International expedition studies tundra from a ship

Led by a group of Swedish scientists, the Tundra 99 expedition rented the Louis St. Laurent last summer to conduct research aimed at gathering data on global climate and environmental conditions.



IQALUIT — How do you study the tundra as you travel through the Canadian Arctic on a ship?
You use helicopters. And that is how scientists on the Tundra 99 expedition spent this past summer, studying everything including plants, arctic char, and caribou.

In June, the scientists left Goteborg, Sweden on board the Canadian Coast Guard ship, the Louis St. Laurent. After a short stop in Greenland, the ship headed for Iqaluit.

The first group of 45 scientists traveled north through the Foxe Basin and along the Northwest Passage as far Tuktoyaktuk. A second group of scientists replaced them for the return trip to Iqaluit by way of the magnetic north pole.

The Swedes invited scientists of 10 nationalities on the trip, including scientists from Canada, the U.S., and Russia.

“This is the first time, that so many different areas of the Arctic have been studied by scientists with different expertise, all working together at the same time, said Ulf Molau, one of the principal investigators on the expedition.

The Louis St. Laurent is an ideal ship for science trips. It has been upgraded with labs and improved accommodation for research teams such as the Tundra 99 expedition.

The ship stopped at 17 different places along the Arctic coast and islands. At each place, the scientists flew to the mainland by helicopter, where they set up field camps for five days of research.

Eva-Lena Larsson, a botanist, said, “It was like traveling with Captain Kirk on the Enterprise — with little space shuttles taking us to our base camps.” Hunters from Nunavut were hired to guide and protect the scientists in their field camps.

Last July, David Anderson, who was then the federal fisheries minister and who is now the federal environment minister, as well Nunavut’s sustainable development minister, Peter Kilabuk, and Levi Barnabas, the speaker of Nunavut’s legislative assembly, visited the ship when it stopped in Resolute.

Why is scientific study so important in the arctic? “It is an early indicator of global climatic and environmental conditions,” say Ulf Molau.

The simple environmental structures makes it easy to study. Scientists are interested in interactions between plants, animals, air, water, and soil. The research covers a wide range of subjects, from the smallest microscopic organisms found in water to observations of whale populations.

“This is an unique opportunity to put the bits and pieces together”, said Anders Karlqvist, leader of the expedition.

There are many questions to be answered by the research. How do lemming populations effect the life cycle of other animals? How does the magnetic north pole effect migratory patterns of birds? What role does heredity play in the life cycle of landlocked char? What effect does climate change have on plants and animals?

So, what are the results of the Tundra 99 research? Tons of samples were loaded on a Swedish military Hercules aircraft and sent back to Sweden for analysis over the winter.

Mr. Karlqvist said, “Next summer the results will be brought back and explained to the communities across the north.”

John Laird is the World Wildlife Fund’s representative in Iqaluit.

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