After a long bus ride up to Thompson, followed by a 16 hour train ride, the Kelvin students arrived in a snow-covered Churchill. This was part of the Kelvin science trip called NorthSTAR (formerly ISAMR). We have joined together with students from Baltimore and the Junior Canadian Rangers from Churchill to study permafrost and arctic foxes in the summer and polar bears in the fall.
We saw many bears including a few mother bears with their cubs and especially enjoyed watching two male polar bears sparring right in front of us. At one point we could see six sleeping bears. We also saw a silver fox catch and devour a lemming.
The program is run by Dr. Jane Waterman and Dr. Jim Roth from the University of Manitoba. We are grateful for the NSERC Promoscience grant which supports this program. Dr. Waterman joined us for the trip and instructed us throughout the day, giving research talks and helping students with data analysis in the evenings. Using cameras, binoculars, and rangefinders, the students collected the data used to find the body size and body condition of the bears. The whicker-pattern identification software will then be used to identify the bears and add them to the Polar Bear identification library. Currently we are comparing the symmetry of the two sides of each bear to see if this fluctuating asymmetry in the whisker spots may be an indicator of the increased stresses of climate change.
During the first day at the Churchill Northern Studies Center, we had the privilege of listening to Caroline Bjorkland, a Sayisi Dene woman, talk about her experience of the relocation of her people in 1956. Caroline shared her experiences in residential schools, the story of her people, and the lessons she has learned about herself and her identity in relation to the culture. Members of the group had prepared for this presentation by reading the very powerful book: Night Spirits: The Story of the Relocation of the Sayisi Dene by Ila Bussidor and Ustun Bilgen-Reinart.
We are also thrilled to have been hosted by the Canadian Junior Rangers for a Halloween celebration in the town. The next morning, our students did a volunteer project to help out the town by making a map with GPS markings identifying the position of all the fire-hydrants. In the afternoon we joined with the Churchill kids and had a great time dog-sledding.
Students will be giving a talk as well as presenting posters at the ArcticNet conference in December, as well as presenting posters at the Wapusk Research Symposium. Both of these are scientific conferences where our group is the only high school group presenting among graduate students and professors.
A short video of the trip can be found here