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.

Vancouver Aquarium Arctic Research

Eric Soloman, director of Arctic programs at the Vancouver Aquarium poses outside Gjoa Haven, Nunavut in February.

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.

Vancouver Aquarium Arctic Research

The late spring brings dazzling blues as the ice begins to melt.

This inlet outside Resolute Bay, Nunavut could just as easily be the coast of Mexico if it weren’t for the near freezing water.

Arctic Conservation

Fancy a swim? It may look inviting but looks can be deceiving.

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.

Vancouver Aquarium Arctic Research

The reds, yellows and greens of the Arctic tundra in summer.

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.

Vancouver Aquarium Arctic Conservation

If you had been imagining a flat, white Arctic, you’d be surprised to see towering rock faces lining fiords that were carved by glaciers over thousands of years.

Rocky outcroppings slowly erode as continual freezing and thawing cracks the seemingly impervious rock.

Arctic conservation and research

These hoodoos on Bylot Island in the Canadian high Arctic probably aren’t what typically comes to mind when we think of the Arctic.

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.

Arctic landscapes

This summer cabin outside Cambridge Bay, Nunavut might easily be mistaken for an outbuilding on the prairies.

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. 

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