Tag Archives: Kugluktuk

The Arctic Circle

On Tuesday, January 10, Crystal Ernst delivered a talk entitled, “Arctic Arthropod Ecology and the Northern Biodiversity Program”, at the annual general meeting of the Arctic Circle, a group of Arctic researchers and aficionados that meets monthly in Ottawa, Ontario.

The talk provided some background information on the importance of arthropods to biodiversity and in ecological research, and some examples of recent changes in the biodiversity of arthropods in northern Canada were explored. There was a discussion of the history of arthropod collection efforts in the Arctic, including the Northern Insect Survey of the mid-1900s. The presentation finished with an overview of the research being undertaken by the Northern Biodiversity Program and some interesting data coming out of an 8-week study of the beetle fauna in Kugluktuk, Nunavut (part of Crystal’s PhD research).

The 45-minute presentation was very well received by an enthusiastic audience of 50+; many thoughtful questions were asked at the end (and again after the meeting had been formally concluded!). Crystal was grateful for the opportunity to work on her lecturing skills with such a receptive group and has been invited to return with an update at a future meeting!


Final report for field season 2010

Well, it’s official:  field season 2010 has come to an end.  Our teams did an incredible job traversing the eastern regions of northern Canada, working in 8 communities in 5 provinces and territories.   A mind-boggling number of specimens have been collected, along with important environmental data.  Now the real work begins!  Before we talk about the next stage of the project, some of our team members have provided some snapshots of their final days in the North.  I think it’s safe to say this summer was one that won’t soon be forgotten.
Sarah Loboda on Lake Hazen
Hazen is a dream for anyone who likes to be isolated in a tent on an amazing site; Hazen was a dream for me. I felt so lucky every second I was there even after a few days of work because to work in Arctic is a great opportunity!  This ecosystem is breathtaking. It felt like a privilege to see it. Ellesmere Island is almost the size of Great Britain but with only one thousand people on it I would say (because of military bases). It was exactly what I needed : free space for my free time. 


I spent all my free time hiking around. My best hike was with PhD students I met on the camp. We left the camp at 10 pm. We followed Skeleton Creek and climbed the crete on the hill between Blister Hill and McGill Mountain. It was perfect!  Funny to hike at night time.  McGill Mountain was a challenge, probably the most difficult mountain I climbed.  There was no trail but so many rocks. Every step you make, you fall half a step because of rolling stones.  Meagan was amazing. We call her “the mountain goat”. She was so fast; she arrived 45 minutes before us! On the top, there was a box with a journal to put your name and your comment. And surpris: a student from Alberta put a bubble bottle to make bubbles on the top of the mountain ! What a great idea 🙂 and what a view. It was the only place where I saw both extremities of the giant lake. Bigger than what I imagined before going. And the other side was spectacular too, a lot of mountain with glaciers. It was too cold (around zero) to stay on the top…but I kept a picture of the view in my head.  What I did in Arctic was unforgettable: meet people with incredible background, hike and drink water from glaciers and see mystic animals like muskox and arctic wolves. When you go once, you just want to go back to see more.
Patrick Schaefer on Iqaluit
The final stretch in Iqaluit was amazing. The weather really picked  up after Chris left, and we had some warm days at 22oC. This was  approaching the historical high temperatures of 23oC for Iqaluit.  These days were spent going on long hikes doing  opportunistic collecting, and finding snow patches for photo ops. One of the more interesting finds was another hornet’s nest inside a Caribou skull!   Unfortunately, the last few days were quite a bit colder. Since I  study biting flies, I was probably the only one upset by the lack of  mosquitoes on those days. Overall, I found the summer temperatures to be more agreeable up north than those of my home town of Toronto,  where the temperatures will get to the high thirties and low forties with 100% humidity.  We spend these last few days taking in out terrestrial traps, sampling for aquatic insects and making ready for our departure. We are very grateful to Jamal Shirley, from the Nunavut Arctic College for all his help and for kindly agreeing to run a malaise trap for us throughout the rest of the summer. This will allow us to get an idea of any seasonal changes in the insect community that we might have  missed as the summer comes on an end in the north. We also prepared a small collection of local beetles, wasps and butterflies for the Nunavut Arctic College. These specimens were collected by children participating in a summer science camp and they had a great time in the process!  Luckily our departure from the north and arrival at our various home universities went smoothly. I am looking forward to examining the insects we found this year, and next year’s field season.
Donna Giberson on Lake Hazen
Lake Hazen is known to be an “arctic oasis” that is considerably warmer and lusher than many other arctic localities located much further south, and while we were there we experienced highly variable weather… everything from near freezing and 30 knot winds to calm and beautiful days in the high teens and low 20s.  The site had an earlier than usual start to the season this year, so by the time we arrived, many of the flowers had finished blooming, and the season seemed well advanced.  The lake still had a lot of ice on it as well, but all the ice disappeared while we were there. 

