And Now to the Lab!

Researcher Michel Poulin writes from the Arctic hamlet of Resolute, where he has been participating in a research project since May 4, 2011. His previous post described how ice-core samples are collected in the Arctic.

Tubular netting is hung up to dry in a laboratory.

A zooplankton net drying, at left. Image: Michel Poulin © Canadian Museum of Nature

Once we are back at the Resolute base and generally very tired, we have to unload all the gear and samples. Then we have to rinse in fresh water all the equipment used to collect the samples of ice, underlying water and zooplankton. We also rinse the instruments used to take light readings and measure environmental parameters such as the thickness of snow and ice.

The field equipment has to dry before the next excursion out on the ice. And, if any equipment is faulty, now is the time to repair it before the next outing.

In the meantime, all the samples are taken to the Parcoll tent that houses our laboratory.

We then proceed to slowly thaw the core samples before performing a series of physical, chemical and biological analyses on the meltwater.

Sub-samples of the meltwater will be used to determine the pH, temperature and salinity, as well as the concentrations of nutrient-matter that is essential to anything that contains chlorophyll. A parallel can be drawn with terrestrial plants, which also need these nutrients for growth.

Other sub-samples will be used to determine the amount of photosynthetic matter (microscopic algae) contained in the surface water and the subsurface layer of ice. When looking at the microalgal biomass, we are interested in the physiological state of the microalgal cells; what we observe can tell us whether or not they are content in their habitat.

We also study the productivity of microscopic algae in ice. We finish by identifying and counting cells for the algae collected in the surface water and the subsurface layer of ice. So we’ve got a lot of analysis work ahead of us.

This is where the lab team comes in.

Three test tubes of water in front of a filtration tower.

The filtration tower is used to filter the biological material that will then undergo analysis. Image: Michel Poulin © Canadian Museum of Nature

A pH meter is used to take pH measurements, and a salinometer is used to take salinity measurements. Nutrient samples are collected and stored in a freezer until it is time for the analyses to be carried out at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Biological analyses are done using a filtration tower (see photo). The filtration system has glass funnels of a given volume clamped to a metal filter base, and a pump. Each filtration unit has a valve that regulates filtration flow. It is easy to use:

  • place a clean filter on the metal filter base
  • clamp the funnel in place
  • pour a given volume of the sample into the funnel
  • activate the pump
  • open the valve
  • wait until there is no more water left in the funnel
  • retrieve the filter.

The filter gathers the biological material that will be used in the various analyses described earlier.

At this stage, we use different filters of varying porosity, but mostly the filters are very fine so that we can collect microscopic algae from the meltwater and surface water. These filters will be used for the chlorophyll analyses conducted with a fluorimeter in the laboratory.

Other filters will be used later to determine the following parameters: carbon, bacteria, gel substances and fatty acids. Zooplankton samples will also be analyzed for their fatty-acid content.

All in all, busy days ahead for the teams both in the lab and out in the field!

This entry was posted in Fieldwork, Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to And Now to the Lab!

  1. John Gilbert says:

    My daughter forwarded your blog to me as I have a number of pictures taken in the 50s of ice measurements at Resolute Bay and Eureka. At Eureka we took ice measurements with a telethermoscope. Ice and snow measurements were done with an ice and snow kit which, I think, came from the organization SIPRE. Primitive devices compared to your work but I wonder if anyone has kept track of the history and evolution of the measurement techniques?

  2. Michel Poulin says:

    John, thanks for your comment.
    I am not familiar with historical measurements of ice and snow that may have been conducted in the Arctic over the last 50+ years… if not more. It would be very interesting to know more about this topic. This is part of the historical background that at some point in time will be important to document, particularly in this time of rapid climate change affecting our Canadian Arctic.

    • John Gilbert says:

      Michel: I was a radio operator at Eureka (and briefly at Resolute) from spring 1956-spring 1958 which included the 1957 IGY. Radio operators in those days doubled as weather observers (others on the stations were upper air observers). Along with Monte Poindexter, who was then with the US Weather Bureau, I became concerned that our history was slipping away. Beginning in 2001 Monte started a web site and we got in touch with some 150 colleagues, Canadians and Americans, who had been in the five stations. Two (still around) were in the original team of six who set up Eureka in 1947. That team were so “mission oriented” that they sent out their first observations on the same day as they landed. We had gathered some 3,000 pictures from personal collections but for several years could get nobody interested in the stories. We had begun to lose hope when Edward Atkinson, Nunavut archivist, heard of our efforts and our collection became the first digital collection fot the Nunavut Archives. Edward and I gave a paper at the Polar Libraries conference. Thanks to Edward and Athabasca University we have now been “found” by Daniel Heidt and a group from the University of Waterloo who are writing a book on the JAWS and Aaron Munson, a film-maker, who is making a film about Isachsen. Recent interest in our stuff has been most gratifying. With that background, the scientific mission of the stations is, of course of historical importance. I have passed some material on to Dan, but there is much more. I have promised Dan that I will go back over my files to extract scientific references (including ice and snow observations). At one stage I was eager to save at least one building from the original stations but they are all gone now. However, the original reefer (a permafrost “fridge”) may still be at Eureka somewhere and could be maintained at little or no cost.
      Russ: Many thanks for the reminder of Expedition Arctic. I will certainly go to see it. David Gray had mentioned it to me a few months ago when we were in touch on the occasion of the sad loss of our mutual friend Stu MacDonald. Stu had shared with me his article on “The effects of a seal bite at Mould Bay”. I have a photo of Stu, who survived that potentially fatal experience, and Ted Gibbon who was attacked by a polar bear at Resolute in 1947. It is lovely picture of the two, then in their late 80s, which we labelled simply “survivors”.`

      • Michel Poulin says:

        Dear John, it is always a pleasure to hear about the Arctic, and more so on some little anecdotes of what you called survivors. I am giving you the name of Dr. Peter Johnson (, originally based at Carleton University in Ottawa, who has been part of a team building some infrastructures in Alert in the early 1950s. I am sure that he will be a good memory of many things that may have happened at that time and later as a scientist working in various parts of the Arctic. All the best in your historical endeavor.

  3. Russ Brooks says:

    If you are interested in Arctic research, you may wish to visit Expedition: Arctic, a new exhibition that the Canadian Museum of Civilization developed in collaboration with our museum. From the web site of the exhibition: “The Expedition was one of the world’s last great journeys of discovery before the age of modern communication, and airborne reconnaissance and rescue”.

  4. Russ Brooks says:

    Message from Dan Smythe:
    John: I read the string of comments about documenting ice measurements from 50 years ago. If it’s helpful, one of the museum’s scientists, Dick Harington, who is now retired, worked on Ellesmere during the 1957-58 IGY as a recent university graduate. We captured his recollections in a 2008 article for our museum newsletter – I can send it to you if you send me an email at And, if interested, you could follow up with him directly.

  5. John Gilbert says:

    Commenting on reverse order. I have responded to Dan Smythe off-blog. We had been in touch with Richard Harrington early in our efforts (around 2002) and I met with him. He provided us with many useful leads as well as with material about Lake Hazen and the scientists who had worked there.
    I recently visited the Museum`s exhibit “Exhibition Arctic” and am most impressed. It is a “must see” for anyone interested in the Canadian Arctic. Can we expect an exhibit about the early explorations of the Eastern Arctic as well?
    Dr. Peter Johnson has been a key partner in our efforts from the beginning. He had written an excellent article about the establishment of Alert which provided us with a basis for the pre-military history of Alert. Coincidentally we are now both residents of the same village in west Ottawa and run into each other from time to time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s