive, bring them to Guelph, and ship them to Nova Scotia for a professor at Dalhousie. So with the help of Larry this morning, we collected the critters and now have a "zoo" on our lab bench.

Tomorrow i will be taking these on the plane with me to Toronto. Then i will be baby-sitting them over the weekend before putting them in the mail. Hopefully they don't run out of oxygen...or completely devour each other.

Well... that brings me to my Goodbye. I am leaving tomorrow morning, a couple weeks earlier than my fellow Planktoneers, because i will be in a friend's wedding in a few days! I am excited to go home and to have my own space again, but i will undoubtedly miss Churchill so much. Churchill has been my summer treat the past three years... I don't know if i will be back again. It's sad to think that next year, i won't be planktoneering on the rock bluffs, or looking over the tundra for caribou, or scanning the sea ice for bears.

But then again, maybe i will be.

The end of this trip also signifies the end of my time as a MSc student, so it is sad in that way too. I've learned so much and done so many new things the past two years, i don't really want it to end. (Karl, how did this happen??) But, what a way to end a chapter. I know i've been tremendously lucky. are some parting shots...
Amanda, Erinn, i will become a Follower of this blog now and stay up-to-date on the Churchill fun! I will be thinking of you all the time!

Goodbye...and may the arctic adventures continue.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Bay Dip!

Every year around Canada Day, Parks Canada hosts Churchill's annual Bay Dip. For obvious reasons the bay dip did not occur on July 1 this year (I THINK it may have had something to do with a lack of liquid water...) but was instead postponed to yesterday. Two enthusiastic CNSC teams participated this year in the balmy high of 14.5 degrees Celsius weather. The event consisted of two main events- a costume contest and the actual run into the bay, which involved some clever dodging of the few ice bits still left on the town beach.

Both teams put in a strong effort in the costume event. A shout out goes to our rival CNSC team and their re-enactment of a the Yellow Submarine by the Beatles. I was certainly impressed by their costume!

We went with our traditional theme of the Planktoneers and created Musketeer like smocks complete with swords, ruffed lapels and pendants sporting the Dapnia we felt we resembled most. I was D.midendorffiana, Erinn was D.ambigua, Kristen (an honourary planktoneer) was D.magna and Ingrid was D.minnehaha. Ingrid and Erinn did a simply fabulous job drawing the Daphnia! Unfortunately Ingrid has had a cold this week and opted not to take part in the swim part of the dip...but a fellow Guelphite Nick was happy to step into this role and pinch hit so to speak.

BEFORE (with Ingrid):

AFTER (with Nick):

The actual run was COLD, but a good time was had by all. Parks won this event, with the Yellow Submarine coming in a strong third and the Planktoneers close behind.

No doubt the biggest surprise of the day came when the winner of the costume contest was announced. While I'm not so sure the judges really understood the whole premise behind the "Planktoneers", we obviously still made an impression as the winners were announced as "The garbage bag people"...aka US! We each got a trophy! After, both teams climbed aboard an iceberg for a group CNSC picture.
Today we were back out sampling- we had some lovely sun and some strong wind that kept the bugs to a minimal, AND THE BELUGAS ARE BACK!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

No bears? No way!!!

Yesterday was a great, productive day. We collected lots of zooplankton, monitored lots of pools, saw some cool wildlife, and for once, weren't foiled by bears!

In the morning, we made it past our usual Checkpoints with no bear sightings. Getting out of our truck, we noted that the landscape was looking especially picturesque. It is hard to describe...the clouds were lifting in such a way that the sky took on this grand quality,
the rocks a more vibrant deep orangey colour,

and the pools a new, mirror-y sheen.

Under this beautiful sky, we kept watch for large, white mammals,

but actually found a small, brown one instead...

a weasel!
So after a solid morning of sampling,

we moved on to some of our all-time favourite arctic hobbies: climbin' icebergs

peeking through icebergs

and nestling in icebergs. This is Rebekah, yet another volunteer planktoneer.

I'm sure gonna miss bergie-ing around come next week!!
Next we explored this smooth, slanty rock cavity.

Here's the view from inside the cavity, looking up at Amanda, our fearless bearguard.

Now just when we thought the morning couldn't get any more fun, on our way home, we ran into two......caribou! (The CNSC's in the background.)

Which galloped right by our truck!!

This one appeared to be severely impeded by its antlers.
Then after lunch we went out again, this time with Karen and Leanne. (It happens to be Karen's birthday today - Happy Birthday, Karen, from the Three Planktoneers!)

The afternoon was filled with more great views and more successful zooplanktonery.

And then we ended the day with an evening run/bike ride.

So all in all, it was a bear-free, but nevertheless eventful day. Speaking of eventful, we just participated in a certain Town of Churchill event, involving swords, garbage bags, and Daphnia... Intrigued? Stay tuned for Amanda's post.