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2013 Field Program / Schools on Tundra

6 March, 2013

Michelle Watts, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Farewell … Where did the time go?

Hi, I’m Michelle Watts, Program Coordinator for both Schools on Tundra and Schools on Board. I had the pleasure of working with this diverse and unique group of high schools students for the past ten days.

The last day started with our usual breakfast at 7:00 am and then became a series of goodbyes. The first to depart in the morning were Lars (Baker Lake, NU), Jordan (Churchill, MB), Christina and Lars (Iqaluit, NU). While the rest of us few out of Churchill in the afternoon arriving in Winnipeg shortly after 5:00 pm. Upon arrival a camera crew from Radio-Canada interviewed our Sophie. Goodbyes to the Winnipeg participants, Sophie, Angela, Bayley and Max, were then said. Students from Montreal (Victor and Andrew) and Quebec City (Isabelle and Nickolas) depart tomorrow morning.

For some, this sub-arctic learning adventure started with boarding a train in Winnipeg. For others it started by meeting us in Churchill. Most days the crew was up at 6:30 am eating breakfast at 7:00-7:30 and in bed by 10:30. There were some late nights for Aurora viewing – which were spectacular. As they lived, learned and worked together in a range of conditions over the week, the students and teachers came together to form a tight nit group.

Churchill, Manitoba is an absolutely wonderful learning environment and to have the opportunity to spend a week learning about current research and science being conducted in this unique habitat with a group of enthusiastic students and teachers has been a fantastic experience.

In Jordan’s post he mentioned our last supper together and how we shared our best moments/memories. As we shared our favorites there was both laughter and contemplative nods. I found it extremely difficult to think of just one that I would consider the best overall but looking back, I think that hearing the group share theirs was my best moment.

A big thank you to the scientists that took time to prepare lectures, fieldwork, and labs for our students to participate in.

A big thank you to the staff and volunteers at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre for the support and friendly faces. The supply of freshly baked homemade cookies was endless and was a warm welcome after spending a morning or afternoon outside.

And a big thank you to the participants (teachers included) of the first Schools on Tundra program for making it an experience to remember. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Figure 1. Light painting on our last evening in Churchill
Figure 2. The scientists and staff at Churchill Northern Studies Centre
Figure 3. Our last supper together – all dressed up ...
Figure 4. The Churchill Northern Studies Centre – our home for the week


5 March, 2013

Jordan Bunka, Churchill, Manitoba

Hi, my name is Jordan Bunka and I’m in grade 10 at Duke of Marlborough School in Churchill, Manitoba.

Today is the last day, last day at the CNSC anyway. So today has been closure and a few final activities. We started off the day with a short presentation from Parks Canada researchers Jill Larkin and Natalie Asselin. The presentation was about what we were doing today, collecting wolverine hair samples. Well... setting up collectors to get the samples anyway. We learned that by collecting hair samples and genetically identifying them they could determine wolverine population in the area. This would help them infer other things based on the population size, such as the general population of small mammals and other larger species such as moose and caribou. Things like this can help them determine the effects of climate change in the Churchill region.

So after the presentation we went out to actually set out the collectors. They were surprisingly simple, it would be a tree stripped of branches to about 6 feet up, wrapped with a bit of barbed wire and a fish nailed to the top of the bare part, along with some scent packets to attract the wolverines (the scents were very strong and smelled a bit like skunk, eww..). How it would work was that the wolverine would smell the scent packets from a good distance away and follow the smell. It would then find the fish at the top of the tree which it would climb to get at. The barbed wire would pull away loose hairs as it climbed, allowing us to get the sample. As this was just a pilot run for the samplers we didn’t get to take any samples. Setting up the samplers though was fun, and smelly, work anyways.

So that was all in the morning, once we got back from that we took a break for lunch. After that we had some free time and then an evaluation. The evaluation was just about the trip, what we learned, what we liked/disliked, and what we thought of the trip in general. After that... more free time! Today is our last full day here, so I guess you could call it our day of rest. Then came supper, and as it being our last supper altogether was a semi-formal affair. Everyone got all dressed up, we got candles and we talked about our time here together. It was all very nice. After supper we had our formal goodbye slideshow with many of the staff and scientists who we worked with attending. At the end of the slideshow we all had our gift exchange; everyone had brought something from their home town. And that was the official end of our time here at the Churchill Northern Study Centre, tomorrow we all head out for home, it’s been a good trip and it was fun working with you all.


