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The official website of ISAMR (International Student-Led Arctic Monitoring and Research).

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Trip Blog for the 2015 Summer Research Trip

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 15:

Even though no data was collected today, it was perhaps one of the busiest days of the entire trip and definitely one of the most emotional. When I woke up this morning at the CNSC, I found my gear neatly packed inside my suitcase, not scattered about the room as it had been the last couple of days. At breakfast, we chatted over bacon and french toast like it was any other morning in Churchill, ignoring the fact that this was our final day in this incredible place. The reality began to set in as we packed the final hip waders and probes away and carried them next door to the Old CNSC and through the seemingly endless labyrinth of dimly lit hallways to our storage room.

When everything was finally organized and put away, it was time to check out of the CNSC and head to town for the morning. Our first stop was the renowned Eskimo Museum. After spending some time with the museum's incredibly extensive collection of artifacts, we had some free time in town to shop for gifts and souvenirs. We all then met up at Gypsy’s, a popular café, for pastries. I tried the ubiquitous Nanaimo bar for the first time. After Gypsy’s we headed down to the Goose Creek Marina, where we spent the afternoon fishing, canoeing, and cooking hot dogs and s’mores over a bonfire. We then retreated to Jill’s nearby cabin, where we enjoyed the delicious snow goose soup and bannock she cooked, complete with jams made from berries we had picked in the field a few days earlier. Our final stop of the day before leaving Churchill was the town complex, where we sat around, chatted, and watched the sun set over the Hudson Bay for the last time.

At the train station, we tearfully said goodbye to Jim, Jill and the Junior Rangers before boarding the train to Thompson as the northern lights vividly danced over our heads. As I write this blog post on the train, the last lights of Churchill have long since slid past my window, yet I know that while we have physically departed Churchill, the memories we have made and the people we have met in the polar bear capital of the world will continue to live on and make a lasting impact.

 

-Cory Silver, The Park School grade 12

Blog Post from August 14

Park ISAMR

Today we woke up for our last full day at the CNSC; however, this could easily change depending on the arrival of the unpredictable train tomorrow night. Following a delicious breakfast around half the ISAMR students left for the final day out on the tundra while the remaining students stayed back at the CNSC to clean up and organize supplies.  I left around 9:00 AM in the white CNSC van carrying tape measurers and flags. Even with annoying mosquitos and blackflies we pushed through two transects. After we finished our transects, we rode around in the van searching for Canada Geese and Snow Geese the Junior Canadian Rangers could hunt for tomorrow night’s diner. Although we were unable to catch any we enjoyed the peaceful drive. 

 

The group that stayed back got a later start to the day as we were able to sleep in. once we woke up it was straight to work, entering data, organizing and getting all of our things together. It was nice being able to chose if we wanted to go into the field or stay back and enter data. Staying back was relaxing, but we missed out on some of the action.

 

ISAMR  met up at the Ithaca, a old shipwreck in the Hudson Bay. During low tide we walked from the rocks to the boat, along the way collecting mussels to eat later on. We talked and snapped photos before returning to the CNSC for a fantastic diner of burritos. After dinner we listened to Caroline Bjorklune talk about her journey of rediscovering her culture and her appreciation for her people, the Sayisi Dene First Nations Aboriginal Peoples. The presentation was moving, encouraging us to be proud of who we are and where we are from. She explained the Dene people’s respect of nature and how they efficiently use every part of the animals they hunt. Reading the book she contributed to, Night Spirits, and her presentation have taught us about native culture and history. We have started to understand the need for a way to combine both western science and aboriginal knowledge to protect and monitor the north. Now we go to bed in an effort to get enough sleep for a full day in town tomorrow.

 

Cecilia Charney Poly Grade 10

Leah Hicks Kelvin Grade 11

August 13th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 13th:

Today we got to wake up in bed instead of in a tent, and we had some delicious breakfast from CSNC. Then we headed to the 3 sites which were probably the easiest sites we've even done. It took people 5 minutes to probe each transect, which is really like a blink of an eye compared to probing in fens. Completing each fen in less than 45 minutes, we got back to CSNC way earlier than our other sites from the beginning of the trip. We pretty much just hung out and entered some data until dinner, and very soon after dinner we left to see beluga whales. We got on some boats that drove us to the middle of the Hudson Bay,  and had a close look belugas that swam about us. It was just simply amazing. On a scale pin drop to pinguicula, this is definitely pinguicula. We also visited the Prince of Wales Fort, and learned a bit history about it. We somehow ended up finishing our day watching Lord of the Ring in the audio room. We only have 2 days left, and all of us are treasuring every second we can spend together. 

