Team shrub – together yet apart

It’s been about a week since Team Shrub has split up into two teams: the Kluane Crew and the Arctic Crew. The former has stayed at Kluane, while the latter is now in Inuvik, awaiting their departure to Qikiqtaruk island on the Yukon Arctic Coast. In this blog post, you can read about our adventures since we parted ways. 

The Adventures of the Kluane Crew

by Erica, Jiri, Calum, Diana and Joe

Since we parted ways with the other half of Team Shrub, we’ve been having a blast. We have reached new heights in the icefields, graduated our degrees on the shores of Kluane Lake, flown our drones over the rapidly melting snow and discovered new-to-us tundra plant species. Read about our goings on in Kluane in the first half of this blog post.

Flight to the Icefields

Living close to the Silver City Airstrip seemed too good to be true. When we found out there was the possibility of flying over the St. Elias Icefields with Icefield Discovery, we jumped at the opportunity – literally! Having never been on a prop plane, we were nervous but also incredibly excited. Meeting the amazing pilots Raphael and Kensuke, and having the safety brief made us feel a lot better.

The take off was incredibly smooth, more than many commercial flights! The views from the air were incredible. First, we flew over Kluane Lake, then we passed the glaciers over the majestic mountains of the Kluane National Park. Throughout the flight, our pilots told us all about the landscape, pointing out landmarks and scouting for sheep on the mountain slopes. The landing was bumpy – as one would expect when landing on a glacier – but very fun!

Once on the top of the icefields, excitement levels skyrocketed! It was all so incredibly bright. All we could see was snow, extending over the horizon to the mountains. It was an unexpectedly warm and comfortable temperature. Touching the snow was such an incredible feeling – crystalline ice! We ran, jumped, and frolicked in the frozen landscape. It felt like being on top of the world!

Being in the icefields made us want to explore the mountains around us further and made us feel incredibly grateful to be living in such a stunning place all summer. Once back at the field station, the experience almost felt unreal – did we really fly to the largest non-polar ice field in the world? It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime moment that the Kluane Crew will never forget!

Flying drones on the KLUANE Plateau

The prize for the project that requires the heaviest equipment goes to… Calum and his drone surveys! Yes, going up to the Kluane Plateau with drones has been quite challenging! On a typical day we start walking by Kluane Lake, continue through the boreal forest, pass treeline, then shrubline, and suddenly we are in the tundra! The Kluane Plateau – or The Plateau as we like to call it – is where most of our current data collection takes place. Calum and Joe are our drone experts here at Kluane, and we can definitely say that they are doing a great job! Though one question remains, will we ever get used to hiking 1000 m up the very steep trail?

Pre-plateau poses by members of the Kluane Crew. (photo credit: Calum Hoad and Jiri Subrt for the photo of Calum)

Graduating by Kluane Lake

The Team Shrub field assistants Jiri and Erica have recently completed their BSc degrees in Ecological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, being in the field for the summer meant that they could not attend their official graduation ceremony in Scotland. The amazing Kluane Team did not want them to miss out on such a milestone! After luring Jiri and Erica on a “team walk to the lake”, Calum, Joe, and Diana surprised the two field assistants with a bottle of champagne hidden in a pond close to the Lake.

The surprises didn’t end there! Our “crafty stitcher”, Diana, put together some graduation gowns made of black mesh and Joe wrote pretend diplomas tied up in flagging tape. Fieldwork equipment really comes to loads of uses! Luckily, Jiri and Erica never leave the station without their sun caps, which came in handy for the classic graduation hat toss! After a few glasses of champagne with a lovely view over the lake at sunset, the graduation ceremony came to an end, with some very happy field assistants.

Luckily, Jiri and Erica never leave the station without their sun caps, which came in handy for the classic graduation hat toss! After a few glasses of champagne with a lovely view over the lake at sunset, the graduation ceremony came to an end, with some very happy field assistants!

Plant hunting! 

One of our goals for this summer was to get to know the diversity of plants around Kluane and to be able to confidently identify them in the field. After all, plant ID is an essential fieldwork skill! Taking pictures of plants in the field and identifying them back at the station has become the new fun activity within our team. That’s field life! Until now, we have identified more than 50 species! Our field assistant, Jiri, has created a beautifully detailed collection of plant pictures, along with their scientific names and main characteristics. We cannot wait to use this resource when trying to identify plants in the field! With more than six weeks left in the field… will we surpass one hundred plant species?

