What Did Kevin Get Himself Into Now?

What Did Kevin Get Himself Into Now?

This summer I was lucky enough to get a job working with Environment Canada at the world’s most northern permanently inhabited location in the World! (no, not Santa’s Palace nor Superman’s Crib, but they live close by) This location is of course Canadian Forces Station Alert, Nunavut (aka CFS Alert). Alert started out as a joint weather station between the US and Canada, now it is a military station run by the Canadian Air Force and has approximatey 100 personnel, most of which are military. The position I have is with the GAW (Global Atmosphere Watch) lab which collects data on a variety of surface and atmospheric a variables as well as pollutants.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Unforgiving Arctic

The arctic is a very unforgiving place and I can’t believe anything survives up here. I have been told that in the winter the temperature drops to -70 degrees Celsius and its average annual precipitation is only 6 inches, while only 0.7 inches of that is actual rainfall. With conditions like these it is no surprise that there is so little vegetation, and also so few animals. 7 months of the year it is complete darkness, whatever soil there is up here is also frozen solid for those eight months. These don’t exactly make for comfortable living conditions, and I don’t think anyone plans on opening any retirement homes or resorts up here either.

But there are many hidden treasures to be found in the arctic, little things that brighten your day when you see them.

The other day a friend of mine, Kristy, was talking about some caterpillars that exist out here, and that they only come out during the month of June. Well I do an exhausting amount of hiking (I love hiking), I might as well while I am up here, and decided to keep my eyes open for these caterpillars. Well I didn’t find any for quite a while haha. But, eventually, I spotted one! OK, so maybe I was really out hiking with Kristy and she spotted it, either way I got to take a couple pictures.

We found this little guy by the side of the road surrounded by rocks, so we brought him over to the biggest pile of vegetation we could find. This caterpillar is an Arctic Wooly-Bear caterpillar. Apparently these guys spend over 90 percent of their lives frozen! The lifecycle of these caterpillars is approximately 7 years, but that includes the time it is an egg till when it is a fully grown moth, still impressive. Nobody ever drives on that road but me, but still, I am sure he loved his new home.


Another beautiful thing about the tundra is that you can find these patches of flowers, purple saxifrage, scattered all over. It’s amazing that these things grow up here, and they are usually found in the most rocky/desolate areas. I mean, sometimes I find them growing straight out of a pile of shale, with no apparent source of water for nearly fifty feet, nor any signs of fertile soil.

There is also a local wolf pack up here in Alert. Normally, arctic wolves would survive mainly off of lemmings (which I have yet to snap a photo of, they are so fast!), arctic hare, and the occasional caribou or muskox when they come around. But because they do visit the station all the time, I can only assume that they do sometimes eat garbage. Nonetheless, these wolves have a hard ‘nough life!


Pebbles (as named by the inhabitants of the station) was one of the wolves in the local wolf pack.

Pebbles was probably the most photogenic wolf that I have ever seen and is always around station. But she has good reason to stick around, she was kicked out of the wolf pack. We can assume this because when the pack goes out hunting for a few weeks at a time she stays here by herself.

Unfortunately, the pack came back to the station one week and beat the crap out of Pebbles. Then the next week they did it again, she ended up getting sick, and died. That’s life in the arctic, unforgiving. Of course I personified that story a bit, I mean, this is the arctic. The wolves are wild animals, they do things more out of instinct than malicious intent, and they’re doing what they have to in order to survive up here.

Rabbits, there are lots of them. These arctic hares grow to be up to 70 cm long, larger than a lot of dogs. And they come in herds up here. I mean, I have been told that in the summer they have been seen to aggregate into groups of over 50! The largest herd that I have seen is seven, and frankly, it might be a bit frightening to be hiking and then stumble upon a pack of fifty of these guys. They do kind of freak you out when they start running on their hind legs like a bipedal (yea they do that up here for some reason)


  1. Yay! I made it into your blog. Great post Kevin, look forward to reading about your adventures :)

  2. ... I hope those rabbits aren't extras in a Monty Python movie ...