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Mammoth Hemoglobin Shows Adaptations to Arctic Environment

May 5th, 2010 | By | Filed in Current Events, IN THE NEWS

The arctic is full of animals that have adapted to the region’s extreme conditions: Polar bear mothers delay implantation of fertilized eggs, waiting three to five months for gestation to begin. Walruses will shut down blood flow to their skin in cold water in order to conserve heat. And in arctic foxes, a special genetic adaptation that allows hemoglobins in their blood to release oxygen even at very low temperatures.

Turns out, this is nothing new. Recent research into mammoth DNA reveals that these extinct mammals, which share a common ancestor with today’s Asian elephants, developed a range of adaptation to extreme cold, from thick fur to smaller ears a genetic adaptation very similar to that in the fox that allowed their blood to continue delivering oxygen to cells, even in extremely cold conditions.

This doesn’t mean that mammoths and arctic foxes are related. As the article in the New York Times notes,

The DNA changes in the mammoth hemoglobin genes differ from those in other arctic animals, an instance of convergent evolution or attaining the same end by a different genetic route.

Revelations like these, that show how the mammoth’s bodily processes adapted to the cold, give scientists a better understanding of how these animals survived, and even raises the hope that scientists may someday be able to bring mammoths back. According to the New York times,

The suggestion was not as wild as it might seem, given that the idea came from George Church, a leading genome technologist at the Harvard Medical School. The mammoth’s genome differs at about 400,000 sites from that of the African elephant. Dr. Church has been developing a method for altering 50,000 sites at a time, though he is not at present applying it to mammoths. In converting four sites on the elephant genome to the mammoth version, Dr. Campbell has resurrected at least one tiny part of the mammoth.

Reconstructing the whole animal will take a little longer. “I’m 42 years old,” he said, “but I doubt I’ll ever see a living mammoth.”

I’m in my thirties. Maybe, if I start saving now, I’ll be able to afford a mammoth when I retire?

via Mammoth Hemoglobin Offers More Clues to Its Arctic Evolution – NYTimes.com.

Polar Bears of Devon Islands Bear Bay Exploratory Trip Photo Summary

May 3rd, 2010 | By | Filed in AK NEWS, Current Trips, FEATURED, Projects, TRIPS, Trips

The first exploratory snowmobile expedition from Grise Fiord – Canada’s most northerly community, to Resolute Bay was just completed a couple of days ago with polar bears seen on every day of the trip. For a total distance of 550km across Jones Sound, over Devon Island, across the Wellington Channel and finally down Cornwallis Island the trip allowed us to visit Bear Bay in Jones Sound where as the name suggests, many polar bears were seen. From young juvenile bears to even a 12’ giant we were able to witness bears in their natural element. An added bonus were the herd of muskoxen seen on Devon Island as we made the traverse to the Wellington Channel.

Below is a photo summary of the trip, from icebergs, to mother and cubs to the fiord we traveled down on inaugural trip.

Our Inuit guides calmly talked to the bear while it approached. As the polar bears approach, one raises your arms to appear bigger and make noise to make yourself appear bigger than them. After a while the bear lost interest and wandered away.

Read the rest of this entry »

Melting Ice Reveals a Treasure Trove of Ancient Tools

April 30th, 2010 | By | Filed in Arctic History, Current Events

Up in Canada’s Mackenzie Mountains, melting ice has revealed ancient weapons thousands of years old, including 2,400 year old spear throwing tools, thousand year old squirrel traps, and bows and arrows dating back 480 years.

Tom Andrews, an archaeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center in Yellowknife, describes researchers’ delight in the discovery.

“We’re just like children opening Christmas presents,” said Andrews, the lead researcher of the International Polar Year Ice Patch Study. “I kind of pinch myself.”

The discoveries are giving researchers a glimpse into hunting techniques that were utilized thousands of years ago. Because the specimens are so perfectly preserved, the archeologists are given a complete picture of how the tools were used. As Andrews explains,

“We are talking of complete examples of ancient technology, including arrows with wooden shafts, feathers and sinew hafting. These artifacts are giving us an entirely new appreciation of how ancient hunting tools were made and used,”

Until recently, these artifacts were locked in the ice created by snow patches that persisted year-round. Caribou flocked to these patches in summer to escape heat and bugs, making them a prime target for hunters.

Speaking of ancient hunters: Thomas poses with the harpoon he found in 2009.

Wonder Carries the Message of Disneynature's Oceans

April 29th, 2010 | By | Filed in Current Events

Many reviewers are praising Disneynature’s Oceans, but many have raised a question as well: Does the movie do enough to push conservation?

An opinion piece by Steve Scauzillo in today’s San Gabriel Valley Tribune suggests one answer, from Reese Halter, conservation biologist from Cal Lutheran University:

“My colleagues said it (the movie) does not hit hard enough on conservation,” Halter said. “But I said step one is to go on wonder. You’ve got to go on wonder.”

Wonderful. Extraordinary. Amazing. Those are a few of the adjectives that describe the movie. There’s this shot of the ocean floor teeming with crabs that’s both mind-boggling and a bit creepy at the same time.

I like that: Wonder is the first step to conservation. Wonder inspires scientists, adventurers, everyday people who care and are curious about their world. And, as Scauzillo notes, the need for conservation becomes more and more obvious every day. In Disneynature’s Oceans, we get a reminder of just how amazing the fantastic undersea world we’re called upon to protect truly is.

Elham Al-Qasimi en route to become first Arab woman on solo mission to the North Pole – Boing Boing

April 28th, 2010 | By | Filed in Current Events

Last week, BoingBoing posted a link to the journal of Elham Al-Qasimi, a polar explorer on her way to becoming the first Arab woman to make a solo expedition to the North Pole.

Just four days ago, on April 24th Al-Qasimi posted from the pole. She writes in her journal, “I dropped to my knees and looked around. Then pulled out a small ziplock bag of sand from the UAE desert that I had been using for Tayyamum and emptied the sand from my desert that I grew up with and came to be the person I am today, at the very top of the world. My mission was complete.”

Elham Al-Qasimi en route to become first Arab woman on solo mission to the North Pole – Boing Boing.

April Showers Surprise Catlin Arctic Survey Crew

April 27th, 2010 | By | Filed in Uncategorized

The Arctic is full of surprises. Ice breaks up unexpectedly, animals alter their migratory patterns, or the weather shifts suddenly, bringing snow. But there’s one thing you just don’t expect: Snow.

That’s just what the Catlin Arctic Survey Team encountered, though. Here’s the latest:

Paul Ramsden, the Catlin Arctic Survey Ice Base Manager, reported big raindrops fell during the shower. “I had to look twice. Snow flurries we expect, not rain. It is obviously quite worrying when you are camped out on ice! I felt distinctly nervous for a while because the consequences of getting wet here can be serious – but eventually it stopped and we are all safe” he said.

Such weather conditions are not only rare — they’re virtually unheard of. According to the Canadian Weather Officem, normal weather for Isachsen (located 20 miles east of the base camp) boasts highs in the -1.1′s (Celcius) and rainfall at “nil.” That’s based on climate data for a period stretching from 1951-1980.

The rain points to some serious changes taking place in the global weather system. Expedition Director and Arctic explorer Pen Hadow notes that, “there will be more unpredicted events like this as the climate of the region warms. Our team up there have already reported many locals people at Resolute have also been commenting on the unusual warmth of the winter this year.”

“Expeditions don’t expect to be confronted by rain and Arctic gear – clothing and tents – are certainly not made for rain. Polar clothing is made to be breathable not waterproof and if it gets wet it just freezes making it less effective in keeping body heat inside. The Arctic is normally very dry, but of course very cold, so I’m really pleased for the team that it didn’t rain for too long.

You can read more about the Catlin Arctic Survey — which includes updates on the team as well as insight into the science being done with the data they’ve collected — on their website.

Graham Dickson on Canada AM

April 23rd, 2010 | By | Filed in Team Interviews

As part of the promotional tour for Disneynature’s Oceans, Arctic Kingdom founder Graham Dickson has been doing interviews in all sorts of places. Yesterday found him on Canada AM, discussing Arctic Kingdom’s role in the feature film.

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Graham Dickson Interview Appears in National Post

April 22nd, 2010 | By | Filed in AK NEWS, Team Interviews

Graham Dickson


Arctic Kingdom founder Graham Dickson is in the midst of a media frenzy surrounding the North American release of Disneynature’s Oceans. Today, an interview with Graham appeared on the front cover of Arts & Life section of the National Post.

One of the things that’s great about this interview is that it really gives a sense of the scale of the work that Arctic Kingdom did on the Arctic portion of Oceans, and the wide range of considerations a small word like logistics covers. As Graham notes in the interview, it involves more than getting people and equipment from point A to point B:

“We had a post-production black-out tent, a kitchen and dining area in another tent with water supply, medical facilities and an emergency physician on site,” Dickson says. “Just to survive and run a camp in a remote location, let alone film there, requires a huge amount of equipment – it was approaching a military scale.”

While the tents themselves were heated, on raised beds and large enough for people to stand up in, the exterior conditions weren’t as cushy.

“Everything that we shot was obtained the hard way,” he says. “We’d be setting up rails on the ice while looking out for polar bears, while also sending out a crew on a boat. The logistics to move that number of people, supply them, feed them, have enough fuel, choose the right locations, making it all safe — it’s gargantuan.

“Furthermore,” he adds, “figuring out the right locations and right times to go is challenging. Climate change doesn’t help, nor do shifting migration patterns and ice floes, so it can be very unpredictable.”

From keeping people fed (not an easy task so many kilometers from the nearest corner store) to finding animals and helping crews get the right shot, bringing a film crew to the Arctic is no easy task. All of which makes Oceans an even more momentous event — a lot of people worked very hard to make this footage look effortless!

Read more: National Post: Meet Graham Dickson: essential Arctic tour guide


Graham Dickson Interviewed on CBC and CTV

April 22nd, 2010 | By | Filed in AK NEWS, Team Interviews

Early risers in Canada have a chance to see our founder and Chief Expedition Officer, Graham Dickson, interviewed live on CTV’s Canada AM this morning. Look for him at around 8:40 AM EST.

And in case you missed it, Graham’s interview with CBC’s Ian Hanomansing is now online. You can watch it on the CBC’s website.

And of course, Disneynature’s Oceans opens today in North America! As Ian Hanomansing points out in his interview with Graham, all the footage from the Arctic in the film is from Canada, and we’re proud to have played an instrumental role in obtaining that footage. I, for one, can’t wait to see the finished product!

Happy Earth Day!


Collider.com posts 5 Clips from Disneynature’s OCEANS

April 20th, 2010 | By | Filed in Films

Oceans opens this Thursday, and we couldn’t be more excited. Here are five new preview clips, via Collider.com. There’s a brief ad at the start, but it’s worth sitting through!

5 Movie Clips from Disneynature’s OCEANS – Collider.com.

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