Arctic Field Ecology

Arctic Field Ecology – BIO300HF – Summer 2012


Instructors:  Roger Hansell and James Kushny


Phone:  (647) 285-1939; (416) 953-4069


Course Location:  Churchill, Manitoba at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre

(CNSC), Canada.

Address: CNSC, Box 610, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada R0B 0E0

Business Phone: (204) 675-2307

Fax: (204) 675-2139


Dates:  Sunday, August 12 to Saturday August 25, 2012


Course Overview:


Students will have the opportunity to explore Canada’s Arctic by investigating the arctic and boreal ecosystems and participating in ecological field research in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.  The course gives an introduction to the challenges that various organisms face living in the extreme arctic environment.  The adaptations to life in the arctic will be introduced with emphasis on life-history parameters, reproduction and eco-physiology.  The Arctic Field Ecology course will cover a broad range of disciplines including local natural history, plant ecology, snow and fire ecology, avian, mammalian and invertebrate biology, and the implications of climate warming and carbon budgets.

The structure of the course will involve daily lectures and discussions of relevant scientific literature, and active participation in field study and data analysis.




Travel – The most economical route is to drive up to The Pas, Manitoba and take the train in to Churchill leaving Friday night from The Pas, arriving for breakfast in Churchill. Student VIA Rail tickets should be purchased two weeks ahead.  Taking the train from Toronto is fun but expensive on the main line to Winnipeg.  A really fun trip is Winnipeg to Churchill by VIA Rail – leaving Winnipeg on Thursday and arriving in Churchill on Saturday for breakfast.  There are two departures from Winnipeg (to Churchill) per week.  The fastest route is by plane from Toronto.   Departures from Toronto (Air Canada) to Winnipeg connect to Churchill on Friday.  Calm Air is the carrier from Winnipeg to Churchill.  Check for seat sales, they could save you half the cost, if in effect.  Aeroplan Points may be used for both Air Canada and Calm Air travel but space is limited.  Be sure to let the CNSC know your arrival time so that they can pick you up at the station or airport.


Accommodation – The CNSC is situated at the site of the former Churchill Rocket Range where the famous Canadian Black Brant rockets were tested and much of the research on the Upper Atmosphere has taken place.  It is 15km east of the town of Churchill which has all facilities and lies at the mouth of the Churchill River.  A brand new facility was opened in 2010 which includes new accommodations, dining room, laboratories and Wi-Fi ( Students will be expected to share sleeping accommodations (2 bunk beds per room).  There are showers, washing machines and dryers.  The latter costs $7 per use due to water costs.  Three meals a day are provided.  Breakfast is at 7:30am until 8:00am, lunch is from 12:00pm to 1:00pm and dinner is from 5:30pm to 6:30pm.  On many days we take a packed lunch into the field.  In this case you will be expected to make up your sandwiches the night before.  During the day coffee, tea, juice, fruit and cookies are usually available.


Safety – For many students this will be their first experience of the North.  There are a number of safety concerns to bear in mind.  These include hypothermia, insect bites, dense fog and the ever presence of Polar Bears around the Centre.  Students taking the course must fully understand that they cannot go for walks unless accompanied by a designated person.  This includes stepping out of the CNSC building to look at Aurora Borealis at night!  On fieldtrips the group must stay together, students cannot wander from the group.


Course Materials:


An outline of lecture topics and provisional details of the field program is listed below.  This is an intensive course with very little free time.  There will be at least one lecture each day, usually in the evening, plus extensive work in the field.  In the first week we will visit the tree-line, forest lichen, coastal wetlands, salt marches, rocky headland tundra, fens and lakes.  In the second week you will design and carry out a three day individual project and report initial results in a seminar.  You will be expected to keep a field notebook and there will be a plant, animal identification/ecosystem test.


Evaluation:          Individual student reports (x3)  30

Plant and Animal Identification  10

Proposal & Outline of Project     5

Final Project Seminar                     15

Written Final Project Report          40




Reading List – Here is some recommended reading.  It is not necessary to read each title.  Remember, to learn about the Arctic you just have to be there!  Some students will want to purchase (*11) and (*12) which will be available at the CNSC gift store.  For an overview, review a basic text on ecology to get a sense of the vocabulary.


