PO­LAR BLOG

IN­NO­VA­TIVE LAB­O­RA­TO­RIES ARE PRO­VID­ING SCI­EN­TISTS WITH NEW OP­POR­TU­NI­TIES IN THE WEST­ERN ARC­TIC

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - BY JOHN BEN­NETT

Mo­bile labs in the west­ern Arc­tic

IIN CAM­BRIDGE BAY, Nu­navut, in­no­va­tive mo­bile re­search lab­o­ra­to­ries are adding a new di­men­sion to Arc­tic science — and could im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tions and safety for Inuit hun­ters. The Arc­tic Re­search Foun­da­tion, a pri­vate, non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that col­lab­o­rates with sci­en­tists and Inuit com­mu­ni­ties, has cre­ated the labs from dis­carded ship­ping con­tain­ers (which are of­ten left be­hind in Arc­tic com­mu­ni­ties af­ter an­nual sup­ply ships de­part) by fit­ting them with in­su­la­tion, a heater, a laboratory space with room for seven peo­ple, elec­tri­cal out­lets and a com­post­ing toi­let. With so­lar pan­els for long Arc­tic sum­mer days and wind tur­bines for win­ter, they gen­er­ate am­ple elec­tric­ity. “Flex­i­bil­ity is key,” says Adrian Schim­nowski, the foun­da­tion’s CEO and op­er­a­tions man­ager. “We can eas­ily adapt these labs to a wide va­ri­ety of science pro­jects: ge­ol­ogy, arche­ol­ogy, bi­ol­ogy or even marine re­search.” They can be moved eas­ily from one re­search site to an­other, giv­ing sci­en­tists much more in­for­ma­tion than they could ob­tain from sta­tion­ary fa­cil­i­ties, and can power ex­tra equip­ment such as a weather sta­tion, ob­ser­va­tory, com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­stru­ments — or an en­tire camp. Univer­sity of Cal­gary ge­og­ra­pher Brent Else, for ex­am­ple, has packed one lab with equip­ment that mea­sures how the ocean ab­sorbs green­house gases, an im­por­tant fac­tor in un­der­stand­ing how the Arc­tic re­sponds to and in­flu­ences cli­mate change. The labs were de­vel­oped with fund­ing from the Cana­dian North­ern Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Agency, and are be­ing set up in re­mote lo­ca­tions in the Cam­bridge Bay area as part of a project sup­ported by Po­lar Knowl­edge Canada and other groups. The re­searchers in­volved have been work­ing closely with the south­ern Vic­to­ria Is­land com­mu­nity, ben­e­fit­ting from the ex­per­tise of many res­i­dents, in­clud­ing ice guides and heavy equip­ment op­er­a­tors who have turned the skills they ac­quired work­ing with min­ing com­pa­nies to the ser­vice of science, pulling the labs over ice and snow on large sleds to dis­tant re­search sites. The labs are in­tended to serve the com­mu­nity as well as science. They can act as weather sta­tions, in­form­ing hun­ters of wind con­di­tions and tem­per­a­ture along travel routes, and could pro­vide caches of emer­gency sup­plies. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, they could be used to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tions, so that in an emer­gency a hunter could call for help on a cell­phone. “We are guests on Inuit land,” says Schim­nowski, “and Inuit know how to live off the land bet­ter than any­one else. We re­ceive sup­port from the com­mu­nity in many dif­fer­ent ways, so out of re­spect we pro­vide sup­port to the com­mu­nity. It’s a way of say­ing thank you.”

Mo­bile re­search labs oper­at­ing in the vicin­ity of Cam­bridge Bay, Nu­navut. The labs can dou­ble as emer­gency sup­ply and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sta­tions.

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