By Danielle Chiasson
Now that the snow is melting in Churchill, the temperatures are creeping up above freezing, and the first migratory birds are passing through, we thought it would be a good idea to reflect on Winter 2020 before embracing the arrival of Spring.
In February, visitors from around the world began to arrive in Churchill to experience the wonders of the Northern lights. For many, donning parkas in extreme cold, travelling by snow machines, and watching the midnight skies light up in beautiful aurora were once in a lifetime experiences. One of the great joys of working at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC) and living in Churchill is the opportunity to share the beauty of the subarctic with others.
The CNSC hosted two Earthwatch teams this winter with volunteers from around the world. Earthwatch connects people with scientists to conduct environmental research and empowers the volunteers with the knowledge they need to conserve the planet. The CNSC is so lucky to host Earthwatch teams throughout the year and foster citizen science.
The first team to arrive in February were mostly from Australia and New Zealand. We made sure to welcome them warmly at -50℃. Once geared up and introduced to winter science, they spent the next 10 days collecting snowpack data. We traveled countless kilometers across the tundra and through the trees on snow machines – sometimes even braving ferocious snow storms. We dug hundreds of snow pits to analyze characteristics of the snowpack. There is something so magical about the contrast between the vast tundra landscape and the intricacies of snow crystals. Even in the depths of winter, there is so much beauty in Churchill’s landscape.
The CNSC was also home to many visitors eager to witness, learn and photograph the aurora borealis. Although our season was cut short in March by the coronavirus pandemic, we were still able to host two Learning Vacations, which are CNSC’s own programs and two groups of Road Scholars, a non-profit organization that supports lifelong leaners. With cold temperatures and clear skies our outdoor viewing deck and heated Aurora dome make the CNSC the perfect place to marvel at the dancing Aurora and get that perfect long exposure photograph.
Winter 2020 was also filled with what seemed to be an endless amount of snow shelters! We broke a CNSC record by building 27 snow shelters for local tour groups (not counting all the practice ones!). We explored and played on Hudson Bay sea ice, built bonfires and cooked smores, snowshoed through boreal forest winter wonderlands, and got stuck many, many times in the deep forest snow.
If there is one takeaway from this year’s winter season, it would be that no matter what is thrown our way – extreme cold, snow storms, lost or broken equipment, pandemics – we always find a way to have fun and keep warm together. Just make sure to pack some extra hand warmers. But don’t worry if you forget, we’ve always got extras to share.