Researcher links Nunavut SAR events with mild weather

“We found there’s a peak at around -3 C for search and rescue events”


McGill University graduate student Dylan Clark, seen here in Montreal, discovered during his research that search and rescue events in Nunavut seem to peak at around -3 C. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

McGill University graduate student Dylan Clark, seen here in Montreal, discovered during his research that search and rescue events in Nunavut seem to peak at around -3 C. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)


MONTREAL — For a 23-year-old American from Colorado, you could say Dylan Clark is doing a lot for Nunavut.

He’s completing masters’ research on search and rescues in Nunavut, starting an on-the-land safety workshop in Arviat and has his eyes set on saving money on future SAR missions.

But first, his research.

Clark has been studying the connection between Nunavut’s changing weather and search and rescue incidents.

“The basic of the project is to understand how all the environmental changes that’s happened up North and all the social change that’s sped up over the last half century is impacting the safety of the land users,” Clark said in a Montreal café, located steps away from McGill University where he studies with the university’s Climate Change Adaptation Group.

Search and rescues have risen dramatically in Nunavut. In 2006, there were 111 SAR events. In 2015, those events more than doubled to 251, Clark said.

“There’s a lot of interest in figuring out what’s going on,” Clark said of the rising numbers.

Clark compared the 290 SAR incident days to the 831 non-incident days between 2013 and 2014.

One statistic clearly stood out — and it wasn’t related to blizzards or cold.

“We found there’s a peak at around -3 C for search and rescue events,” Clark said.

Clark found mechanical breakdowns, getting stuck on the land, and running out of fuel stood out among the triggers for SAR missions.

And Clark can offer a few theories on why this happens at around -3 C.

First, snowmobiles overheat more easily at that temperature.

And unlike older snowmobiles, the newer models of snowmobiles are more difficult to fix on the land.

Also, people use the land more during the spring and fall — and, when it’s -3 C, there’s a higher chance of hitting rocks and getting stuck in slushy ice.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is slushier conditions, so it takes more gas to get through it, so you run out of gas potentially easier.”

So does that mean you shouldn’t go hunting at -3 C?

“I think that that’s probably pushing it a little too far. There’s always a risk when you’re going out on the land and so there’s a lot of ways that people can prepare for those risks,” Clark said.

But a big reason why people might be unprepared may be linked to money.

“Gas and equipment are expensive. The hunter support programs aren’t what they used to be,” Clark said.

“If you’re just going out on the land, you’re not going to take two extra jerry cans of gasoline with you because that’s a lot of money.”

That’s also extra weight you’re pulling, which burns more gas too.

“I think in this setting we can think of 30 things we should probably bring out on the land,” Clark said.

“But the reality is that access to those things and just the practicality of bringing a qamutik full of gear, no matter how far you’re going — it’s just not realistic.”

Clark travelled this past summer and fall to Arviat, Pangnirtung and Whale Cove, where, as part of his research, he interviewed 45 people — from elders, to hunters, hamlet officials, Government of Nunavut officials, health representatives and SAR volunteers.

During some interviews, Clark heard concerns from elders who said youth lack knowledge and experience when they’re out on the land.

That gave Clark an idea for Arviat, where elders and hunters will teach youth about land safety and navigation on the land.

“The community had a great project that used film to promote sexual health last summer. I stole the idea from them,” he said.

In March, Clark plans to fly up to Arviat to observe the project which he helped to start.

The Arviat Film Society will document the project, “and then hopefully that can be something we can share with other youth in various neighbouring communities,” Clark said.

After that, Clark is already planning his next project — which would use drones for SAR missions.

Iqaluit businessman Kirt Ejesiak was promoting the virtues of drone technology at this year’s Northern Lights conference in Ottawa in late January. Ejesiak, with partners, has formed a company called Arctic UAV and hopes to market drones for use in several Arctic applications including search and rescue.

“The technology is just kind of emerging right now so we’re going to hopefully get a test project going in Arviat to really determine how beneficial it can be, what would be the advantages of it.” Clark said.

“Right now if they need air support, they’re flying in Hercules from Winnipeg which costs thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars per time.

“So if a community could run and fly, use a drone to aid, it would be really exciting.”

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