Jul 26 view of Hazen camp from lake

Hazen Camp (Lake Hazen, Nunavut)

We stayed at “Hazen Camp” which is maintained by Parks Canada, and consists of a number of all-weather shelters for park staff.  Visiting researchers set up tents in the camp area, and are also allowed to use the a kitchen shelter with a propane stove and a way to get out of the weather while we cooked.  Several of the shelters date back to the 1950s and have been refurbished by the park.  Some new sleeping shelters were actually constructed while we were there this summer.  Access to the site is by Twin Otter out of Resolute Bay, and it is an incredible 3.5 hour or so flight to get there.  The landing is a bit exciting, with a very bouncy runway.
The terrain was generally very dry though, and was dominated by Dryas (white mountain avens) hummocks that were quite difficult to walk on.  The area is quite mountainous, with ice caps and glaciers that feed streams that empty into the lake.  Valleys in the mountains behind the camp are fed by melting permafrost in the active layer, and there were tundra ponds and sedge meadows in most nearby valleys.  Our main sampling sites were set up in one of these valleys, called Skeleton Valley, in the hills behind camp.  We didn’t venture too far from camp (only a few km) for our sampling, as we had to carry everything by foot, but the students enjoyed some of the spectacular hiking in the area.  We were also able to tag along with a helicopter that was on site doing work for Parks Canada to get across the lake to sample the river and surrounding areas that flows out of Lake Hazen.  

Jul 26 Meagan and Sarah on hill above ruggles river

Meagan and Sarah sampling above Ruggles River

After nearly two weeks of sampling, which included the aquatic sampling, the setting up and regular servicing of the pitfall, pan, and malaise traps, as well as extra pan trapping in multiple habitats and considerable opportunistic sampling with the sweep net, we had one of the nicest days of our time there to pack up our gear and wait for the plane to take us out.  It was a bittersweet day; it was hard to leave such a gorgeous spot, but the team was pretty tired after their intensive summer, and anxious to get back home.    

Jul 22 view of skeleton valley and lake hazen

A view of Skeleton Valley and Lake Hazen

Hazen was an amazing experience, and I’m glad I had the chance to work there.  Now we have to buckle down and sort samples to find out what we found!
Crystal Ernst on Kugluktuk:
The last few weeks in Kug were an exciting whirlwind of activity.  Final trap collections were conducted and trapping equipment was removed and packed for the journey back home.  Amidst this work, some amazing things were happening with the youth of Kugluktuk; kids of all ages were getting excited about bugs and science! 
A great opportunity to work with Kug youth presented itself when leaders from a visiting Actua Science Camp allowed me to spend a day with their campers.  We talked about the importance of insects in their community and then headed outside to see what kind of bugs we could find.  The kids had a blast turning over rocks for spiders, trying out “real scientists’ ” equipment (sweep nets and aspirators), and gleefully tucking creepy-crawlies in their own vials. 
Science camp kids

