Collecting on the Coppermine 100 Years after the Canadian Arctic Expedition: A Long Overdue Follow-Up Appointment

In a few short days, Canadian Museum of Nature botanists Dr. Jeff Saarela, Roger Bull and yours truly will depart Ottawa, bound for the Arctic hamlet of Kugluktuk, where adventure and new plant discoveries surely await us. For the next month, we will be documenting and collecting the vascular plants along the Coppermine River—a Canadian Heritage River and paddling hotspot—from the tree line to the coast, a roughly 40 kilometre-long transect of Arctic-plant biodiversity.

A map showing relevant locations.

Located in the western mainland of Nunavut (the Kitikmeot region), Kugluktuk is a vibrant community of 1500, and serves as the hub for our travels along the Coppermine River.

From Kugluktuk, a helicopter dispatched by the Polar Continental Shelf Program—Canada’s Arctic logistical support group—will take us to Sandstone Rapids, the first of three camps that we will establish along the river. Here, the favourable microclimate (warmth and shelter from the wind) provided by the Coppermine River Valley coaxes the tree line to its northernmost point in Nunavut.

A small shelter beside a few trees.

Taken in February, 1915, this photo shows the campsite of the Canadian Arctic Expedition at the northernmost spruce trees along the Coppermine River. With any luck, we’ll be able to relocate this grove nearly 100 years later. Image: Fritz Johansen © Canadian Museum of History

These spruce groves hosted a Canadian Arctic Expedition camp in the winter of 1915, and we are hoping to find these historic trees and sample them for the National Herbarium of Canada. Unfortunately, as the CAE passed through this area in winter, there are very few collections from that location and that era in our herbarium—a gap that we will soon fill!

From Sandstone Rapids, we will move north along the Coppermine, travelling by helicopter and collecting on foot until we reach Kugluk/Bloody Falls Territorial Park, a place known for both its infamous past, and for its present as “the” park for the residents of Kugluktuk. There, we will document the flora of the park—data that will contribute to the understanding and management of the park’s ecosystems for years to come.

Bloody Falls rapids.

Kugluk/Bloody Falls hosts a vibrant and often-visited territorial park, and hopefully a vibrant flora to match! Image: D. Gordon, E. Robertson © D. Gordon, E. Robertson (license CC BY-SA 3.0)

Finally, we will boat back into the community of Kugluktuk and spend a week collecting the plants within and around the town. We will cap off the trip with a big community presentation, giving the citizens of Kugluktuk the first chance to learn about our findings along the river.

This “spruce-to-shore” expedition allows us the unique opportunity to collect plant species along an ecological gradient from boreal forest through to low Arctic tundra. In particular, a complete assessment of the floristic diversity at the tree line will allow for (relatively) rapid assessment of climate change impacts in the future, as the taiga-tundra ecosystem is projected to be amongst the first impacted ecosystems.

The expedition team (from left to right): Paul Sokoloff, Jeff Saarela and Roger Bull, shown here in a photo from 2012 fieldwork, which also included fellow botanist Dr. Lynn Gillespie (in white hat). Image: Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

The expedition team (from left to right): Paul Sokoloff, Jeff Saarela and Roger Bull, shown here in a photo from 2012 fieldwork, which also included fellow botanist Dr. Lynn Gillespie (in white hat). Image: Roger Bull © Canadian Museum of Nature

As with our previous trips, we will live lightly on the land: camping in remote areas, eating delicious dehydrated food (cooked by our “chef extraordinaire” Roger), and aiming to collect over 1000 plants for the herbarium. Unlike our previous expedition, a paddling trip on Baffin Island, we’ll leave the boats at home; the rapids on the Coppermine are a bit too extreme for us, and it wouldn’t do to lose our collections down the river!

Follow the 2014 Arctic Botany Expedition live:
• Twitter: #naturescience
map
photos and messages sent from the field.

This entry was posted in Arctic, Fieldwork, Plants and Algae and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Collecting on the Coppermine 100 Years after the Canadian Arctic Expedition: A Long Overdue Follow-Up Appointment

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