jill's rad summer: the canadian arctic

Remember a few weeks ago when we visited Africa with my friend Carrah? Well, this last of the Rad Summer guest posts is pretty much the exact opposite of that in every way. Except that it, too, is about a place that many of us dream of visiting and may not have the chance to visit any time soon. And there are some amazing animals hanging out in these photos, too. Oh, and both posts include incredible photos!

I’m excited to write about my rad summer, because it ranked up there in the top few raddest summers ever. In fact, it just might take the top spot, as it involved an adventure of the kind that I always wished for but never really thought I would get to actually embark on.

the Amundsen and icebergs, Pond Inlet
my favourite poster from the ship -- so retro!
I am a geography student in Calgary, interested in the frozen parts of earth and how they interact with/influence climate and climate change. I got the opportunity to go and work with a consortium of scientists studying different aspects of climate change in the Canadian Arctic on board a Canadian Coast Guard ship, the CCGS Amundsen.  For a month, I lived aboard the ship with 40 odd scientists and another 40-ish crewmembers while we travelled up the east coast of Canada from Quebec City, to ultimately journey through the southern route of the storied Northwest Passage.

coast guard hauling the Rosette on board so we can test water 
My job was to test seawater for carbon dioxide concentrations. This is the instrument that took water samples from different depths in the ocean, called a Rosette.

From Quebec City, we sailed up the St Lawrence Seaway and then hit the open ocean off the east coast of Labrador, where I both saw humpback whales and experienced my first (and only, thankfully) bought of seasickness (tip: don’t try to do anything in 6 meter seas. The only way to avoid throwing up is by lying face down in your bunk).  

stormy seas! 
Off the coast of Baffin Island, we crossed the Arctic Circle. It is a really big deal to cross the Arctic Circle by ship and it is customary to initiate those who cross (only going north to south counts) into Neptune’s circle. I am forbidden by the law of the sea to give any more details, but let’s just say at one point I was doing jumping jacks outside at 4 in the morning while being sprayed with a fire hose of seawater….as I said, very serious!. The sun never really properly set north of the Arctic Circle at that time of year, so it was very hard to get to sleep at a reasonable time. The scenery was so amazing: I saw huge valley glaciers tumbling into the sea, crazy icebergs and even a few pieces of the Petermann Ice Island, which broke off Greenland in 2010.

Petermann Ice island
In the middle of my time aboard the ship, there was to be a small conference on the ship, so 11 scientists (myself included) left the ship for 5 days to free up some bunk space. We were flown to Resolute Bay, a tiny, predominantly Inuit, community of about 240 people on Cornwallis Island, at 74°N latitude. We spent the next five days at a research station, exploring, reading, watching movies and watching out for polar bears. Many people in Resolute still depend on traditional foods to supplement the very expensive (and in the case of produce, very limp) food flown in to the community weekly, so we saw lots of evidence of seal and whale hunting. One day, we went to a local woman’s house to see the skins she had prepared from animals hunted by her husband, including Muskox and Caribou (so soft!).

Finally, in the first few days of August, back on the ship, we sailed into sea ice, which I was very very excited about. The Amundsen is an icebreaker, so it is built to be able to travel through sea ice; I spent many hours on the front deck watching sea ice break under the bow as we plowed along. Ice breaking makes an ungodly sound like mermaids screaming their heads off or something, so that was a big disconcerting at first, but I soon learned to sleep like a baby through all the noise.

I also saw my first polar bear, just wandering around sea ice, hunting for seals. It was amazing to see a polar bear in the wild. My hands were all shaky and I was so excited. The captain stopped the ship and everyone on board just watched the bear for about an hour (apparently, seeing polar bears really never gets old. Awesome.).

My trip to the north was an eye opener in terms of appreciating just how big Canada is and gaining more of a connection to the landscape, people and climate of the north. The north really got into my bones, I think, and I am both excited to hopefully return in the future, as well as a little sad to know that the arctic is changing and may not look the same when next I see it.

So, that was the raddest part of my rad summer. Thank you, Sarah, for inviting me to do this post! 

Not only did Jill put together this amazing post for my blog, she is also the brilliant friend who made all of the rosemary peach jam that we gave out as favours at our wedding. Now that's a best friend! Don't you all kinda feel like you went on an adventure just reading about how Jill spent some of her summer? Thank you, Jill!!! Now move to Vancouver already!

There you have it, the end of Rad Summer 2011. We've been to Portland, Oregon, Pittsburgh, Osoyoos, British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Vacation Island, California, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Seattle, Reykjavik, Iceland, El Paso, Texas, Calgary, Alberta, and now the Canadian Arctic. Rad, dudes. You go to some incredible places. Thanks for kind of taking me with you! I'll be doing this series again, so consider sharing your adventures here next year. Now, sorry, it's official. Summer is over.


  1. wow these pictures are amazing! what an adventure!

  2. Rad summer indeed! I've always dreamed of travelling through Northern Canada. Jill, your pictures are exactly what I would have envisioned (I can almost scratch that off my list now). Really great photos! I like the stop sign, thankfully that is a universal symbol or that could be very confusing. Icebreaking sounds like it would be mesmerizing and hours of fun.

  3. Jill, these pictures are wonderful. There is something very mysterious and haunting and yet incredibly hopeful about the north. I have always wanted to go - thanks for the inspiration :)

  4. yet another awesome post! what an amazing summer!

  5. Oh man, this is awesome! I've been dying to go up north.


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