-Zinan Cen, Kelvin High School grade 12

August 12th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 12th:

Aug. 12, 2015

 

Today we woke up and got ready to go on the helicopter. The first group of people got dropped off at a permafrost well and the other people went to the Churchill Northern Study Center. The people that went to the permafrost well did a transect. They said it was pretty hard to probe because the site was on top of a giant rock. The well was drilled through the rock. The other groups came to the Churchill Northern Study Center and did data entry because we had a lot to catch up on. After all the data was entered we kind of just hung out for a bit. We later went to the beach. When we were at the beach we had a bonfire and went swimming in the Hudson Bay. We saw lots of whales but sadly no polar bears. The belugas were pretty close to shore. When you went in to the water you had to run in because then you couldn’t back out. As soon as you went in the water the cold hit you like a brain freeze to the body. When we got out we warmed up by the fire and when we were somewhat dry we skipped rocks. After we were done skipping rocks we surrounded the fire one last time and then headed back to the Churchil Northern Study Center.

-Khalee Palmer, Duke of Marlborough School grade 9 & Dania Meeko, Duke of Marlborough School grade 10

August 11th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 11th:

Today was the last full day ISAMR spent in Nester One. Tomorrow we wake up at eight to load our things into the helicopter before flying back to the CNSC. We woke up to a clouding sky and strong winds, and after an amazing breakfast, we packed up our backpacks for a day on the tundra. We decided to spend our last day at the beach, having finished up our Wapusk field work yesterday. We walked out during low tide talking and searching for fossils in the rocky sand. The JCR girls happily started up a beach bond fire for marshmallow roasting. We ate our lunches and danced on the beach. Off in the distance we spotted two polar bears. The windy walk home ended our final day out on the tundra.

We arrived back at Nester One with time to clean up our messes and finish up some tasks given to us be Nester One’s caretakers. I happily cleaned the bathroom with Leah H When we finished we entered data until Jill Larkin, the fantastic JCR leader, gave us a presentation on her job working for Parks Canada and how she started working at Wapusk National Park. The fascinating presentation covered everything from her time as a substitute teacher when she was right out of high school, her work on the research centers and lodges in Wapusk, and the projects she has worked on to conserve the culture and wildlife of this vast land.  We ended the day with pizza using the leftover tortillas and blueberry crumble using the blueberries picked from the tundra. The berry’s Latin name is vaccinium uliginosum. That information is thanks to the plant id book that I spent at least three hours flipping through on the train to Churchill. Now I’m staying up with the rest of the students listening to music in Nester’s cozy kitchen trying to make the most of my last few hours awake in the park. I’m hoping for the northern lights to make a second appearance and praying for a fog to roll in tomorrow morning to delay my helicopter departure by one last day. I will admit a shower at the CNSC sounds amazing, but leaving will still be difficult.

Update: Both northern lights and shooting stars made an appearance.

-Cece Charney, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute grade 10

August 10th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 10th:

This morning, we all woke up slowly. Even though we've been outside for three nights now, sleeping on the tundra is still so new each time. Hearing the wind whipping the tent and blowing everywhere makes everything feel very cozy.

After breakfast (with amazing pancake art) we started out for the fen we were going to collect data on. It was a beautiful, clear morning on the tundra; in fact, the lack of wind had us putting on bug hats to keep the mosquitos and black flies off. Suddenly, as we walked along the beach ridge, Jim stopped us all. We were all quiet as he held his binoculars up to his face, looking, before informing us of the presence of a polar bear some 300 meters off. This was the first bear we had met in the park (other than some lucky people who had seen bears from the helicopter) and it was an amazing moment. There is something incredibly humbling about being that close and in touch with the land, and I think we all felt the same as we watched the bear sleeping through the adults' binoculars.

We probed and probed and probed once we reached the fen because of the rocky ground. After a tea and lunch break, Jim took us with his students to see a fox den. We explored for a while before splitting up into two groups. The first went to visit more dens, and the second went back to camp to clean the sheds and make dinner (to music of course). That evening, we had a presentation from Shu (Jim's student) on pictures their cameras had captured on dens. There were several "selfies" of curious animals exploring the camera, and many many cute pictures of wolf pups.

We finished the day around a bonfire at camp. Burning all the extra wood from cleaning the shed, we managed to roast marshmallows. It's the little moments like these that are so amazing on this trip with these people.

