Saturday, 17 March 2018

Participating in an International Arctic Field School

I just returned from an action packed, intensive 7-day International Arctic Field School (IAFS) on The Changing Cryosphere: From Sensors to Decision Making, in Iqaluit, Nunavut run through the Sentinel North Program at Laval University. The field school brought together local experts, students and researchers from multiple disciplines from across North America and Europe interested in many different aspects of the Arctic and the impact of climate change. It was a great networking opportunity; we meet so many different Arctic researchers and Nunavut community members and learnt through their expertise and experience. Each morning started with 5 participants giving a 2-minute elevator pitch on their research, there were a fascinating array of elevator pitches on permafrost, glaciers, whales, plants, Arctic policy and Inuit health and wellness.

IAFS participants and bowhead whale jaw bone arch. I am in the front row on the right.
(photo taken by Pascale Ropars at Apex Cemetary)

The cryosphere is anything that is permanently frozen for 2 years or more including sea ice, permafrost and glaciers and as the climate warms the cryosphere is changing. As we learnt throughout the week, this has impacts on the land and ocean ecology, the Inuit way of life including hunting practises and travel, and community infrastructure including buildings, roads, airports, water supplies and pipes. In the mornings we heard presentations on everything from ecology to health to infrastructure and how they are being impacted by the changing cryosphere. In the afternoons, we headed out on the land to see the cryosphere in action, digging snow pits, building igloos and boring holes through lake and sea ice. We took measurements of the properties of the snow and lake water which we then used in subsequent analysis to further our understanding of cryosphere processes.

A) Taking snow pit measurements at Sylvia Grinnell Park. The snow structure was wind slab on top of depth hoar. We measured snow temperature and snow density at 10cm intervals down the snow pit and looked at snow crystal structure.
B) Igloo building at Sylvia Grinnell Park. The wind slab snow used for igloo building is dense and strong. It was easy to cut blocks with a knife or saw. We just shaved the blocks to fit them into the igloo.
C) Our completed two person igloo. The blocks are built up in a spiral and the entrance is dug out below snow level.
D) Camille, Sarah and Pierrick, inside the big igloo.
IAFS participants outside the big igloo we built. I am kneeling to the right of the igloo entrance.

We completed mini projects on snow properties, limnology and infrastructure culminating in short presentations on our findings and interpretations. We worked in small groups composed of graduate students and postdocs from universities and Inuit students from the Environmental Technology Program, Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, drawing on local knowledge from the Inuit students and what we had learnt in the class room and on the land. The field school structure of lectures, field work, group exercises and presentations was a great approach to gain a deep understanding in a very short space of time of many facets of the Arctic that we were not always familiar with. Our final mini project was to design a road across the tundra taking into consideration the permafrost properties in different superficial geologies and applying different construction techniques to minimise the thawing of the permafrost.

A) Traveling by skidoo and komatik on a beautiful sunny, windless day in the Arctic winter to take lake limnology and snow water equivalent measurements near the Road to Nowhere.
B) Augering a hole through the sea ice. The sea ice was about 1.4m thick.
Ready to take lake limnology measurements. The lake near the Road to Nowhere stretching behind me is ~8m deep. 
D) Augered hole through lake ice. The lake ice was as thick as I am tall and the water underneath was 1.5-2°C.
E) Thermal siphons outside the RCMP building, Iqaluit. These are passive devices with horizontal liquid gas pipes underneath the building that draw heat away from the building reducing the warming of the permafrost underneath. The liquid gas is pressurised and evaporates on heating rising up the vertical tubes seen here. The heat is wicked away by the thermal diffusers on the vertical pipes and then condenses and runs back as liquid to the horizontal pipes under the building.
You can read more about the field course through the daily blog the participants wrote All in all, an excellent and well organised experience for both participants and mentors.

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