I have just spent my last month above the Arctic circle, in Iqaluktuttiak or Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. This tiny hamlet on Victoria Island, in the Canadian Arctic, has been inhabited for the last 4000 years because of its unique location that has brought plentiful arctic char runs and caribou migrations for millennia. As the first Canadian to receive the Rolex Scholarship, I really wanted to expand the network northwards, and luckily for me, I got to go all the way. For the month of August, I have been based out of the new Canadian High Arctic Research station here in town, and I have worked with multiple Canadian Arctic ocean research groups. For more information on these, please check out my blog. Right now, however, I am with Oceanwise, Vancouver Aquarium, as they do their yearly arctic sampling and collecting for their exhibits!
This has been an incredible experience, as I have completed the coldest water dives of my life so far. My computer recorded -1 C as the average water temp for my last dive today! In terms of dive gear, the most important thing is to have regulators that will not freeze open and free flow at depth. When I was learning about the considerations I had to take to dive up here, I obviously became concerned about my Reef Photo and Video gear. However, I needn’t have worried! My Nauticam NA-Gx9 housing and Inon S-2000 strobes held up like a charm and allowed me to make some great images and videos. It is great to know that I can rely on my gear in below zero conditions! I also found them easy to operate with thick gloves on, which was a relief as anything that requires dexterity is a challenge in those conditions.
Diving in the Arctic is not only exhilarating because of the temperatures, but also because much of the diving we are doing is exploratory. It is an incredible feeling to investigate subtidal environments where no one has been before. As we are here for collection and biodiversity surveying, we are actively looking for things that may be new to us. For example, we collected a species of soft coral, Gersemia rubiformis, from a depth of only 10m. Most soft corals in cold waters generally only exist at much deeper depths than this, so seeing them so shallow was really unusual and indicates that there are environmental factors here that allow for this. These observations are very important to keep a record of, so we have been photographing every species we see with detailed notes of their depths and surroundings. Yet another way that photography enables us to be better scientists and explorers!
Cold water doesn’t appeal to many people because of all the gear and the general discomfort it entails. For me, however, pushing my limits and knowing I can be comfortable diving and working in Arctic waters means that I can witness the ecosystems thriving in these harsh conditions. And these ecosystems are rich!! There is so much color and life here; and documenting it now is vital. The Arctic Ocean is the smallest of the world’s oceans, and it is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. The changes this is causing to the terrestrial and marine ecosystems need to be understood in order to alleviate and buffer their impacts. Now is the time to be studying this place, and I am so grateful that I am able to participate in this.