In the farthest reaches of the Arctic, on the shores of a freshwater lake, a team of Canadian scientists spends a busy nine weeks every year gathering information on the flora and fauna of the Land of the Midnight Sun.
In the farthest reaches of the Arctic, on the shores of a freshwater lake, a team of Canadian scientists spends a busy nine weeks every year gathering information on the flora and fauna of the Land of the Midnight Sun. The brief Arctic summer provides twenty-four hour daylight for men employed by Canada's Defence Research Board on the northernmost land mass in a nation of widespread frontiers. Their camp is situated on Ellesmere Island, alongside Lake Hazen, the largest body of fresh water this far north in the world.
The northern extremity of Ellesmere Island reaches to a latitude of 83 degrees, second only to the tip of Greenland in its proximity to the top of the globe. The campsite on Lake Hazen is just 500 miles from the North Pole. It was eighty miles from here that Commander Peary began the final dash of his famous journey to the Pole in 1909. Huge glaciers, thousands of feet thick, cover much of the Island. Imposing mountain ranges along the north coast of the Island form Canada's northernmost frontier, on the Arctic Ocean.
Like much of the Arctic, the Lake Hazen area has a low precipitation similar to a desert. Yet, Lake Hazen lies in a valley well watered during the summer by run-off from the melting ice -cap of the mountains. While much of the lake remains frozen over the year round, part of it is open during the thaw. The valley supports a vegetation surprisingly rich for this northern latitude and similar to that found 1500 miles to the south. Botanists have collected 114 species of flowering plants in the vicinity of the lake. Insects and birds of many species have been discovered as well as fish in the lake itself.
The camp was first built and manned in 1957-58 as a part of Canada's contribution to the International Geophysical Year. During this period, its personnel were concerned mainly with meteorological studies and data about the glacial ice of the polar region. However, the camp has become a permanent establishment maintained by the Defence Research Board and, this year , almost all its personnel are entomologists or botanists studying bird life, plant life, insect life and soil mechanics of the area.
Dr. D.R. Oliver, an entomologist from Canada's Department of Agriculture is the leader of the expedition. He rows out on the lake to collect specimens of marine insect life from traps set on the water. The traps consist of jars laid out along the lake bottom. His activities frighten a pair of loons from their nest. And, temporarily abandoned by its startled parents, a young loon swims about unabashed near his boat. Next, Dr. Oliver wades through swampy ground adjacent to the lake collecting further specimens of insect life from traps set in the swamp water. Here, the traps are constructed with netting to lead the insects into the jars. Dr. Oliver uses a mouth tube to draw the specimens into his collection bottle. Details about the day's catch are carefully recorded. Finally, he sweeps a collecting net through clumps of Arctic cotton to obtain further specimens which are then gathered in with the mouth tube. Later, the contents of the jars are transferred to pans in which they can be examined and classified. The specimens being sought here are the tiny black dots- not the polywogs. Dr. Oliver is a specialist in the study of water born insect life of small lakes.
Collecting insects and parasites from the ground and from plants of the area is Dr. J.A. downes, another entomologist from the Department of Agriculture. He harvested a good crop when he found the remains of a muskox which had been killed and partly eaten by wolves the previous winter. The insects were feeding on what the wolves had left.
Dr. D.B. Saville is a botanist from the Plant Research Institute. He is completing a collection of plants from the area of Lake Hazen. Many of the plants collected have never been found before in a location so far north. While others, which do grow in the high Arctic Islands, have never been known to grow so large in these latitudes.
L. Limperis is a fourth year engineering student from McGill who is at work with the expedition as a soil scientist. His job is to study the permafrost and clear ice that lies beneath the hummocky ground so characteristic of the Arctic. Only a few inches under the roots of the flowering plants and grasses, is the permanently frozen ground which lies beneath the entire landscape. Limperis uses a brace and bit to bore holes in the permafrost in which he inserts thermometers. How cold is ice?
R.H.Mulvey, another botanical specialist (nematologist) from the Department of Agriculture runs into opposition from the birds in the course of his work. Walking beside the lake he is attached by jaegers and terns whose nesting grounds he has disturbed.
Dr. W.H. Forrest is also engaged in the job of collecting insects. His revolving striped bug-trap was developed at the University of Alberta. It was built on the theory that the revolving striped core would attract insects to enter it. Once inside, the insects were to be drawn sown to the jar at the bottom by a n electric fan. The machine worked. In fact, it worked so well that it drew bigger game than it was built for. A helicopter which happened to be passing came down to find out what it was.
R.B. Madge, a summer student from the University of Alberta , takes an interest in the lemmings, small rodents which are chiefly noted for their mass migrations to the sea.
H. Herscovitch, a meteorology student from McGill University tries his hand at fishing and reels in a fine specimen of the famous Arctic char which abound in the lake. Some of these are kept for study at the camp but, many form part of the daily diet. Lake Hazen is up to 800 feet deep which means that the bottom of the lake is 300 feet below sea level.
For living quarters, the men have tents. The two main buildings of the camp are Jamesway shelters made of insulated canvas covering, over wooden frames. One of these buildings is used for a mess hall and radio shack and the other serves as a small field laboratory. Other canvas structures are storage tents and a generator tent.
In the distant northland, where few men venture, the Lake Hazen valley is an oasis in which flowers bloom and birds raise their young. For nine
weeks it hums with life. Then, the ice and snow return and, for many long months, the sun disappears. During a brief sojourn in the Arctic regions of their country, Canadian scientists help to increase our knowledge of the North.