Left Pennsylvania 36 hours ago, now 500 miles above the Arctic Circle. Each step has gone like clockwork, still one step to go, so I hope I haven't jinxed it.
First step was an eight hour drive to Ottawa where we got a few last provisions and ate the last fresh food for a while. This morning we started with a 3-hour flight to Iqualuit, the capital of the Nunavut Territory.
As we moved north at 31,000 feet of altitude and 450 miles an hour, the immense size and emptiness of northern Canada became obvious. By the time we crossed over the entrance to Hudson Bay and began to cross Baffin Island, we were well above tree line. Iqualuit (formerly called Frobisher) has a bustling frontier-town feel and we all commented on the growth since the last time we were there a few years ago. Nunavut seems to be booming as resource extraction is receiving more investment, and perhaps access becomes easier with longer summers without pack ice.
Food is a big part of the quality of life during our field season in Nunavut. The landscape is austere, the temperature is low (35-45 degrees), the days are long (actually, July it is one long day), and camp life is fairly monotonous. Food is sustenance and calories, but it is also entertainment and comfort.
We go to considerable effort to bring quality foodstuffs, most acquired from Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Sam’s Club, Starbucks, and the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop. Our buying trips in May usually elicit questions from the stores’ staff as we load our baskets with pounds of chocolate, coffee, granola, and other commodities.
After our shopping forays we spread out our harvest in a research area at the Academy of Natural Sciences and un-package, vacuum seal, consolidate, count, inventory, and pack the food for its northbound journey. We provision our food carefully to avoid excess weight and packaging. Cans, for example, are heavy and create trash – we don’t bring any canned food.
Academy of Natural Sciences’ paleontologist Ted Daeschler is returning to Arctic Canada for three weeks in July for another installment of the Nunavut Paleontological Expedition. Since 1999, Daeschler and his colleague Neil Shubin from the University of Chicago, who grew up in the Philadelphia area, have carried-out six field seasons to search for Late Devonian-age fossils (385-365 million years old) in the inhospitable terrain of high arctic islands in the Nunavut Territory. Among their discoveries is Tiktaalik roseae, an animal that lived 375 million years ago that is widely recognized as the best evolutionary intermediate between fishes and limbed animals.
It’s a fact that the preparation for an expedition often takes longer than the expedition itself. This is particularly true for exploration in remote corners of the globe where self-sufficiency is required. Our paleontology work this month in the Nunavut Territory of northernmost Canada is certainly one of those places.