4 March, 2013

Victor Zhao, Montreal, Quebec

My name is Victor Zhao, and I’m a student from Montreal, Quebec. I currently attend Grade 11 (Secondary Five) at Lower Canada College.

Today has been a day of conclusions. Although we have a few more days in Churchill, it feels like a lot of the recurring themes of our trip are coming to an end. After discussing the history of the Churchill Northern Study Center, we finally had a formal presentation of the grounds from the executive director of the CNSC, Mike Goodyear. We were treated to a history of the rocket range, a perfect segue into the launching of the model rockets we’d been building over the course of the last few days.

However, before that, most of us had a chance to reconnect with the people back at home through the conference call. Although it started off a little bit slowly, with a few relatively similar questions, it quickly illuminated the different perspectives the students had on the trip, from a very professional, almost career-based experience, whereas to others it seemed to have a very personal meaning, more related to either the effects of climate change or even just the beauty of the environment around Churchill. It was a nice summary of our experiences so far in the trip, and a nice break before lunch, after which we would head out for the second time on what has been definitely been one of our colder days to date.

Coming back from a fulfilling lunch, we headed back to the rocket range to fire the model rockets we’d been building for a few days now, but a series of unfortunate events led to only six of the rockets being fired, with the rest of the rockets suffering from an array of fin-related mishaps.

We bounced back quickly from the setbacks of the morning and early afternoon in anticipation of the Churchill Eskimo museum, where we learned about the Dorset and pre-Dorset natives, which was followed by a visit to the Churchill Anglican Church.

We ended the day with an engrossing lecture on polar bears by Professor Nick Lunn, a Research Scientist with Environment Canada, aided by his PhD student Luana Sciullo. Without going into unnecessary detail about the contents of the lecture, it was definitely one of the most enthralling lectures, with the students seriously interested in the subject matter not only from the start, but with a deluge of questions afterwards as well.

Figure 1: Entranced onlookers watching rockets being fired
Figure 2: The sign at the entrance to the Eskimo Museum
Figure 3: Professor Nick Lunn and Luana Sciullo


3 March, 2013

Lars Qaqqaq, Baker Lake, Nunavut

My name is Lars Qaqqaq and I'm attending Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School in Baker Lake, Nunavut.

At 9:00 we geared up and went to the Twin Lakes by Ski-doo. After ten minutes of driving we turned off the trail and I knew it was going to be a fun-filled day. We took core samples of sediment from the bottom of the lake. We used a few different tools. I was already familiar with the equipment and procedure of making a hole from ice fishing at home.

We lowered the core to the bottom of the lake to get the sample. After collecting three cores we went back to the Centre and worked in the lab. I learned two important terms: paleolimnology and zooplankton.

We headed back to centre and Amanda Winegardner, PhD Student from McGill University gave an interesting presentation about fresh water and paleolimnology, which focuses on how organisms in shallow lakes are affected to factors like climate change and human impacts.

We divided the sediment samples into sections. The processing was lengthy but I enjoyed it. The day was just a good feeling overall.


2 March, 2013

Andrew Hamilton, Montreal, Quebec

Hi, I’m Andrew Hamilton. I currently attend Lower Canada College, a school located in Montreal, Quebec. I’m in Secondary 5 (Grade 11 for those of you from outside Quebec). I’m very excited to be one of the students participating in the Schools on Tundra program.

Today was a very packed day in Churchill. After an early wake-up (6:30!), we continued working on our model rockets. Most people finished assembling their rockets. I’m very excited for Monday’s launch!

Around 10:30, we left for the day’s main event: dogsledding! We arrived at Blue Sky Expeditions a half hour later, eager to begin. Gerald Azure, the founder and trainer, walked us through how the sleds work. There were two sleds – one with space for one passenger, and the other with space for two. Each was pulled by a team of seven dogs. Blue Sky is unique in the way it treats its dogs – they believe strongly that the dogs shouldn’t be overworked, so each dog is “retired” into adoption at age eight. One of the dogs, who ended up being a lead dog for us, had recently been rescued from a home where she was abused. You could see in both her timid nature and the scar above her eye that something wasn’t quite right with the dog psychologically.

