August 21, 2020

Tracking sea ice with discarded polar bear collars, the return of beavers to the High Arctic, and the loss of a newly discovered ice ecosystem. All in this week’s Up Here newsletter.

The Polarstern, housing the MOSAiC scientific research project, travels towards a “thin and porous” North Pole. (Photo Steffen Graupner)


The temperature has finally dropped here in Yellowknife and “summer,” such as it was, is on the way out. I'm trying not to think about how imminently winter will be arriving, which is easy when virtually all the news this week is about how record temperatures are melting sea ice and setting the Arctic on fire. So let's get to it...

Thanks for reading,
Jacob Boon 


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Polar bears, unsurprisingly, do not like wearing GPS collars around their necks. In fact, the bands are purposely designed so that if one becomes an irritant the bear can easily remove it. Usually, that means no more bear data. But some inventive scientists have repurposed the dropped collars to track how the melting sea ice they were discarded on drifts in Hudson Bay. (Scientific American)

When the last of the Arctic’s ice shelves collapsed in early August, it took a newly discovered ecosystem with it. Jimmy Thomson talks to the scientists who'd hoped to study the Milne Ice Shelf’s epishelf lake organisms: “‘I won’t tell you how I swear in French,’ he says. It was as if he had discovered a whole new room in his house, only to have it demolished.” (
Hakai Magazine)

Fear not, downtrodden scientist, climate change needs only to warm the High Arctic by a few degrees and beavers might return to Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island, where they and many other long-gone animals used to live three to five million years ago. (

Did you know every year more than 300 species totalling one to three billion birds arrive back in the Boreal Forest to nest and raise their young? Billion! (Audubon)

China’s effort to buy the Hope Bay mine southwest of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, is raising concerns. Shandong Gold Group and other state-owned companies have been on a buying spree of deposits of gold and rare earth metals, “quietly acquiring assets just below the threshold for regulatory intervention.” (

The Northwest Territories government wants to reopen the harvest of the Mackenzie wood bison population. The Wek'éezhìi Renewable Resources Board (WRRB) says the population has recovered since 2012, when an anthrax outbreak killed hundreds of bison. (

Meanwhile, in the NWT, many live music venues are still closed, and some local musicians are worried about the future of their industry: “We have no real idea whether it will be revived or not,” says Leela Gilday. (Cabin Radio)
Speaking of Gildays, Yellowknife's David Gilday is the newest inductee into Speed Skating Canada’s Hall of Fame. “Gilday initially got involved in speed skating as the parent of skaters—daughter Jill and son Michael, a short track Olympian in 2014—but developed a lifelong love for it and has remained involved ever since.” (

Where do Northerners go to get away from it all? In this no-travel summer, we asked 30 northern residents where they’d want to visit for a staycation in their home territory. Watching the narwhal migration at the floe edge near Pond Inlet was high on one respondent's bucket list. (
Up Here)
“The taste, the appearance, the way that it feels, you can absolutely tell,” she says. “I’ve always maintained the mantra that we should be eating less, but better meat.” Dawson City butcher Shelby Jordan has a cure for the Yukon. (Up Here)

After decades of discussion and nearly two years of planning, the Northwest Territories finally got a 911 service last November. But when the day arrives in which a call comes in Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé), Inuvialuktun, North Slavey (Sahtúǫt’ı̨ne Yatı̨́), or any of the territory’s nine official Indigenous languages, will the dispatchers be ready? (
Up Here)

An Indigenous bannock mix will soon be on store shelves in northwest Canada and the United States. Teresa Ward, the owner of Grandma Treesaw’s Yukon Bannock, sells a ready-to-make mix that’s already available in the Yukon. But now her small business will get additional growth support after being chosen to take part in a pilot program from the Trade Commissioner’s office of British Columbia-Yukon and Seattle. (

The NWT’s minister of industry, tourism, investment and infrastructure had her portfolios stripped this week. Katrina Nokleby is still part of the executive council but is a minister without a ministry. Premier Caroline Cochrane said MLAs “no longer have confidence” in the minister’s ability to fulfill her responsibilities. What any of that means, MLAs in the territory’s consensus government
aren’t saying. (CBC)

After furor from Inuit, a church plaque in Stephenville, Ontario that incorrectly claimed inuksuit were first built by a white priest has been taken down. (

StatsCan will, for the first time, conduct a survey in Inuktut (specifically in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun). The survey will focus on government employees living in Nunavut. (

The second- and third-place finalists from this year’s Sally Manning Award for Indigenous Creative Non-Fiction are now online. Shelly Wiart shares a heartfelt story of discovering her Métis identity in
My Northern Healing, while Carol Rose GoldenEagle offers a touching memory of her family’s year-long Christmas tradition in The Ugly Little Christmas Tree. (Up Here)

After months of being unable to practice due to public health orders, two Indigenous youth in Fort Providence organized a limited hand games tournament this past weekend. It was a huge success, which these days comes with drawbacks. More than 20 teams arrived, forcing organizers to turn some groups—who’d travelled from their own remote communities—back in order to adhere to public health rules. (
Inuit sled dogs on the 1968-69 British Trans-Arctic Expedition. (Photo by BTAE))


Back in 1969, only seven weeks before mankind set foot on the moon, a four-man team of explorers and their Inuit sled dogs finished crossing the frozen Arctic Ocean on a journey from Alaska to Norway via the North Pole. The British Trans-Arctic Expedition “was poised to set out from the New World back to the Old World across a bridge of ice—which, with the ravages of accelerating climate warming, no longer exists today.” (Canadian Geographic)

You can say that again. The multi-year MOSAiC international science expedition also crossed the North Pole this week, having mostly travelled through open water in a region normally home to thick, multi-year ice. “I’m very surprised to see how soft and easy to traverse the ice up to 88° North it is this year, having thawed to the point of being thin and porous.” (
High North News)

Enjoy what's left of the Arctic's summer ice while you can. It's only got 15 years left before it melts. (
National Geographic)

Meanwhile, president Trump signed a tax bill last week that includes a provision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to significant oil drilling for the first time. Here's what's at stake. (
National Geographic)

And for more on Trump's ransacking of Alaska: “Inside the fight to protect Bristol Bay and the Tongass National Forest—the biggest wild salmon run on Earth and the largest intact temperate rainforest on the planet.” (
Rolling Stone)

Climate change also risks melting permafrost beneath an oil drilling project in Alaska, “making its rigs and roads vulnerable to the same global warming the project is aggravating.” What's the solution? Re-freezing the melting tundra with industrial “chillers.” (
Bloomberg Law)

Finally, record Arctic blazes may herald a new “fire regime” decades sooner than expected, say some wildfire scientists. Even though it’s been a mild summer in northern Canada, fires across Siberia—the kind of fires scientists didn't expect to see for another 30 years—have made 2020 a record-breaking year for carbon emissions from wildfires. The previous record-holder? 2019. (Washington Post)
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