The hottest day of the year (and the epic storm that followed)

Imagine yourself alone in the tundra.

But imagine it isn’t quite as cold as you might think.

Baking in the tundra sun

The sweat is dripping down your back, the whine of mosquitos is incessant in your ears.  As you gasp for air while climbing the hill with your heavy backpack on, you just suck in the mosquito netting wrapped around your head.  DEET coats your skin with a shiny plastic-dissolving sheen as polymer bonds around you are destabilized and carcinogens seep into you through your skin.  This is the hottest day of the year on Qikiqtaruk.

Tough decisions have to be made on days like this – none more so that the perfect balance between having enough layers to avoid mosquito bites, but not so many as to boil in the humid Arctic heat. There came a point when the heat brought us to a naïve sense of bravery – the layers of clothing were coming off! Out of the frying pan, so to speak, and into the fire of mosquito bites and the eternal itching.

Flying drones in such hot weather brings its own challenges, too – we have to protect our reflectance panels from mosquitos (squished or alive), and avoid exposing too much skin when piloting during take-off, landing and general drone prep. If even the tip of your nose is exposed it will get bitten, and that can break your much need concentration.

To help us through the heat, we turned to a spin-off version of a popular Arctic fieldwork game. Usually one would play “warm thoughts”, where we all take turns trying to imagine the warmest of scenarios to help us battle the cold.  On the hottest day of the year warm thoughts were in no shortage, so “cold thoughts” it was! From turquoise mountain creeks in New Zealand, sea breezes back at Pauline Cove and several flavours of ice cream, our imagination took us on a refreshingly cold journey and soon enough we were back to camp where we could cool down for real thanks to a quick dip in the Arctic Ocean.

On the following day, we were well prepared, for the instead of losing layers we had to start putting on more and more clothing: the skies were darkening, the wind was picking up, and a menacing sheet of dense fog was moving towards us. A storm was on the way!

After getting all set up and ready to fly, the weather grounded our drone flights – no data drone collection, sigh! So, we turned to collecting the precise locations of our ground control markers and deploying our new large and multispectral-approved markers we had made in Inuvik earlier on. As the dark clouds approached, we put on full waterproof clothing in anticipation of the rain, and went on what felt like a pretty epic journey from marker to marker. We could hear thunder in the distance and soon enough heavy raindrops were splashing off the screen of the GNSS equipment. What were once little creeks of sediment water making their way from the slump to the ocean now looked like quick streams gaining more and more power as the storm intensified.

The oncoming storm

It was a pretty “majestical” scene (as they say in the New Zealand movie “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – guess what we watched later that night…) to be GNSSing during an oncoming storm, made all the more atmospheric by our songs about rain and thunder. Soon enough though the storm was becoming too strong, so we headed back to shore by doing what felt more like mud skiing than walking in the quickly liquefying slump floor. Thanks to the research crew from the Alfred Wegener Institute, we got a ride back to camp in their trusty Zodiac boat Christine past the new barges and boats camped next to Pauline Cove.

Once at camp, we got out of our muddy boots, dried our wet clothes, warmed ourselves up with tea and a fire in the wood stove and enjoyed a movie night. Outside, the rain continues to pour and the wind continues to howl – hard to imagine that less than a day earlier we were totally overwhelmed by the Arctic heat!

By Gergana and Isla

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