On a happier note, I think that I speak for the entire group when I say that we had a great time dogsledding. It is a completely unique experience, one which I find difficult to put into words, but I will say this much: The feeling is a mix of exhilaration, empowerment and, well, surprise when the dogs first take off.

Then we went to sleep for the night. Or so we thought. Around 11 o’clock, Max (one of the teachers accompanying the trip) woke us up to take a look at the northern lights. They were by far the best I’d seen so far on this trip, and the viewing dome was completely full for the first time. He managed to get some incredible pictures of the overpowering phenomenon, and those of us who managed to get up were staring at the sky in awe for a while.

When thinking of what I was going to write for this dispatch, I thought it was almost unfair that I got a day that was so full of great activities. That’s when it hit me – it wasn’t that this day was so much better than the others, it’s that every day on this trip has been an incredible experience in and of itself. I feel honored to be here.

Figure 1: Bayley, Isabelle and Christina getting ready to go sledding
Figure 2: The Centre is built on the site of an old rocket range, commemorated by this statue near its entrance
Figure 3: Last night’s Aurora Borealis (photo courtesy of Max)


1 March, 2013

Sophie Poirier Cole, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Bonjour du Churchill Northern Studies Center! Je m’appelle Sophie et je suis une élève de 11ième année au Collège Louis-Riel à Winnipeg, au Manitoba. Je suis une heureuse participante du programme Écoles sur toundra. Aujourd’hui, j’ai l’opportunité de vous informer sur quelques activités auxquelles nous avons participés aujourd’hui.

Ce matin, après un très bon déjeuner nous nous sommes habillés dans nos grands manteaux et gigantesques bottes pour aller visiter le fort Prince of Wales, un poste de traite construit par la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson. Le fort n’est pas accessible par voiture durant l’hiver donc nous avons marché de la ville de Churchill jusqu’au site historique en suivant la côte de la Baie d’Hudson et en traversant la rivière Churchill. Cette randonnée a duré une heure.

En arrivant au fort, nous avons mangé le dîner ainsi que bu du chocolat chaud autour d’un feu avant de commencer notre visite. Après ceci, nous sommes entrés dans le fort. Pour entrer dans celui-ci, à cause que la porte principale est couverte par des rafales de neige, avons grimpé ses rafales pour passer par-dessus les remparts. En regardant les alentours du fort, la vue est spectaculaire. Par contre, le vent est incroyablement fort et froid. Après notre tournée, nous nous sommes remis en route, encore à pied, vers Churchill. Fatigués, encore une heure de marche plus tard, nous nous sommes retrouvés à notre point de départ. Puis, après avoir fait du magasinage de souvenirs, nous sommes retournés au CNSC.

Ce soir, nous avons rencontré une aînée qui habite à Churchill, Caroline. Elle nous a raconté sa jeunesse, lorsqu’elle a été arrachée de sa famille pour être apportée aux écoles résidentielles. Caroline a exprimé les difficultés qu’elle a eu, avec son passé, d’apprendre sa culture natale. Sa présentation m’a ouvert les yeux face aux difficultés qu’on les autochtones de conserver leur culture dans notre société aujourd’hui. Un peu plus tard, les aurores boréales sont apparues dans le ciel étoilé et nous sommes sorties dehors dans une température de -40°C pour les admirer.

Cette journée a été pleine de découvertes et d’aventures. Ce programme m’a non seulement exposée aux aspects scientifiques de l’Arctique mais aussi aux aspects culturels de cette région. Je suis tellement chanceuse d’en faire partie.


28 February, 2013

Angela Concepcion, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Hello I’m Angela Concepcion from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I’m currently attending Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, and I’m in grade 12. The Schools on Tundra program is an enriching experience, and I have an opportunity here to inform you of what happened today.

