What comes to mind when you hear the word “Arctic”? For many people, the Arctic conjures images of white, barren expanses of snow and ice, and bone-chilling temperatures making it inhospitable for all but the mighty polar bear. If you’ve never been to the Arctic, you’re forgiven for your impression of the Far North. Indeed, there are months at a time when the Arctic environment hardly feels welcoming. In fact, the sun has only just returned to much of the Arctic after a long winter. But there’s much more to the Arctic than cold and ice.
Late spring and summer in the Arctic, while short by Vancouver standards, can be surprisingly warm. While the average yearly temperature in the high Arctic community of Resolute Bay is only -15 Celsius (yes, that’s the average temperature), July averages just over seven degrees Celsius and can get up to 12 or more degrees on any given day. It’s this time that the snow and ice retreat revealing an unexpected landscape painted with colour and life.
This inlet outside Resolute Bay, Nunavut could just as easily be the coast of Mexico if it weren’t for the near freezing water.
The Canadian Arctic Archipelago is made up of some 32,000 islands which spring to life in the summer. The tundra grasses, mosses, lichens and wildflowers bring a range of colours to the land. It’s a short growing season and the plants make the most of it.
The landscape in Canada’s Arctic varies from relatively flat to stunningly mountainous and rocky. Amateur geologists can find a lot to be excited about.
Rocky outcroppings slowly erode as continual freezing and thawing cracks the seemingly impervious rock.
Hoodoos are formed when a cap of harder rock prevents the softer rock from eroding beneath it. Granted, hoodoos are likely the exception rather than the rule in the Canadian Arctic. But they are a great reminder that the Arctic is more than just snow and ice. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out another feature that sometimes escapes our image of the Arctic: people! People have been part of the Arctic landscape for thousands of years. There are nearly 100,000 people living in Canada’s Arctic today.
So next time you think about the word “Arctic,” maybe you’ll think beautiful beaches, wildflowers, towering cliffs and people in addition to snow and ice. It’s what we at the Aquarium like to call the “unexpected Arctic.”
Learn more about the changing Arctic on your next visit to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre or by viewing the exhibit online.
Blog post submitted by Eric Solomon, director of Arctic Connections at the Vancouver Aquarium. Eric is working on building relationships with scientists and the local community to help protect Canada’s fragile Arctic environment.