Campers and leaders from Actua Science Camps

I was delighted when, upon returning to the community centre, they immediately turned to the field guides, microscopes and hand lenses  I’d brought, eager to discover the identities of their critters.  The perfect conclusion to the day was when one little girl whispered confidentially, “I’d like to be a scientist when I grow up!”
Classes at Kugluktuk High School resumed in August, providing me a chance to work with some older students.  During the first week of school, students participate in week-long mini-courses on various subjects.  I worked with two teachers to develop a course on northern insects and climate change.   I gave a well-received talk and collection method demonstration for their very keen students, and then spent two days in the field with them.  On the second day, the students’ newly acquired skills were put to the test: we travelled out on the land to one of my trapping sites, where they carefully gathered the contents of pan and pitfall traps, set up malaise traps, and practiced sweep-netting.   These traps were left in place, and the students continue to collect their contents weekly – this will provide data for nearly an entire summer season in Kug!  Since my departure, the high school students have visited the primary school to teach the younger students about their experiences.

Students work together to collect a yellow pan sample.

Last but not least, my stay in Kug coincided with the final leg of the journey undertaken by Canadian high school students aboard the CCGS Amundsen, the coast guard ship that hosted ArcticNet’s Schools on Board program.  These students, who hailed from high schools across northern Canada, joined up with some of the local students and spent the day with me on the Coppermine River, sampling aquatic invertebrates in the rapids.  It was a beautiful day, and we had great fun spooking ourselves with the large black and yellow stone flies hidden under rocks on the shore. 

SOB crew

The gang from Schools on Board and Kug High School at Bloody Falls

Meagan Blair on Lake Hazen:
Entomological field work at Lake Hazen was a success and the view at this arctic oasis was absolutely amazing!  Despite some weather related travel delays (both on the way there and back), the trip went very smoothly.  Aside from insect collection, some personal highlights of the trip were: arctic camping, hiking Mount McGill, and gazing….from a distance of course….at the magnificent musk oxen.  Now that we are back in the lab processing samples, I cannot wait to see what we collected from this pristine environment.

NBP in the news: The Creepy Crawlie Collector

The creepy crawlie collector

Crystal Ernst is spending her summer chronicling Kugluktuk’s shifting array of insects

(Jane George, Nunatsiaq News, July 19, 201o)
Dragonflies and grasshoppers.

 When you picture these two insects, you probably imagine them in a tropical climate— or at least some place in southern Canada.

 But now you can find both of these warmth-loving insects in the western Nunavut community of Kugluktuk, along with a variety of beetles, spiders, bumble bees and, of course, biting flies and mosquitoes.

The healthy and numerous bug population of Kugluktuk is one reason why Crystal Ernst, a graduate student from Montreal’s McGill Univ., came to the community this summer to collect insects and spiders.

Read the full article at Nunatsiaq News Online 

Update from Team Kug: aquatic sampling at Bloody Falls

From Crystal:

I had a unique opportunity yesterday: Kenny, my bear monitor, offered to take me by boat about 18 kilometers up the mighty Coppermine River to the historic Bloody Falls to conduct aquatic sampling in the rocky rapids.     

Heading to Coppermine: a view of Kug's north shore by boat.

Kenny ably navigated the aluminium boat down the winding river.   Although it was overcast and drizzly, there was no denying the spectacular beauty of the plunging, sandy shorelines and rugged terrain behind them.   Not long into the journey, we spotted some flecks of colour on the dark waters – it was Angut Pedersen and his fellow students returning from their canoe trip!    

Angut Pedersen and other campers returning to Kug


We passed them (they were all smiles, being on the home stretch of a 310 km journey!) and continued upstream.   Soon we came upon the first signs of rapids.   The choppy water was murky and hidden dangers lurked beneath…CLUNK…our propellor hit a large rock!  The damage wasn’t terrible, but we quickly brought the boat ashore, deciding to hike the rest of the way.  