We started with a great breakfast, and then we dressed in our full outdoor gear. All the layers take up time, and effort to put on. Once we were ready, we loaded the materials into the back of the snowmobiles and head toward the sampling sites. After we got out of the snow mobiles, we had to put our snow shoes on which were difficult to put on while wearing big Sorel boots. The sampling sites included the forest, ecotone (transition zone), and tundra areas. At the sites we spent around two hours to collect data from snow cores, and the tree line. There was cloud cover, and precipitation in the form of snow while we were sampling.

For the snow cores, we took an Adirondack snow density tube and pushed it down to the snow until we reached the ground. We measured the height of the snow in centimetres, took the tube out and dumped the snow into the bag to be measured. I personally enjoyed participating in the snow cores sampling. But the tree line sampling involved more work. We had to dig a pit around the tree until we reached the bottom, and stick the tape measure into the ground. Then we count how many branches are dead, stressed, or alive, in the Northwest direction and Southeast direction. Once we finished sampling, we used the snowmobiles again to head back to the centre and we had lunch.

After lunch we worked in the lab and we built rockets to launch at the site. Then the deputy mayor of Churchill spoke to us about the town, and we had dinner. After dinner, Gerald Azure had a presentation about his life and his sled dogs. He also brought Princess Scarlett (one of his dogs), and we all got to pet her! After this presentation I had the amazing opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis for the first time, in the viewing dome. Honestly, I think that the Aurora Borealis is one of the most beautiful scenes that I had the privilege to see. This day on the Schools on Tundra program was definitely a memorable one.

Figure 1: The Schools on Tundra group at the Forest area of the sites.
Figure 2: The Schools on Tundra group with Princess Scarlet.
Figure 3: Aurora Borealis in the viewing dome.


27 February, 2013

Isabelle Dupont, Québec, Québec

Bonjour, mon nom est Isabelle, j'ai 16 ans et je viens du Québec. Je vais au Collège François-de-Laval depuis 5 ans et je fais partie des dix élèves privilégiés qui participent à Schools on Tundra.

Aujourd'hui, nous avons passé la journée à l'extérieur. J'étais impatiente d'aller sur le terrain, car le climat arctique nous offre un paysage extraordinaire. De plus, le fait de faire des choses concrètes pour aider la recherche c'est un aspect du programme qui m’intéressait énormément. Notre travail consistait à prendre des échantillons de neige autour d'une ''tree island'' pour voir si la densité de la neige affecte les petits pousses d'arbre. En après-midi, nous avons aussi fait du travail sur le terrain, mais en lien avec la morphologie des arbres dans la foret toundra vs la foret. Nous collections des données qui serviront à trouver des relations entre le vent et l'apparence des arbres. Étant donné qu'il faisait environ -36°C et que nous passions la journée dehors, il fallait être très bien habillé. Pendant cette journée très chargée, nous avons également eu le droit à deux présentations soit la première pour nous introduire au milieu des arbres et la deuxième sur la formation du permafrost. Pour finir, nous avons fait du comptage de graines pour G-TREE et c'était vraiment drôle de nous voir avec nos pinces et nos loupes pour séparer les bonnes graines des mauvaises et pour les compter.

Je voulais profiter de cette occasion pour souligner à quel point nous sommes bien reçu au Churchill Northern Study Center, les gens qui y travaillent, la nourriture et l'ambiance qui y règne sont tout simplement au-dessus de toutes attentes. Une grosse journée, mais très enrichissante!


26 February, 2013

Nickolas Poulakos, Québec, Québec

Mon nom est Nickolas Poulakos, j´ai 15 ans et j’habite présentement à Québec. Je vais au Collège François-de-Laval qui se situe dans le Vieux-Québec. Celle-ci se situe dans un milieu riche en histoire et en culture.

