Saturday, August 02, 2008

Part III, Day 1: 080708

We arrived at Churchill’s train station about 7:30 am, roughly an hour and a half later than scheduled. We left Thompson about that late as well, so I was rather surprised that Via rail had neglected to inform people in Churchill that the train was going to be late. The director of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC) was there to pick us up, and he was mildly annoyed (not with us) at having to stand around in the cold fog for 90 minutes. He recognized me by name, which was a pleasant surprise – I don’t think I made too much of an impression here last year, but my companions have assured me repeatedly that I am difficult to forget.

We collected our baggage, including a box containing a broken bottle of laboratory ethanol, and departed the town for the CNSC. We dropped the broken bits into the town’s waste disposal chain at a facility on the edge of town, then got settled in at the CNSC. I have been assigned a room with four beds (i.e. two sturdy bunk-beds) and two roommates who flew in to Churchill and arrived at the centre later in the evening. I was able to meet with the centre’s assistant director, who photocopied my Canadian Firearms Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) and allowed me to sign out a shotgun and ammunition for predator deterrence.

There are a limited number of shotguns at the centre, so they are signed out to licensed researchers on a first-come, first-served basis. Today I had no trouble getting one, though the centre is running near to capacity and I may not be so lucky tomorrow or some other day.

Christy, one of my companions for both Part II and Part III of this trip, is a M.Sc. student at the University of Guelph, working with Dr. Paul Hebert on polychaetes and marine amphipods. She has arranged a series of 3-hour cruises (insert 60’s TV joke here) with the one Churchill resident who takes people out on his boat. Churchill may represent Manitoba’s maritime side, but there’s really not a whole lot of marine activity here. The CNSC, for example, owns no marine equipment like life vests or a boat, though many other researchers here spend significant time in the intertidal zone. We, that is, the University of Guelph, have the only boat I’ve seen here at the centre, a small Zodiac semi-rigid with a 15-horsepower 4-stroke outboard.

We were not able to get a pick-up truck organized to take the boat from its storage location in the “Rocket Launcher” building here at the centre to town and the boat launch today. Instead, we visited low tide at Bird Cove, a shallow, rocky and muddy bay not far from the CNSC, which lies some 20 km East of the town of Churchill. I found the expected marine amphipods, probably the same species I met last year, as well as some intertidal gastropods, probably genus Littorina.

Pack ice that separated from the main body of ice far to the North is drifting around offshore in this part of Hudson Bay. I’ve never been here when there is ice on the water, it feels somehow much more Arctic this way. That ice is composed of frozen sea-water, not the glacial freshwater of icebergs, so these bits are not technically icebergs. I guess one could call them “ice floes”.

The Ithaca, a freighter that grounded in Bird Cove sometime in the 1960’s, if I correctly remember the conversation last year. It faces almost due East, and the shallowest part of the intertidal zone that allows access to the ship is mostly to the West, so I took this picture after we walked out to and around the ship. It’s close to a kilometre from the high-tide line, a distance composed variously of sand- and mud-flats and a cobble beach. The orientation of the ship is such that from the rocky headlands on shore, the sun sets almost directly behind the ship viewed from the port side (because the sun here sets in the North-North-West in summer), providing a rather picturesque view and probably significant additional profits over the years for local retailers of film.

My roommates arrived after dinner – David, a post-doc from France working with Dr. Hebert on Colembola (springtails), and Chen, a researcher from Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They arrived with Sally, who has a job working with Dr. Hebert but I’m not sure what to call that job – it’s not a post-doc position, and it’s not a faculty position, either. I think we’re just calling her job “scientist”. In any case, Sally has rented a pick-up truck, which appears quite suitable for the job of transporting the Zodiac, to be done tomorrow morning. Sally works primarily on aquatic crustacea, but says she’ll be trying to collect as much as she can. I’m looking forward to working with her, since we’ll be collecting many of the same critters such as freshwater amphipods. Christy is very eager to get out on the water and begin doing some marine biology in earnest. Hey, sounds good to me, I love messing around in boats, and there are sure to be some excellent marine specimens out there for me.


King Aardvark said...

Wooo, surrounded by women.

Anonymous said...

pictures or it didn't happen