Polar Bears International

University of Manitoba student Jordan Bunka, center, on the Beluga Cam boat in Hudson Bay, preparing for a live chat with cam viewers.

8/29/2017 3:08:14 PM

Hands-on Arctic Experience: A Churchill Student’s Dream

By Jordan Bunka 

03:00. Clad in our float suits we headed up on deck to check on the Agassiz trawl. The sun was out already, but fog and cloud darkened the light and cut us off from the distant shore. The trawl was gathering benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms and checking for sediment. We needed to know if there was enough of a sediment layer; only then could we drop the box corer to collect a sample for microbe analysis. Getting another core was important: We had only managed to collect one so far (it had been too rocky every other attempt) and we were already nearing the end of our voyage.

The ship halted so the trawl net could be pulled up. Our group of sleep-deprived researchers and students waited.

We threw bad jokes around, the kind only laughed at by those who have been up too late.

The net rose above the water and swung over the deck; a hard thud sounded as it dropped into a box. Not good. We opened the net and our hearts sank—a boulder! It was covered in benthic organisms, but no sediment: good for the people looking for little creatures, bad for the rest of us there to collect box cores. With no chance at sampling, we crawled back into our bunks to rest until breakfast.

Schools on Board program

My name is Jordan Bunka and I am a student attending the University of Manitoba. I was raised in Churchill, Manitoba, and am a product of a port town on the Hudson Bay. This summer, I traveled on the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Amundsen and worked with researchers from across the country and around the world studying the Arctic.

Traveling on the CCGS Amundsen is not an experience many get. One usually must be either a coast guard or, in the summer months, a researcher hoping to get some samples from Canada’s Arctic regions. Thanks to support from my community and Polar Bears International, I was lucky enough to join the crew this year as part of ArcticNet’s Schools on Board program.

Schools on Board is an outreach program of ArcticNet, based out of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It combines Arctic research with science education in Canadian high schools, increasing awareness around climate change and educating Canadian youth about the challenges and opportunities that surround Arctic research. In 2017, the program was specifically targeted at northern youth. As a Churchill resident, I was chosen to represent my town on the ship.

New perspectives

Being on the CCGS Amundsen was a privilege and an enlightening experience. Before stepping on board, I had never been seasick, I had never attempted to sleep while the wall next to me crunched through ice, I had never known what research was being done in the Arctic waters, and I had never seen the kind of life that lived beneath the waves of the bay that I had known my whole life! All of this soon changed.

Whether I was talking with the ship officers on the bridge or sorting zooplankton with one of the master’s degree students in the aft-labs, every moment taught me something new.

It was exhausting, but also a ton of fun!

While I drifted off in my bunk, I thought of those still on deck. As a student, I enjoyed somewhat regular hours but the researchers had to be awake for each sample station we visited if they wanted their samples, no matter the hour. Such is fieldwork on a ship running a tight schedule, but it is well worth it. This opportunity allowed me to learn about the research going on in my own backyard and how it affects my community; it was something I will remember for the rest of my life.

Jordan recently joined explore.org and PBI on the beluga boat for a day, sharing his experiences via the Beluga Cam. This summer he is working for Parks Canada in Churchill, Manitoba before returning to UM in the fall.

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