Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ice Ice Baby - Part II

Here is a picture of most of Salluit taken from the vantage point of the local Nursing Station, located at the highest point of land in the town. The hills on the other side of the fjord form a narrow penis peninsula with the Hudson Strait on the other side and Baffin Island about 70 miles further on.

Ice is vital to both the traditional and modern way of life here. It forms a highway to hunting and fishing grounds. You can walk on it, drive a dog team or snowmobile on it, drive a truck on it, even land a jet aircraft on it (not here in my experience, but we used to come in on pretty heavy turboprops on the ice strip). In the western arctic, frozen rivers are actually highways and traversed by big rigs bring all manner of consumer goods to the north.

In the picture above, you can see the faint signs of a trail starting in front of the town heading eastward, the first leg of the trip to Deception Bay and a couple of lakes good for ice fishing. And if you look really hard, you will notice the clouds on the horizon are much darker. The elders will tell you that this is a sign of open water, and it makes a lot of sense since the albido of open water is much lower than ice, making the clouds sullen and foreboding.

Areas which stay ice-free all winter long are called polynyas, and are oasis of life with seals, whales, eider ducks and gulls wintering over. Here we don't have a true polynya, but this patch of open water is where people harvest mussels during the winter pictured just about to form at the left. It is not a true polynya because the water around it is sweet - part salt and part fresh, depending on the tide. At high tides during winter, the locals use rakes at low tide to pull up the mussels. You can pick them by hand, but it is pretty cold and your hand muscles seize up in a couple of minutes.

Our local ice-free hole is caused by current - there is a sandbar underneath, and this accelerates the flow to such a degree that ice doesn't form - at least not usually: in one of my 22 years in this town it actually froze over, and was the topic of much conversation at the time. Some years it is only a few metres across, but usually it is a minimum of 100 metres even at the dead of winter.

Inuit knowledge about ice (and snow) could fill volumes, so I am feeling a bit sheepish about exposing my meager understanding of these substances. But something that has always intrigued me is how water, of all substances, actually becomes less dense as it cools beyond 4 C. For this reason, ice floats rather than sinks beneath water. If it were not for this property, much of life on earth could not have survived the series of ice ages visited upon this planet.

Most important, how could we find ice to chill our vodka?

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Blogger Fuff said...

Global Warming? Myth or fact?

3:06 AM  
Blogger Eternally Curious said...

I hate the cold. I moved to Colorado so's to be in a more tropical climate.


Right. Time for more scotch....

8:00 AM  
Blogger nanuk said...

Fuff - thanks for the suggestion. I have strong opinions on the matter, and I am just waiting for the right muse to hover over me before I sally forth on this topic.

eternally curious - I hear Colorado is like my home town, except with trees and more snow.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Clio said...


10:00 PM  

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