March 6, 2020

Polar bears head for shore, ghostly figures emerge in the polar night, and time stands still in the Yukon. Plus, drunken trees, Russian icebreakers, and why zooplankton love watching the northern lights. All in this week’s Up Here newsletter.

Remember to jump your clocks forward an hour this weekend.


Early newsletter this week as I'm traveling. It has now officially been a year since I launched this little project and it's meant a lot hearing from so many that they enjoy what we've created. You keep reading them, and I'll happily keep writing them.

Thanks for reading,
Jacob Boon 

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Lots of CORVID-19 news this week, as the novel coronavirus could mean big consequences for small northern communities: “There are few people and often isolated communities. But if a virus were to enter that community, the indoor climate is so tight that there is a risk of contaminating the entire population.” (
High North News)

Meanwhile, organizers for the Arctic Winter Games say they’re in “good shape” for any COVID-19 contaminations, with hand sanitizers, disinfectants, isolation protocols, and elbow bumps replacing handshakes. (Various).

Speaking of, reconciliation will be part of the athletic contest's action plan for the “first time ever,” with Yukon First Nations languages, cultures, and traditions recognized at the event. The 50th Arctic Winter Games kicks off next weekend in Whitehorse. (RCI)

Melting sea ice seems to be driving polar bears onto solid land, but it’s not impacting population figures. A recent study found the Baffin Bay predators are spending less and less time each year out on the ice where they hunt, but it hasn’t—as of yet—caused a decrease in their numbers. The finding aligns with local Inuit knowledge which has long argued the polar bear population was stable, if not growing. (CBC)

Stop signs were put up this week in Inuvik with traditional Gwich'in and Inuvialuktun translations—and then almost as quickly taken down. Turns out the Gwich'in translation more closely means "no" rather than "stop." New stop signs will go up after more consultation, but officials warn they don't want to rush anything. “I think we have to take it slow.” (CBC)
Northern Lights” is a photo series that combines archival Inuit portraits and nighttime polar landscapes. French photographer Fabric Wittner uses historical photos to cut stencils into leather tarps, which are then shot with a remote flash and a long exposure, creating these amazing images. “I could say these ghostly figures symbolize the conflict between ancient traditions and modern issues due to technology or environment matters,” Wittner says. “Like ancient memories coming from the past to witness the inevitable change of their world.” (PetaPixel)

“Of all the places to buy Inuit art in the Canadian Arctic, one of the most unusual is the minimum-security jail in Iqaluit.” The jail's arts and crafts program allows those awaiting trial or on short-term sentences to earn money for their families by selling their creations, but it's also useful for the inmate's state of mind. “You’ve got a piece of stone. You’ve got a file. All your anger, all your stress, all your effort goes into that piece of stone.” (Atlas Obscura)

We talked about festival season in the North last week, but I forgot to mention Naka! Yellowknife’s second-annual northern lights festival is gazing off this year into the frontiers of auroral science; both from western researchers and traditional Dene astronomical knowledge. (Cabin Radio)

It’s spring forward, and no turning back in the Yukon. The territory is dropping its seasonal time change after this weekend to permanently remain on Pacific daylight time. (CBC)

If Huawei is allowed to continue operating in Canada’s far North, the company would have the ability to interfere with local communications at Beijing's behest. If it's banned, “the barriers to doing business in the North combined with Huawei's dominant presence and infrastructure ownership could effectively shut parts of the North out of Canada's eventual 5G network.” (CBC)

Thawing permafrost is causing drunken trees; tilting timbers noticed by Indigenous Guardians, AKA federally-funded environmental stewards who monitor the health of the lands they grew up on. More guardians are set to be hired this summer to verify satellite imagery, as the NWT attempts to build a territory-wide permafrost map by 2021. (CBC)
The icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn arrives to restock the Polarstern. (Image by Rosmorport)


The Russian icebreaker tasked with resupplying the Arctic MOSAiC science expedition itself now needs assistance to make it back to Russian ports. The 129-metre ship set a new world record for the northernmost position ever achieved by a diesel-engined vessel in winter, but poor weather and thick ice used up far more fuel than planned. (Barents Observer)

Last week, we talked about African American explorer Matthew Henson; the first man to the North Pole. This week, Kimberly Aiken writes about Barbara Hillary; the first Black woman to set foot on the North Pole, and the first Black person to have visited both North and South Poles. Hillary (who passed away last year) left behind an incredible legacy. Especially, says Aiken (a polar and climate researcher in Arendal, Norway), for other diverse scientists who haven't often seen themselves represented in Arctic history. (The Arctic Institute)

Zooplankton, it turns out, can sense and respond to low levels of light from the moon and the aurora borealis, even while swimming under thick layers of ice and snow. It’s one of many discoveries scientists have recently made as we try to understand how light, sound, and chemical pollution are impacting fragile Arctic animals, great and small. (Scientific American)
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