Aujourd’hui, nous sommes arrivés à Churchill à 9h00 Am après 45 heures de train. J’étais très excité de découvrir cette ville qui témoigne beaucoup des changements climatiques. Dès notre arrivée, j’ai tout de suite compris l’importance de porter des vêtements chauds tout au long de la semaine. Nous avons pris l’autobus pour nous mener au Centre de Recherche de Churchill à 30 minutes de route. C’est à ce moment-là que j’ai fait la connaissance de Jordan qui habite lui-même à Churchill. Nous sommes maintenant 9 et il manque seulement Lars pour être complet. Une fois arrivés, nous avons fait la visite du Centre de Recherche. J’ai été instantanément charmé par la beauté des lieux. De la cafétéria au dôme des aurores boréales, tout est réellement fantastique. Nous avons appris plusieurs faits fort intéressants sur la ville en tant que telle et sur le Centre de Recherche qui a été construit grâce à des dons du gouvernement fédéral et provincial, et de la « Weston Family Foundation » . Tout au long de la journée, nous avons eu la chance d’avoir deux scientifiques qui nous ont en appris davantage sur deux sujets fort intéressants : les échantillons de neige et les aurores boréales. Les deux scientifiques étaient vraiment captivants. J’ai personnellement adoré celle sur les aurores boréales puisque cela m’a permis de comprendre un phénomène qui m’intrigue depuis longtemps. Après le diner, nous avons fait une randonnée en raquette dans la toundra même. C’était génial! Pour ma part, c’était ma première expédition dans l’Arctique. Cela nous permis de nous habitué au climat aride pour les prochaines sorties.

Je voulais aussi ajouter que le groupe est super et qu’il y a une bonne chimie entre nous. Nous nous entendons très bien et je crois que le voyage en train a permis de solidifier nos liens d’amitié. J’apprécie beaucoup le fait qu’avant d’aller sur le terrain, les scientifiques nous donnent un petit cours théorique sur le sujet.


25 February, 2013

Bayley Bird, Winnipeg, Manitoba

My name is Bayley Bird I am a grade 10 student at Elmwood High School. I was born in Selkirk MB but grew up in Winnipeg MB. I am one of ten students that were chosen for the schools on tundra pilot program.

We are three days in to our schools on tundra trip and today we had a stop in Thompson. We got to go out and look around the city. The city its self was more like a small town. It was very spread out and secluded. We had about five hours in Thompson so after lunch we walked to the heritage museum. The museum was really cool it had a lot of different rock samples and animal pelts. I didn’t really like the animal pelts (I thought it was sad) but in a way I guess they were educating people about the animals and the natural inhabitants that live around there town.

Today we watched a video that focused on the sacks harbor Aboriginal Elders observations of climate change. After words we had a group discussion on the topic, we had to share a point that we thought was interesting.

(Listed below are some of the points me and the other participants discussed as a group):

Figure 1: Welcome to Thompson
Figure 2: Nick and Isabelle in the heritage museum
Figure 3: Andrew with real bear skin


24 February, 2013

Tyler Rowe, Iqaluit, Nunavut

My name is Tyler Rowe, I'm currently attending Inuksuk High in Iqaluit, Nunavut. The events throughout the day were certainly ones I won’t be forgetting. From waking up and having breakfast at the pancake house to falling asleep on the Via Rail, the day was spectacular. After having such a delicious breakfast we had the opportunity to walk around The Forks. There was much to see with only an hour and a half to try and view all the aspects of The Forks. My favorite part of being at The Forks, was going to the top of the building, to oversee a great amount of Winnipeg. We boarded the train around noon and have been travelling with almost no breaks. We did happen to have quick break to walk outside and get fresh air for about 10 minutes. The train exceeded my expectations by far. The chairs are recline-able and are capable of swivelling. There are also power outlets to charge electronic devices. I love the scenery; A mix of snow and trees all over the land. It is nothing that I have ever encountered. The train ride is all the way across Manitoba, and has even passed through Saskatchewan. The scenery had changed drastically from being in Winnipeg. While leaving Winnipeg, most of the landscape was a lot of Prairie lands with very few trees in comparison to how many trees there were while travelling through Saskatchewan and beyond. Travelling west from Winnipeg, trees were very scarce. There was land for miles and miles. If there were trees, they would be very far away from the train tracks. As we travelled further along and moved northward, trees would be everywhere you looked. No matter which window you looked out of, there would be a whole bunch of trees – we were in the Boreal forest. The land in Manitoba can vary widely. It is one amazing aspect while travelling all throughout Manitoba.

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