-Rhiannon Swan, Kelvin High School grade 12

August 9th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 9th:

I awoke this morning to the smell of sizzling bacon wafting through my tent. As I slowly made my way to the cozy kitchen, the cool rays of the Arctic sun glinted on the shallow lake that lies right outside the cage I have quickly adopted as my "home sweet home." The kitchen was filled with the clinking of coffee cups and the low murmur of early morning data entry -- familiar sounds to my already dirt-encrusted ears. 

After finishing up my breakfast of warm and fluffy pancakes doused in maple syrup, I got myself ready for a long day on the tundra. We began our first long walk to the site, encountering many caribou on the way. Along our route, we stopped from time to time to rest our feet and backs, drink plenty of water, and best of all, learn about the historical and scientific significance of our surroundings. Our resident Churchillian, Park Canada representative, and bear monitor, Jill Larkin, pointed out many things on the landscape, such as hunting blinds and camp sites that were used by aboriginal groups hundreds of years ago. 

After walking 4 kilometers, we finally made it to our site and were able to get to work. The cold winds that caused even the probers to shiver were combated by a warm meal of MREsand piping hot dwarf labrador tea made from one of the plants we encountered while collecting data, Ledum decumbens. 

Once we finished our transects, we collected our gear and continued our hike, ending at the icy blue waters of the Hudson Bay. We relaxed and enjoyed the view for a while before we made our returning trip back to Nester 1.

-Leanna Gitter, Park School grade 12

August 8th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 8th:

Well rested and full of energy after sleeping late into the morning, we enjoyed a delicious pancake and bacon breakfast in the cozy Nester 1 kitchen. We left the camp around noon and headed for a site called Wapusk 1, a wet region of land that was (fortunately) bug-free and beautiful! We were lucky, and able to observe a group of 6 or 7 caribou (both adults and their young) run across the distance. We ate our lunches in the early afternoon, sitting on the comfortable cushion-like tundra. We resumed our work after eating and hiked back to Nester 1 around 5:30 in the afternoon. While dinner was being prepared, we made a significant amount of progress entering data that we collected during our first week here in the Arctic. Dinner was incredible! We set up tables and chairs outside near the tents and ate out there while the sun was still in the sky. Jill and the Junior Canadian Rangers prepared a delicious meal that consisted of arctic char, spruce grouse, duck, geese, and for dessert we had fried bannock with cinnamon and brown sugar, which many of us enjoyed with Nutella as well. Upon observing that the sun was going down, we rushed up to the observatory deck. We listened and danced a little to music while we took pictures and took in the beautiful sunset. A male caribou with large antlers graced us with his presence, running next to the lake with the orange and purple sky as the backdrop. There is no doubt about Wapusk’s beauty! After that, we settled into chairs and couches and listened to a presentation by Jim Roth, a professor at the University of Manitoba, who spoke to us about arctic mammals. All in all, a great day!

-Maria Nallim, Kelvin High School grade 12

August 7th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 7th:

After a long night of packing, data-entry and spectacular northern lights, we awoke to another great day at the CNSC. We gathered our gear and a day pack filled with what we would need at Nester 1- being sure to pack lightly. We heard a wooshing sound from above the centre and we all rushed outside to see the unbelievable sight of a helicopter landing just outside. Since there are no roads that lead near Nester One (because it is in Wapusk National Park), we would be arriving via an amazing helicopter ride. After a safety briefing, a 4 of us loaded into the helicopter and took off. The flight was surprisingly smooth and incredibly beautiful. Words can't explain the sensation of being on the helicopter, so you'll have to see vlog #4 to imagine it. We saw vast tundra passing underneath, filled with caribou, geese, luscious vegetation and even polar bears. After a 25 minute ride that went by way too fast, we landed at Nester One. Nester One is one of three small research bases in Wapusk. Nester One is comprised of a kitchen building, several sheds, a classroom, a bunk area, two bathrooms, a basketball hoop, and an observation deck- all surrounded by a bear-proof fence. The teachers are staying in bunks and all of the students are staying in comfortable tents we set up just outside. ISAMR is so lucky to have the opportunity to stay at Nester One, as only a few research groups are permitted to do so. It feels surreal to be the only people in the whole park (the size of 3 Rhode Islands). We got a tour of camp and began to get acclimated to life here. We would listen out for a helicopter, when we would rush outside to help unload and greet our friends. After everyone had arrived and settled in, we took a beautiful, short hike to a site to set up transects in a squishy fen. A few of us went off with Jim Roth to check out goose nests to determine the success of the hatch. Then, we headed back to Nester One and had a great dinner of pork chops, potatoes and salad. We had a great presentation from Mark about maps and how we can improve our research with the aid of a GPS and a drone. After a long dinner we went into full data entry and analysis mode complete with fresh-baked cookies and dance music. We're looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow morning after a long and amazing day!

