HIS­TORY

How the Joint Arc­tic Weather Sta­tions pro­gram did more than just ll in a blank on the na­tion’s weather map

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Harry Wil­son* *with files from Erika Rein­hardt, ar­chiv­ist, Li­brary and Archives Canada

The Joint Arc­tic Weather Sta­tions pro­gram did more than just fill in a blank on the na­tion’s weather map

IN AD­DI­TION to pos­sess­ing thor­ough tech­ni­cal knowl­edge of me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal equip­ment, ap­pli­cants must be com­fort­able with long pe­ri­ods of iso­la­tion and cold, and be pre­pared to live and work in close quar­ters with a small group of col­leagues for a year or more at a time. OK, so this is an imag­i­nary ver­sion of what was re­quired of per­son­nel at the five Joint Arc­tic Weather Sta­tions ac­tive across the Cana­dian High Arc­tic from 1947 to 1972, but its take-heed tone about the phys­i­cal and men­tal hard­ships of life in the North prob­a­bly isn’t far off the mark. Af­ter all, staffing the sta­tions was se­ri­ous busi­ness for the Cana­dian and Amer­i­can of­fi­cials who ini­ti­ated the project. They did so to re­dress an im­bal­ance that for years had left the re­gion covered by Canada’s Arc­tic is­lands ap­pear as a large blank area on weather maps, as R.W. Rae noted in his story on the sta­tions in a 1951 is­sue of Arc­tic, the jour­nal of the Arc­tic In­sti­tute of North Amer­ica. “The need for weather re­ports from this blind spot was rec­og­nized, but the difficulty and ex­pense in­volved in the es­tab­lish­ment and main­te­nance of com­mu­ni­ties in th­ese in­ac­ces­si­ble re­gions were pro­hib­i­tive.” But the Sec­ond World War and its af­ter­math made the Arc­tic rel­e­vant for world pow­ers, and soon af­ter the war ended, the first sta­tion was es­tab­lished at Eureka on Ellesmere Is­land. (The pic­ture above shows Galen Olsen, a sta­tion staffer, out­side Eureka In­ter­na­tional Air­port in the mid-1950s.) By April 1950, four more sta­tions — Res­o­lute on Corn­wal­lis Is­land, Isach­sen on Ellef Ringnes Is­land, Mould Bay on Prince Pa­trick Is­land and Alert on Ellesmere Is­land — were op­er­a­tional. Maps such as the one above, which de­picts the Eureka sta­tion, part of the east coast of Axel Heiberg Is­land and part of the west coast of Ellesmere Is­land, show the re­gion that each sta­tion’s staff gath­ered data for by mak­ing on-the-ground ob­ser­va­tions and by us­ing weather bal­loons to mea­sure tem­per­a­ture, baro­met­ric pres­sure, hu­mid­ity and wind di­rec­tion. The in­for­ma­tion was used for more than cre­at­ing re­li­able Arc­tic fore­casts, though. “The data th­ese sta­tions gath­ered,” wrote his­to­rian Daniel Heidt in a 2015 Net­work in Cana­dian His­tory & En­vi­ron­ment story about the sta­tions and the “met techs” who worked there, “were cru­cial to mil­i­tary plan­ning, civil­ian me­te­o­rol­ogy, and transat­lantic com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, as well as North Amer­ica’s agri­cul­ture and forestry economies.” No pres­sure, then. It’s no won­der, as Rae noted, that great care was “ex­er­cised in screen­ing ap­pli­cants for th­ese posts since one un­suit­able in­di­vid­ual can dis­rupt the har­mony of the en­tire sta­tion.” Read more sto­ries about the maps in Li­brary and Archives Canada’s col­lec­tion at can­geo.ca/topic/map-archive.

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