How researchers cope for four months in Canada's coldest settlement
Published Tuesday, January 10, 2017 9:40AM EST
A team of Canadian researchers are preparing to head to a climate research station in Eureka, Nunavut, where they will live in close quarters for four months, conducting a series of environmental tests in pitch-black darkness.
It’s a job that is not for the faint of heart. There is little to no sunlight for four months of the year at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL), a climate research lab where the mercury drops to a frigid -50 C before even factoring in the wind chill.
The team will depart from Toronto and fly to a commuter hub such as Yellowknife. From there, they will board a chartered aircraft for a seven- to eight-hour flight, with two stops for refuelling.
At PEARL site, researchers will live in close quarters while they conduct a series of environmental tests.
PEARL site manager Pierre Fogal said, in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday, that his team is well-prepared for the four-month lab stay.
“You really want to take care to be properly dressed, and to have all your exposed skin covered up, and not to breathe too fast, because that cold air does not feel so good in your lungs, either.”
Fogal said the team will be measuring “atmospheric constituents” and other parameters. “Basically what makes up the atmosphere and how it moves around,” Fogel said.
But it won’t be all work and no play.
While the weather station is remote and isolated, Fogal said it’s equipped with a recreation room, gym, satellite TV and amateur radio station.
If it’s not too “cool,” the team will go for walks outside, Fogal added.
“We do a lot of reading,” he said. “We do a lot of work, actually, that takes up most of our time when we’re there because we’re there for a compressed schedule.”
Everyone at the site “has a different coping strategy” while living under harsh, isolated conditions with little to no sunlight.
“You get used to it, basically,” Fogal said, adding the team stick to a schedule that includes eating meals at a defined time so they have “some semblance of a daily routine.”
The weather station is currently seeing the “first hints” of daylight around noon, marked with a “bit of blue on the horizon.”
“Once the sun starts to come up, we gain sunlight fairly quickly, something like 20 to 40 minutes a day,” Fogal said.
But the team doesn’t remain only at the main site.
Three facilities make up the PEARL site, with the furthest being 15 kilometres from the weather station. With unpredictable and dangerous conditions, “we have had folks stranded up there,” Fogal said.
“So we check the weather very carefully either way before departing and we have had the occasional disruption along the drive.”
“We do have a lot of regulations and rules and best practices in place to make sure that we stay safe.”