-Cole Simon, The Park School grade 12

August 6th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 6th:

After eating another great breakfast at the CNSC dining room, we all found hip waders that fit and we headed out for another day of collecting data – but today in another location. This new habitat was called the fen. Fens are very wet areas with mostly herbs such as sedges. The ground is very wet and mucky, making it a challenge to walk through since you sink your ankles. This is why hip waders are a must. We arrived at the site after half an hour of driving down a gravel road from the CNSC. Once we got familiarized with the fen species and got used to walking, we started our first transect of the day. For the first transect, probing was a breeze, but after lunch the second transect proved to be more of a challenge. The combination of 140cm deep active, numerous rocks, and deep water made probing difficult, but with hard work and determination we finished early enough to have free time back at the CNSC for showers and relaxing before supper. After supper we entered data, leaned, did laundry, and watched a presentation about the uses of images from trail cameras around research stations and the creation of a data base of these images. Ryan Roth also gave us a talk about the history of Nester 1 and what to expect when we get there. We all then cleaned our rooms and packed our small backpacks and gear that we were leaving at the CNSC. After finishing our packing and all our work from the day, we all went to the observation deck to watch the northern lights since it was the first clear night. We are all looking forward to the helicopter ride out, arriving at Nester 1, and whatever the future brings.

-Sean Perry, Kelvin High School grade 11

August 5th

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 5th:

Today was our first day out in the field. It was great to finally start taking some real data. It was a good introduction to the science that we have been learning about for quite a while. We took data on two bogs. Bogs are a type of habitat mostly comprising of lichen in the Arctic tundra. The ground was soft and spongy, and a pleasure to touch!! We even got to feel the permafrost with our own hands. In case you are wondering - it's pretty darn cold!!! I got to make a fruit salad consisting of many of the berries of which I had recently memorized the scientific names. It tasted good. Thank you, Kevin - they were delicious! We probed the ground, took micro and macro data, and got to eat our first lunch out in the field. Field work is a fun challenge, and with teamwork we made the dream work. 

After a wonderful dinner at the CNSC, we went on a sunset safari in which we made a bonfire and caught the tail end of the sunset. We were on the Churchill River, not to be confused with the Hudson Bay. We bonded over music, dancing, and lots of limbo. We roasted marshmallows and got to meet some local townspeople. It was pretty cold, but as long as we stuck close to the fire we were nice and toasty. It was a jolly good time. 

After a long day of collecting data and having fun, we returned to the CNSC and fell into our beds, already excited for another day on the tundra. 

-Andrew Hsiao, The Park School grade 12

August 4, 2015

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 4th:

Today was a day filled to the brim with new and exciting adventure. After getting some sleep on the Via Canada Train, (which left from Thompson the previous night and was heading to Churchill) we all awoke around 7:30. Julie then quizzed us on our new knowledge of the Plant ID Book, and all of us passed!! Our recent understanding of the environment has shot through the roof, mostly thanks to the tedious task of memorizing all those Latin names for the plants. After enjoying breakfast and getting our things together, the train pulled into our destination  - Churchill! 

At the Churchill train station, we met up with Jill Larkin, who is a Canadian Ranger and works with Parks Canada. She and three Junior Canadian Rangers were patiently awaiting our arrival, and we were so happy to be greeted by friendly faces!! (Side note - everyone in Canada is crazy nice!) We then all piled into a bus that was headed to the CNSC. On our way, we saw a sub-mature, female polar bear!!!!! It was absolutely incredible to see the creature with our own eyes. A little further down the road, we got to see some beluga whales in the bay. So much wildlife in just a 20-minute ride!! 

We then arrived at the CNSC, which is an eco-friendly complex that accommodates scientists who are conducting research in the Arctic. It is a wonderful facility with an even more wonderful staff. We got a quick rundown of the rules of the facility, got settled into our rooms, and ate some lunch. We then all met again for a lesson on polar bear safety from Jill. For anyone who is worried - as long as we are vigilant, follow protocol, and stay close to the bear monitor (the adult who carries a rifle and is in charge of looking out for polar bears), then we are perfectly safe. In fact, we began to learn about the aboriginals' respect for and understanding of the creature, and the desire to live in harmony with them. 