Quick tundra ecology quiz: Can you identify these majestic tundra plants? (photo credit: Jiri Subrt)

So that sums up the adventures of the past week or so. What other adventures does Kluane have in store for us this summer? Only time will tell.

The Adventures of the Arctic Crew

By Clara, Madi, Elise, Zabrina and Isla

The Arctic Crew of Team Shrub departed the Kluane Region and travelled via Whitehorse across the Arctic Circle to our new temporary home of Inuvik. We thought we would be here for just a few days, but a week later, we are still in town and waiting to catch our much awaited charter flight to Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island on the Arctic Coast of the Yukon. Read about our adventures as we pack and do logistics in the searing heat of summer in the land of the midnight sun during a “heat dome”.

The Heat Dome – the hottest place in Canada at 32C

“Travel to the Arctic!”, they said. “It’ll be cold!”, they said. We’re not so sure…. As soon as we stepped off the plane as it landed at Inuvik airport, we were met with a wall of tropical humid air, and we had to check to make sure we hadn’t accidentally boarded a plane to Mexico instead of the Canadian Arctic.

Sure enough, we arrived in Inuvik during a heat wave. More precisely, a heat ‘dome’. This is a meteorological feature that occurs when high pressure is trapped over a region by the jet stream, meaning the areas below experience baking hot conditions for days on end. This northern heatwave has apparently been breaking records in the Yukon and Northwest Territories this week, reaching a high of 32°C on the 7th of July.

Not fantastic news for the Arctic crew who packed our thermal long johns and puffer down jackets in preparation for island life! To cope, we’ve been visiting ice cream shops and taking luxuriant swims in the local ‘airport lake’. 

Logistics in Inuvik

“Where is the sharpie?”, “Has anyone got the duct tape?”, “Did we take a photo of that box before we fastened the cable ties?”. This has been the soundscape of our work in the Aurora Research Institute loading dock this week as the Arctic team has been busy packing and re-packing cargo ready to fly out to the island later in the week. We’ve all been getting buff hoisting boxes around between the storage cage and the weighing scales – but don’t worry, we’ve been treating ourselves with much needed ice cream floats and BBQ food!

We’ve also been busy zipping between the handful of shops in Inuvik buying essential groceries, important hardware, and the most precious and rare cargo of all, lactose-free milk (Madi) and gluten-free bread (Elise). This has been an action-packed week defined by sweltering temperatures and multiple spreadsheet tabs, but we’ll appreciate all our hard work when we get to the island with all of our scientific gear, food, and luggage in tow – that is if we don’t forget anything!

Music jams and Research convos in Inuvik

One of the great things about visiting the Aurora Research Station is meeting other researchers from different institutes around the world: University of Alberta, University of Victoria and the Alfred Wegener Institute, amongst others. The heatwave has been absolutely perfect for BBQs out in front of the row houses; between roasted halloumi and hot dogs, we’ve been able to fill up and chat with fellow researchers about the science behind their research. Our shared housing situation has also allowed us to meet our wonderful roommate from whom we’ve learned about greenhouses and food security up in the North.

After dinner, it never took too long for the guitar, fiddle and ukulele to be taken out of their cases and tuned for a little jam session between the musical members of each team. With guitar, viola, mandolin and ukulele, we have enough instruments to form a band! But do we have the required musical talents? Maybe not, but have a listen to the music jam in Inuvik in the following audio clip. We’ll practice on the island!

A clip of a row house music jam with Trevor from UVic and Isla in Inuvik.

Off to Qikiqtaruk

Now, by the end of the week, we are approaching the point of no return. Our charter flight was scheduled for Sunday at 10am. But Sunday has come and gone and now so has Monday too. When will we fly? Time feels in standstill as we wait each day for the call to rush to the airport with the last of our bags and all of our frozen food.

Once we board that Twin Otter, we’ll leave the connectivity of Inuvik and head off to Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island. The ice is breaking up with creaking and cracking along the Arctic Coast of the Yukon and the plants are whistling in the wind and calling us over. Listen closely to see if you can hear from afar! We’re crossing our fingers for good weather and hoping the fog stays at bay, allowing us a safe flight over with a great view.

Monday update…the fog has not stayed at bay. We are still here in Inuvik, but for how much longer??? Only time and the pilots will tell. Fortunately there is still one ice cream shop to check out (soft serve!), but the temperature is plummeting making ice cream less appealing for some perhaps, but not for us!

Two crews 1000 kms apart. Even though our adventures may take us in different directions, Team Shrub is still together!

Words and photos by Team Shrub

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