State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Switchyard Project: Day 1 – Alert, Alert, Alert

The first day of our operation is usually filled with a lot of work preparing and testing the instruments we brought up here, preparing the airplanes, loading our equipment into the planes, setting up the equipment in the laboratory and preparing the sampling containers. Since our operation requires drilling holes through the sea ice, we did a little test with our new drilling equipment today to see whether it is working under actual conditions. So, we are ready to go tomorrow and hope that the weather will be good enough to fly. More details about the way we actually get samples will be coming later in this blog.

Richard and Ryan during prep work

Meanwhile, it probably would be good to tell you about the place where we are staying for the duration of our project – it is a military station called CFS (Canadian Forces Station) Alert. Alert is located far north in a remote region named Qikiqtaaluk (no that’s not a typo), Nunavut, Canada approximately 800 km away from the geographic North Pole. Alert claims to be the “northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.”

Given the climatic conditions, there’s no doubt about the uniqueness of Alert, which has snow cover for 10 months of the year, very harsh winters, with temperatures as low as -40 degrees C (-40 F) and average summer temperatures hardly above freezing. Alert is named after the HMS Alert, a British ship that wintered around 10 km (6.2 mi) east of the present location of Alert in the winter of 1875 to 1876 during its arctic exploration work. In that year no other ship had ever been further north than the HMS Alert.

Alert was settled in the early 1950s as a weather station and soon became a military station, due to its proximity to the Soviet Union. Rumors are saying that Alert may be closer to Moscow than Ottawa (it’s up to the reader to verify it and let me know whether or not this is actually true).

Alert is a very fascinating place with lots of stories about crashed airplanes, the cold war and the hard life at the station in the early years.

Nowadays life is certainly not as hard as it has been during its settlement and doesn’t even come close to the stories of early arctic explorers that everybody knows about. Sure, internet connectivity is very very slow, using the telephone is restricted to 30 minutes per day, but the food is excellent, it’s warm and dry, and the Canadians can even watch live hockey matches on TV.

Me standing in front of the Alert sign.

If you want to know more please check-out these web pages:

Number of sampled stations today and overall (in parentheses):

LDEO: 0 (0)

UW: 1 (1)

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