A truck loaded with ice blocks to turn into water.

Cutting ice blocks to turn into water is all part of a day's work for a polar bear scientist.

© Dr. Andrew Derocher

4/28/2012 10:07:44 PM

Weather Daze

By Dr. Andrew Derocher

Another weather day in Ulukhaktok. The sun is shining but the wind is screaming across the ice. Nonetheless, we have things to do. Our most recent adventure involved fetching ice for water from a nearby lake. While the houses in town have a water truck delivery service, the research house we're staying in doesn't have plumbing. Ironically, we have access to borrowed wireless Internet thanks to our generous neighbour, Brad Carpenter, but things water-wise are rudimentary.

An intrepid local, Harold Wright, taught us the fine art of chipping ice blocks. Sound simple? Well, it's all about technique. You might think brawn, but in this process, it's all about finesse. First, you have to find a good clear crack, then give it a sharp repeated hit with a hatchet in the exact same spot. You'll see the ice split down deep and if you keep at the right spot, you'll crack off a good 10-20 pounds of ice.

After successfully chipping ice blocks, we loaded up the truck and made our way back to the cabin. We managed to fill our 45 gallon drum. With luck, our stack of ice will keep us in good order for some days ahead.

Now if only we could figure out how to change the weather! Humans are managing to change the climate, but that's different from the weather. Mind you, it's far warmer today that it's supposed to be. I still like the definitions a climatologist gave to me many years ago: "Weather is what you see when you look out the window, but climate is what you expect to see." I know what I'd like to see, but maybe in a couple of days ....

Dr. Andrew Derocher is a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta and a long-time scientific advisor to Polar Bears International.

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