I’ve arrived at my final destination. After an incredible 18 hours of plane flights, all within Canada, I’ve unloaded and unpacked at the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. At 80°N, it’s a land of blazing 24-hour sunlight, extreme dryness, and unpredictable weather.
Ellesmere Island is the northernmost island of Canada, and indeed all of North America. It’s quite a large thing and sits comfortably as the 10th largest island in the world. Eureka is a “small” weather station at the central far western edge of the island. It’s bounded to the south by a very cold fjord, and has some dramatic mountain ranges surrounding the horizons. The weather station is civilian run by Environment Canada and employs a staff of 8 people who stay year round to do a variety of duties and needs. There’s a senior officer in charge, a cook, a handy, a heavy equipment operator, a mechanic, and three weather technicians. This small staff keeps the station running throughout the polar winter and is efficient enough to accommodate a bustling summer population of up to 40 visitors. It’s a cozy group.
The station is well equipped to handle any and all events. There’s storeroom after storeroom of backups for backups, spare toilets, 10,000 napkins, 40 cases of laundry detergent, and even a box of vintage German porn on VHS for those lonely winter nights. There’s a mechanic’s workshop with lifters and loaders, sandblasting machines, and 3-foot wrenches. Everything. The guys and gals that run the station can fix anything that can be brought up, like trucks or tractors or sewage systems. The main building of the station consists of a galley, an opulent lounge, a small gym, and private rooms for the station staff. Even the transient visitors have it pretty damn nice in communal rooms. It’s certainly not the harsh situation you might imagine for the High Arctic. But all these facilities don’t come cheap. To stay here is $400/night for a bed, and an additional $160 for food for the day. Luckily I’m on a grant that provides me free accommodation, food, and flights for my time here. Otherwise my 45-day stay would cost around $28,000 for the station residence and a further $10,000 for flights (thank you Environment Canada). It’s mind-blowingly expensive to do anything up here.
In addition to the main facilities of Eureka there’s a nearby military station about 1.5km up a dirt road to the airstrip. The airstrip is a grated gravel runway that’s big enough to provide landing space for some large military aircraft. As for the army, these boys are up here for only 6 weeks during the summer in order to assert Canada’s “Northern Sovereignty” (the Arctic is still being colonized, despite what you may think of as set national boundaries. More on this in another post). They’re generally a pretty friendly bunch and a nice change of face for some fresh conversation. I remember the first time I saw the base a few years ago: the boys had taken off one of the outside doors and made a ping pong table out of it while they blasted rock music on the loud speaker. It’s sort of like Stripes meets Animal House.
Now that I’m here I suppose I should get to work. The one problem is that I’ve shown up two weeks too early. The snow has just melted and the land is 100% mud. The streams have become rivers and overland travel is nearly impossible. The amount of late drainage this year is due to a later-than-usual snowmelt and has caused a few landslides that have washed out the station’s dirt roads. Nothing’s in bloom and I can’t walk anywhere. This is the muddy season.