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Arctic-Bound This Summer

Museum Research Staff on Northern Expeditions

Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature


A museum botanist gazes at the distant Brock River in the Northwest Territories.

For 100 years, researchers with the Canadian Museum of Nature have explored Canada's North, collecting and studying the plants, animals, minerals and fossils of this vast region.

This summer is no different. Our scientists are covering some serious ground on Baffin Island, Nunavut, and in the Northwest Territories to increase our record of Canada's natural history. And, some are sharing their expertise on a ship-based journey with Students on Ice.

In July, a four-member botany team is canoeing the 50 km Soper Heritage River on southern Baffin Island. The intrepid adventurers—Jeff Saarela, Ph.D.; Lynn Gillespie, Ph.D.; Paul Sokoloff and Roger Bull—are collecting plants in an area where the range and diversity of plant species is not well documented.

It's an "old-school"-type expedition, using paddle-power in inflatable canoes to access remote areas along the waterway. Preparations included firearms training—a necessary precaution in an area where polar bears roam.

When the team returns in August, there will be hundreds of new botanical records for further study—all part of an international five-year project to produce a new scientific reference for the estimated 800 vascular plant species in the Arctic.

Thanks to new technology, you can follow the team during their journey. Saarela is tweeting daily posts with the handle @jmsaarela. (You can also search for the hashtag #ArcticFlora). And there's a cool application that allows you to trace their journey: check out the interactive map, and click the + sign to track the team.

A different type of expedition—2000 km by van—is being undertaken by our ichthyologists (fish experts) in the Northwest Territories. Claude Renaud, Ph.D., and Noel Alfonso are searching for lampreys. Lampreys are not actually fish, but jawless, fish-like vertebrates. The museum curates the best collection of lampreys in the world.

There are two species of these odd creatures known from the Northwest Territories, but still much to learn about how they evolved. So, over three weeks, the two researchers are trekking to five major rivers with Russian colleague Alexander Naseka, Ph.D., to collect about 500 specimens, mostly young ones, or larvae. Once back in the museum's labs, they will begin the detailed work to answer their scientific questions.

Questions of a different type will be faced by other museum experts this summer. For two weeks in August, Jennifer Doubt, our Curator of Botany, and Paul Hamilton, the museum's water-quality specialist who studies diatoms, will share space with 75 high-school students and other polar researchers on the latest Students on Ice expedition.

The museum has partnered with this educational organization for more than 10 years. Doubt and Hamilton will lead workshops, give talks and serve as scientific guides during the ship-based journey to Baffin Island and Greenland. The museum's President, Meg Beckel, will also join the team for the first part of the journey. Judging from previous Students on Ice trips, it will be an amazing and enlightening experience for all involved.