A Siberian scientific team in Northern Canada! Part 1

Probably, there are no many folk in the world who knows about Yakutia, the motherland of Sakha (or Yakut) peoples covering 3.1 mln sq. km. It is located in Far North-East of Russia – the coldest place in the Northern hemisphere, a land of diamond, gold mining and mammoth tusks, a land of immense taiga and tundra surrounded with high mountains and the Arctic Ocean. We live under the pressure of a really rigorous continental climate, with temperatures up to +40°C in summer and -60°C in winter; unofficial winter temperature record was -71.2°C at Oymyakon locality in 1924. The only “advantage” of the climate is dry air plus gentle winds that allow us to enjoy life under such extreme temperatures.

As scientists, we are working in an organization with a very long name – the Institute for Biological Problems of Cryolithozone of Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in short – IBPC, located in Yakutsk city, Russia. Our current interests include biogeochemistry, ecophysiology and climatology of permafrost ecosystems. During last 15 years our laboratory has established three scientific stations in taiga and tundra zones of Yakutia to understand peculiarities of the interactions between global climate change and high latitude permafrost ecosystems. All these works are being performed in close partnership with scientists from many countries, however Canada was absent in the list so far. Thus, using a chance and following a famous proverb “if the mountain won’t go to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain”, we were quite curious to visit Northern Canada, especially taking into account the geo-ecological similarity of the region to our homeland.

Hence, on June 17-27, 2012, with the support of a CEN grant to our “Changing Permafrost In  The High Latitude And Its Global Effects” (PHLAG) project, our glorious expedition, composed of just two guys with small luggage, visited a scientific station of CEN of Laval University, Quebec, Canada, located in the coastal area of Hudson Bay at a settlement with a beautiful double aboriginal name of W-h-a-p-m-a-g-o-o-s-t-u-i – K-u-u-j-j-u-a-r-a-a-p-i-k! However, local people call it only as Kuujjuarapik, without the first part and double “a”, which seems to be common as we consult maps, books, and air flight notifications.

Measurement of photosynthesis.
Measurement of soil respiration.

Well, our first impression of the nature at the locality was rather surrealistic landscape, quite different from what we expected to see. We thought that it would look like normal so-called “polygonal” tundra or forest-tundra transition area in our country but instead we found extremely stony land with rare small islets of larch and spruce, features of which were also quite fascinating for us – almost no open trunks, i.e. lower branches grow at the ground level, small and short needles, thick and dense ground cover of juniper and other semi-shrubs that allow crazy jumps and falls without any risk to be seriously injured (tested!). Icebergs on horizon in the bay under solemn leaden clouds made this scenery more majestic and stern! Rather cold and windy weather here due to sea coast was a next unusual impression – probably we feel ourselves more comfortable under calm -50°C in winter in our home city.

With the best wishes,

Trofim Maximov, Dr.Sci., Head and Ayal Maksimov, Researcher

Laboratory of BioGeoChemical Cycles of Permafrost Ecosystems, IBPC; International Center BEST (Biogeoscience Educational and Scientific Training) of North-Eastern Federal University, Yakutsk; Spasskaya Pad and Chokurdakh scientific stations of IBPC.

*The team visited CEN Hudson Bay Field station at Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik with a grant from The Centre for Northern Studies (CEN), a Canadian partner in INTERACT.

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