I’m back after last year’s hiatus. I did go into the field, but due to a continually down internet connection and an enthusiasm lower than the mercury level I wasn’t able to properly write about that field season. I went north, explored sites, slightly injured myself, and needed a helicopter rescue. In short, a success.
But this season I’m back in full force. I’m headed north now in charge of my own project, my own field camp, and an almost total degree of autonomy. It’s been a change in scale and responsibility that I had entirely underestimated. Being a lackey on someone else’s project is a lot of work, and at times stressful, but in the end you get to wash your hands of the responsibility of a failed endeavor. Knowing that the success or failure of this particular season is on your shoulders changes the game. So why the change in pressure? This is the first official season of my PhD where I have to implement my thesis design. And that’s the last I’ll mention of that damn thing. Life is bigger than grad school.
So what kind of changes does that mean for this season? This year I’m setting up my own field camp on Ellesmere Island, in the Canadian High Arctic. An assistant and I will be sleeping in tents surrounded by electrified dental floss and a nervously loaded shotgun (for the polar bears, not each other). We’ll be collecting data and hiking around to places that have only been explored by satellite images. It should be fun.
However, my season has started before I’ve even arrived. At the moment I’m on a plane headed to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories where I’ll have a day long layover until I fly further north. But the last month has been an ulcer-inducing, sleepless struggle to get things ready. For a simple field camp I’ll be taking in 200 pounds of scientific gear, 100 pounds of personal gear, and a further 300 pounds of camp gear. Add to this the stress that it’s not possible to ship directly to Ellesmere and what you have is a nightmare. The cost of shipping to Resolute (the furthest north you can fly/ship commercially) is $15 per kilo or about $7.50 per pound. This accumulates very fast. Mix into this a fistful of regulatory permits, overweight baggage restrictions, limiting funding, and the looming threat that there’s only one flight a month to where I’m going. It’s been a stressful few months preparing and now that I’m on my way to Yellowknife there’s nothing left to do but sit back and hope that all that checked baggage went through. Otherwise, it will be an interesting time in the Arctic.
So it’s with cautious optimism that I approach this field season. I may arrive and find that this season is harsher than previous years, and a prolonged snowstorm would make it impossible to even begin my work. I may get there and find that my baggage didn’t get on that one flight a month. Or I may get there to find that the bears have developed a profound taste for humans. At least I get a layover in Yellowknife first. It’s warm there, right?