  1. Bliss, L.D. (Ed.), 1977.  Truelove Lowland, Devon Island Canada:  A High Arctic Ecosystem.  University of Alberta Press, Edmonton.
  2.  Bliss, L.C., O.W. Heal, J.J. Moore (Eds.), 1981, Tundra Ecosystems:  A Comparative Analysis.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Bradley, R.S. 1985.  Quaternary Paleoclimatology.  Allen and Erwin, London.
  4. Chapin, F.S., R.L. Jeffries, J.F. Reynolds, G.R. Shaver, and J. Svoboda (EDS), 1992, Arctic Ecosystems in a Changing Climate.  Academic Press, London.
  5. Chrnov, Y.I. 1985.  The living Tundra.  Cambridge University Press.
  6. Dahnke, H.V. 1981 Arctic Arthropods.  Entomological Society of Canada, Ottawa.
  7. Dredge, L.A. 1992 Field Guide to the Churchill Region, Manitoba.  Geological Survey of Canada Misc. Report 53.  Ottawa.
  8. Embleton, C. and C.A.M. King 1975.  Periglacial Geomorphology.  Arnold. London.
  9. Hansell, R.I.C., J.R. Malcolm, H. Welch, R.L. Jefferies, and P.A.C. Scott.  1998. Atmospheric Change and Biodiversity in the Arctic.  Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.  49:302-325.
  10. Hulten, E. 1968.  Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories.  Stanford University Press, Stanford.
  11. *Johnson, I.L. (2nd Ed) 1998.  Wildflowers of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Region.  Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature.
  12. *Pielou, E.C. 1994. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic.  University of Chicago Press.


Topics which will be covered in lectures include:


  1. Patterns and processes in Arctic landscapes.
  2. Tree-line processes at the limits of the Boreal Forest.
  3. Geology of the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
  4. Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation.
  5. Wetland ecology in a cold climate.
  6. Climatology of the Hudson Bay Lowlands.
  7. Lichens, Bryophytes and Life-history strategies of arctic plants.
  8. The dynamics of Arctic animals.
  9. Soil Invertebrates in the North and aquatic invertebrates in semi-saline and fresh water.
  10. Adaptations to life in cold climates.
  11. Insect-plant interactions in the North.
  12. Breeding birds of the Churchill Region and bird migration.
  13. Non-linear processes in the Arctic.
  14. High latitude energy and water balances.
  15. Impacts of climate change on landscape, organisms and people in the arctic.


Provisional Field Program, August 2012


Week 1.               Sunday 12th.  Evening:  Safety in dealing with Polar Bears; Life

Cycle Ecology of Polar Bears.

Monday 13th.  Rocky bluffs at Churchill, Cape Merry; Churchill

Eskimo Museum; Parks Canada interactive exhibit

and presentation; birding at Port of Churchill ponds;

Beech Bay.


TBA:  Coastal bluffs, Periglacial patterns and processes

Post glacial uplift and Sea level changes

Permafrost and active zone

Winter effects at tree-line

Twin Lakes Boreal Forest

Bryophytes and Fens

Bird Cove Salt Marsh

Show and tell quiz on animals, plants and environment


Week 2.               Saturday:  Visit to Fort Prince of Wales and Beluga whale watching

opportunity.  Depending on availability, helicopter rides to view

Polar Bears.

Sunday:  Discuss projects and prepare outlines

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday:  Research

Friday:  Evening: short student seminars on preliminary results

Saturday:  clean up, change bedding, pack and catch Plane/Train


3rd week in September:  Submit Final Project Report (written portion) plus illustrations and figures. Final due date: September 21, 2012.


**Important Reminders**


Payment of the remaining balance of your room and board fee is due on arrival in Churchill.  Please come prepared.


Clothing and gear:  When the wind blows off the ice of Hudson Bay it is cold!!!  You will need field boots and rubber boots, good rain gear and windbreakers and gloves.  On the other hand it may go up to 30 degrees C and you could need insect repellent, a bug net or bug jacket and running shoes.  Remember a hat, particularly if you are fair skinned.  If you have insect collecting equipment, bring it, also field notebooks and pencils.  Include cameras, binoculars if you have them.

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