When the Canadian High Arctic Research Centre opens in Cambridge Bay, NU, in 2017 — the latest opening date announced during the Prime Minister’s Arctic tour in August — it will join a ring of circumpolar research stations that monitor climate, weather and the atmosphere in the Arctic. But it’s not enough for an Arctic research station to be in the Arctic—other considerations come into play in picking the perfect spot.
Here’s a rundown of some of CHAR’s circumpolar neighbours.
Alert, Nunavut: Alert observatory
Latitude: 82 N
Of all the high Arctic research stations, Alert is nearest to the North Pole. But that doesn’t make it the most advantageous place to study Arctic conditions. For one thing, it stands near sea level, where fog can sometimes get in the way of studies that involve sending light beams to the upper atmosphere. It is also located near a military base, whose security concerns make emitting light beams and radar to study the atmosphere tricky business. Being north of the geostationary communication horizon also means that any communication in and out of the station has to go via satellite phone through Eureka, Nunavut, over 450 kilometres to the southwest.
Eureka, Nunavut: Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL)
Latitude: 80 N
Although PEARL has lost government funding and can now maintain only a small portion of its atmospheric monitoring research, an Environment Canada-run weather station will continue to monitor the ozone layer in the Arctic. The laboratory is 610 metres above sea level, giving its instruments a clear view of the atmosphere.
Tiksi, Russia: Hydrometeorological Observatory of Tiksi
Latitude: 71.6 N
Tiksi borders the Laptev Sea off the coast of northern Siberia, an important source of Arctic sea ice. Located at the junction between Atlantic and Pacific air masses, it’s the ideal spot to observe how aerosols, pollutants and other particles in the air travel from Asia in one air mass and from Europe and Western Russia in another air mass. That then allows researchers to track the elements that not only are the result of climate change, but help cause it. But research at Tiksi isn’t all about the atmosphere; by studying carbon trapped in the permafrost beneath the Lena River drainage basin stores, scientists can also access a historical record of climate patterns and changes.
Latitude: 78.9 N
Also known as the United Nations of Arctic research stations, the village of Ny-Alesund hosts 14 research centres run by several countries, including Norway, Britain, Italy, Germany and China. Part of its mission statement is to foster international scientific cooperation, a welcome development in an area that may face political controversy as various nations stake their claims to sovereignty in the Arctic.
Summit, Greenland: Greenland Environmental Observatory (GEOSummit)
Latitude: 72 N
If you’re going to study ice for traces of past climate events and indicators of how the Arctic ice cover is changing today, might as well do it while perched atop the Greenland ice sheet. Studies are showing that Arctic ice is melting and Greenland’s glaciers are flowing at record-breaking rates. Ice cores from glaciers can be used to study past climate events and compare them to current trends, but researchers are now looking at how that melting ice can also affect the weather.
Barrow, Alaska: Barrow Observatory
Latitude: 71.3 N
Much of the North American landmass in the Arctic is in Canada, meaning the northernmost city in the U.S. hosts the southernmost Arctic research station. Barrow, Alaska, is also home to Naval Arctic Research Lab (NARL) and site of former Distant Early Warning (DEW) line stations that were constructed in the 1950s to detect bombers and invasions during the Cold War.