We got a tour of the CNSC and then got right down to business. We learned about all of the materials we will need out in the field, and then went out!! We traveled a bit outside of Churchill to a site and did some practice, which included measuring out the site and the transects; identifying herbs, shrubs, trees, and lichen; and laying out quadrates and collecting macro-data. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner, so we headed back to the CNSC for a delicious meal! Time just flies when you're having fun!

After dinner, Nicole (an ornithologist who is helping us on our trip) gave us a presentation on the basics of bird watching. The Junior Canadian Rangers (all of whom are from Churchill) then gave the rest of us a tour of Churchill High School, and in the same building is a movie theater, the public library, a church, a bowling alley, the town gym, a playground, and so much more. After our tour, we went to watch the beluga whales for a while!!! 

It has been a very, very busy day, and we are all a little tired but absolutely ecstatic to get started on our first real transects tomorrow!!!

-Campbell Knobloch, Park School student

August 3, 2015

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 3rd:

Today we left for Churchill all of us met at Kelvin High school at 5:00am Students from Baltimore and Kelvin were split up into three different vans and we headed on our way towards Thompson. The first part of the trip exciting as well as quiet. Not everyone felt comfortable around each other but as the 9 hour drive filled with games and talking progressed we all became more comfortable around each other; and even more excited for the next two weeks 

On our way to Thompson we stopped in Pisew Falls for lunch and pictures. Pisew Falls was a great experience and the lunch was good! We left the falls and headed back on the road for Thompson with only 45 minutes remaining.  

Once we arrived in Thompson we all went on a walk by the river. It was nice to get out of the vans, walk around and get fresh air. We finished our walk after about 30 minutes and headed for the train station. This was probably the most exciting part of the day because most of us had never been on a train before and didn't know what to expect.

The first 3 hours of the ride consisted of lots and lots of studying the vegetation native to churchill. we also all went over the main purposes to this trip[ and the methods that we will be using for our research. 

Today consisted of a lot of traveling, learning, bonding, and exploring. we are all excited to see what tomorrow will bring. 

-Leah Hicks, Kelvin High School student  

August 2, 2015

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 2nd:

For those of us coming from Baltimore, our day started in the dark when we met at Webs' house a little before 5:00am. We were all very tired, but super excited and eager to start the trip. We  hopped on the bus bound for the DC airport, still a little in awe that by the afternoon, we'd be in Winnipeg meeting the Kelvin students. An hour and a half later, we had our tickets and were through security. We had a little while to wait before our plane boarded, which we filled by playing lots of cards and getting some early morning snacks. 

We made it through to Toronto and then to Winnipeg, with only a small scare of lost baggage which was quickly found. At the airport, we were met by Miguel and Shannon from Kelvin High School. The trip became more and more real as the day went on and we went around Winnipeg. A little while later, we got to meet arctic researchers Jim and Jane Roth and spend some time at their house to relax before dinner. Some of us went off to shop for groceries, while the rest stayed to watch Amazing Race Canada and play with the Roth's feisty guinea pig, Patches. 

We met the Kelvin students at Miguel's parents' house, where we had pizza and played a lot of ice-breakers. It was awesome to finally meet them and see all the people with whom we'll get to spend the next two weeks. After getting to know each other and making some fantastic and hilarious poems and raps, we doled out group gear and talked all together about what we wanted from the trip and questions we still had. We headed out after dinner with a couple different families for homestays, but bright and early tomorrow, we'll all reconvene at Kelvin to begin the drive to Thompson and the rest of the trip!

-Leah Genth, The Park School of Baltimore

August 1, 2015

Park ISAMR

Blog post from August 1st:

I am incredibly excited to be launching the 2015 summer ISAMR arctic trip blog. We will attempt to post an update every evening describing the day’s adventures, but inconsistent internet access may delay us for a few days; however, we will upload a post for each day missed. We will also be uploading photos in “Galleries.”

On another note, tomorrow at nearly 4:00 in the morning I, along with about 10 awesome people, will be venturing up north to the Canadian Arctic to finally meet the new friends I’ve made through a computer screen. I’m overwhelmed to say the least, but mostly out of my mind excited. I’ve been packing and unpacking my suitcase trying to fit as much as possible in the smallest space. As I make my way through checklists, I wonder if this experience could possibly live up to the magical stories told by ISAMR veterans of the vast tundra spotted with monumental polar bears and the beluga whales that scrape the water’s surface. I can only hope- and study lichens. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for the culture and science that Churchill has to offer. Until then I’ll just try to make it through tomorrow’s early morning flight.

Cecilia Charney, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute