Earlier this year, we looked at the migration of the arctic tern, which commutes more than 50,000 miles in a year as it migrates from pole to pole.
An article in yesterday’s New York times reveals that terns aren’t the only long-distance flyers. And the bar-tailed godwit, which makes an annual pilgrimage south from Alaska to New Zealand, makes non-stop flights of unprecedented length.
In 2006, Biologist Robert E. Gill, curious about why the godwits fattened themselves up for what scientist believed was a migration along food-rich shores, tagged the godwits with transmitters.
The transmitters sent their location to Mr. Gill’s computer, and he sometimes stayed up until 2 in the morning to see the latest signal appear on the Google Earth program running on his laptop. Just as he had suspected, the bar-tailed godwits headed out over the open ocean and flew south through the Pacific. They did not stop at islands along the way. Instead, they traveled up to 7,100 miles in nine days — the longest nonstop flight ever recorded. “I was speechless,” Mr. Gill said.
Since then, scientists have been tagging other migrating birds, revealing feats of endurance no one had expected. Turns out, these birds are biologically adapted to last for long stretches without rest or food.
In our photos from George River, you might have noticed some distinctive silver cases cropping up again and again.
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Last month, Thomas was expedition leader exploratory expedition up to Grise Ford, where Arctic Kingdom hopes to offer expeditions in the very near future.
The Northern News Service Online has a story up about Oolateeteh Iqaluk, the Resolute resident who served as lead guide on the expedition.
Iqaluk was the last guide to lead a group from Resolute to Grise ford, six years ago, making him the best person to lead our expedition.
“The most challenging part of the trip was the weather,” said Iqaluk, who said the first three days of the trip were very windy with whiteouts.
For three days, the group was weathered in and covered little ground. Iqaluk said the weather did not clear until they reached the end of Ellesmere Island. The whiteouts made the animal tracks hard to see on the snow and Iqaluk said it was hard to tell where the animals were and they were lucky to see some polar bears and muskox. On April 20, they arrived in Grise Fiord after travelling 720 kilometres.
Following a few days rest, the group, along with Iqaluk’s 22-year-old nephew Harry Iqaluk and several of the company’s clients, left Grise Fiord for Resolute on April 24. For the five days Lennartz said they had beautiful weather. The group was fortunate enough to see many polar bears and muskox daily.
By using local knowledge from their guides and hunters in Grise Fiord, the group made it back to Resolute on April 28 after traveling 600 kilometres
A team of three British explorers described as ‘the world’s toughest’ reached the North Geographic Pole today ending a gruelling 60 day scientific survey across the floating sea ice of the Arctic Ocean.
The Catlin Arctic Survey’s headquarters in London was contacted at 2050 hours (BST) by team leader Ann Daniels and her colleagues Martin Hartley and Charlie Paton to say they had completed their survey work as they reached the Pole.
The team has been collecting water and marine life samples from beneath the floating sea ice as part of the expedition’s leading edge science programme which is assessing the impact of CO² absorbtion on the ocean and its marine life – a process known as ocean acidification.
At the North Pole, the taking some final samples took priority over celebration.
“We called it our Hole at the Pole” said Ann Daniels. “Getting the science work done has always been our top priority, but it is absolutely fantastic to reach the Pole as well. We’re ecstatic.”
Speaking from Catlin Arctic Survey’s headquarters in London, the Survey Director and explorer Pen Hadow described the team’s achievement as extraordinary. “It’s not possible to imagine what this team has had to do to pull off this extreme survey. I consider them to be the world’s toughest to have done this. Together they’re the face of modern exploration helping to advance the understanding of scientists and the public alike about how the natural world works.”
The three explorers have travelled over 483 miles (777 kilometres) since March 14th but to reach the Pole have had to increase the amount of trekking time each day. They made it with only hours to spare before a Twin Otter plane was scheduled to land on the ice to collect them.
Commenting on the harsh conditions Ann Daniels said: “It has been an unbelievably hard journey over the ice. Conditions have been unusually tough and at times very frustrating with a frequent southerly drift pushing us backwards every time we camped for the night. On top of that we’ve had to battle into head-winds and swim across large areas of dangerously thin ice and open water.”
Congratulations to the team on making this extraordinary journey!
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?
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.
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.
“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.