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Arctic Diary – Summer at CFS Alert - July 2002

We are returning to Alert to collect data and photographs of Arctic shorelines to compare to satellite radar images. We will study the same places in both winter and summer to understand how accurately the radar is recording coastline features. Even though it is the middle of July, there is still ice floating in the Lincoln Sea that surrounds CFS Alert. The landscape looks different each day as the wind and tides move the ice chunks in and out of the bays and inlets.
In satellite images, huge ice chunks that get beached on the shoreline cause radar reflections that make them look similar to a rocky coastline. These satellite images can be confusing for the people trying to create accurate maps of the Arctic.
As we travel around the area, we discover many different types of terrain. Between two hills a lush tundra meadow has so many tiny white cottongrass blooms growing out of the moss-covered ground, it almost looks like snow. The ground is quite moist due to run-off from melting glacial ice on the hillside.
In contrast to the green valleys, the top of a hillside near Hilgard Bay looks like a barren moonscape. This pile of rocks was likely deposited on this high ground by glaciers moving over the land thousands of years ago.

In summer the run-off from melting snow and ice carve deep troughs into the soft clay at the bottom of the hills.
As we rest at the top of the hill, an Arctic fox is not shy about approaching us. His dark fur blends in well with the rocky landscape, and his lightweight summer coat makes him look smaller than the foxes we saw at our winter camp. Foxes feed on many things, including the eggs and nestlings of ground-nesting birds in the summer months.

A small group of Peary's caribou, grazing on the vegetation near Alert, is very curious about us as we travel past them. These animals, which are an endangered species, can eat a wide variety of plants, including lichen.
The hardy Arctic willow grows close to the dry, stony ground during the short growing season, far above Canada's tree line.

During an excursion to Dean Hill, we discover why the personnel at CFS Alert call it "Crystal Mountain". A bit of prodding with our boots on the loose slate and shale rock that covers the mountain surface easily reveals quartz crystal formations.
A technician from the Canadian Hydrographic Survey checks the water level elevation at Alert Inlet. They have installed tide gauges that will automatically measure water and atmospheric pressure for a long-term study to see if there are any changes in sea level around the Arctic Ocean. These changes can be caused by a natural decompression of the earth's crust.

Canadian Forces personnel at CFS Alert celebrate the "warm" days of their short summer season with a Polar Dip into the Arctic waters. It is a brief but memorable swim when the temperature hovers around freezing.

Week Five / Arctic Diary/ Navigation Experiments - April 2003