Challenges of Working in an Arctic Climate
Working in the Arctic poses interesting challenges for Parks Canada’s survey teams. Travelling to this remote location, preparing for the severe climate, and compensating for the lack of amenities in the Arctic must be carefully considered prior to departure for each day Park Canada staff are in the field conducting their day-to-day work.
Weather in Aulavik National Park is volatile, with calm,mild temperatures one day, followed by cold, windy weather the next. In 2010, a storm passing through the Park forced the team to tie down their tents with a variety of heavy equipment. © Parks Canada
The climate of Aulavik National Park (NP) where McClure’s Cache is located, is typically Arctic. The tundra is frozen and snow-covered from September until June. In the area where our team will be working, summers are brief and cool, with temperatures ranging from -2°C to 12°C with a daily average of 8°C, and it is not uncommon for it to snow in July. While the sun does not set between mid May and late July, and there is never true darkness from late April until late August, Mercy Bay is prone to heavy fog and rain. Learn more about the climate of Aulavik National Park.
Even though the calendar says summer, the sea ice never entirely melts. For the marine-based searches, Parks Canada’s team must continuously monitors the ice thickness and flows in the search areas. using information and maps provided by one of the project partners, the Canadian Ice Service (CIS) of Environment Canada. This animation created by the Canadian Ice Service shows the ice coverage in the Canadian Arctic over the past 10 days. Follow the melting of the ice as it retreats north allowing access to open water at Mercy Bay, where HMS Investigator lies and where Parks Canada underwater archaeologists plan to dive the wreck. Without free-flowing water, these searches cannot be conducted.
Location, Travel and Amenities:
Twin Otter Aircraft at Polar Bear Cabin Airstip in Aulavik National Park © Parks Canada
The survey of McClure’s Cache and the search for HMS Investigator will be conducted from Aulavik National Park. The park is located on the northern part of Banks Island; the most westerly island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Aulavik NP lies 250 kilometres northeast of the tiny community of Sachs Harbour and 750 kilometres northeast of the town of Inuvik.
Aulavik NP is an isolated wilderness park with no facilities, campgrounds, developed trails or road access. Chartering an aircraft equipped with tundra tires is the most common and practical means of accessing the park. Our survey teams will reach the Mercy Bay base camp in two stages. First they will board a Twin Otter aircraft from Inuvik to Sachs Harbour, re-fuel after this two-hour flight, then continue for another hour to Polar Bear Cabin, just east of Castel Bay. It will take four Twin Otter Aircraft to transport all equipment and personnel to the park. From there, the crew and equipment will be ferried by helicopter for the half hour it takes to get from Polar Bear Cabin to the Mercy Bay base camp.
The helicopter slings supplies and equipment from Polar Bear Cabin Airstrip to the base camp at Mercy Bay © Parks Canada
After being dropped off in the park, our survey teams will be on their own until the helicopter returns to pick them up. Poor weather can easily prevent the helicopter or Twin Otter from returning on schedule, so extra supplies and a plan for at least two extra days in the park are necessary in case of a delayed flight.
Because Mercy Bay empties into the sea, the water at the base camp is not drinkable. Freshwater has to be acquired from a pond or river elsewhere on the island and slung by helicopter to the campsite. As a result, water needs to be carefully used.
Due to aircraft weight restrictions (1134 kg for a Twin Otter and up to 408 kg for helicopter sling), the team is limited in how much survey equipment, personal gear, and fresh food they can bring. The Mercy Bay base camp is planned for approximately 16 days, but could be more or less days depending on weather conditions. Travel delays can occur at any point, and for a variety of reasons, along their lengthy journey. To listen to a first-hand account of such travel challenges, visit the Notes from the Field section of our website and tune into the audioblogs being posted by the archaeologists, as they describe just some of the delays experienced this year.
The archaeologists unload the equipment from the Twin Otter aircraft at Polar Bear Cabin. © Parks Canada
Each person will stay in their own tent, but there will also be a communal cook and eating tents. Since the camp is in polar bear country, it will be surrounded by an electrified fence and safe camp practices will be strictly followed to reduce attracting bears. To maintain the park’s wilderness integrity, all food and human waste has to be shipped out at the end of the project, and ideally there will be little evidence that the camp ever existed by the time the crew board their outgoing helicopter.