We unloaded our gear.  Unlike the vast majority of the incredibly sandy landscape in the region, this stretch of land was littered with rocks.  Difficult for hiking, but perfect for sampling aquatic organisms!    The fairly recent spring ice break and thaw added an extra challenge onshore: the ice carries a large amount of sand and this all gets deposited on the shoreline during the thaw.   The rocks were slick with mud and interspersed with dripping chunks of melting ice.  

Rocks, mud and ice.

 We conducted the standardized aquatic sampling protocol in the rapids…stonefly, mayfly and black fly larvae were readily collected from the water, and adults were discovered hiding from the inclement weather under rocks on the shore. 

Aquatic sampling at Bloody Falls

The gear was once again packed, and we hiked our way about 2km upstream to a second sampling site closer to the falls.   Although it was impossible to sample directly in the main rapids themselves, a brief scenic detour for a closer look was most definitely in order (click on thumbnails to enlarge).

Bloody Falls on the Coppermine River

A second round of successful sampling just downstream from the rapids concluded the day.   Other highlights included finding beautifully preserved grizzly bear, wolf and caribou tracks in the mud on shore, and discovering tidbits of native copper on a rock  lying underwater. 

Grizzly bear track, front foot.

 All in all, it was a spectacular day, and one of my most memorable since arriving in Kug.

What we’re up to

Moose: mobbed by merciless mosquitos.

Goose:   likin’ the lichen.

Kug: finding flies in fog.

Meet the Team: Crystal Ernst

This week’s profile features Crystal Ernst, Ph.D. student at McGill University.


I earned a B.Sc. (2003) and M.Sc. (2005) in Biology from Carleton University; my research there focused on plant-insect interactions and communities in the context of biological invasions.   Between 2005 and 2010 I worked in the public sector for various federal agencies, including  NSERC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Parks Canada.   The five-year hiatus made me realize how much I actually wanted to pursue an academic career.   I was admitted to McGill University in January 2010, where  I am now a Ph.D. student in Dr. Chris Buddle’s lab.   

I was still in the process of researching possible schools/labs when Chris told me about his plans for the NBP.  This program offered everything I was looking for in a Ph.D. project – innovative research, extensive field work in exciting locations, and an incredble oportunity for multidisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborations – so of course my reaction was a resounding “Count me in!!!”

My work in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, during the summer of 2010 will have three main thrusts:

  1. Conduct the standardized two-week NBP arthropod sampling protocol; my 8-week stay in “Kug” will allow me to gather unique temporal data with three collection periods;
  2. Conduct manipulative field experiments related to the effects of temperature on ground-dwelling insect communities; and
  3. Work with students and others in the community to generate a collection of locally significant insects while providing informal training and educational opportunities; enhance the usefulness and meaning of the collection with relevant Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).

Broadly, I am interested in how the structures of ground-dwelling insect communities are affected by climate change and other environmental variables.  I will use data from my own field experiments as well as the sampling being conducted by the entire team to answer my research questions.  I am thrilled to be a part of this program, and honoured to work with such a great team.

Team Kug is on the tundra

Hello from Kugluktuk, Nunavut!

Team Kug’s work is well underway…Angut, the high school summer student acting as Crystal’s field assistant/guide, has proven to be an invaluable source of local knowledge.  The team has been navigating the tundra trails on ATVs, locating sampling sites.   Two of the standardized trapping grids are now established; you can see in the picture below that the landscape is very different than that in which the other teams are currently working.   However, as barren as it may seem, the land is actually bursting with spring growth, including many beautiful wildflowers.

A lonely Malaise trap next to the lake

The Malaise trap set yesterday (pictured above) already has a good catch of mosquitos, while the pan and pitfall traps are successfully snagging many wolf spiders and ground beetles, as well as small flies.   Bumblebees have been sighted, as has a butterfly.  The team will set up the final grid tomorrow, then hopefully start some opportunistic sampling. 

There are many beautiful aquatic habitats dotting the landscape; but they’ll have to thaw a bit more before any sampling can take place!

Ice on S Lake