By Karen Richardson
A typical day in the Arctic this past summer for grad student Kathryn McCleary involved waking up in a tent, turning off the bear fence (a trip wire around the tent for bears), unloading the shotgun, then eating a good breakfast and planning the day and which lakes to go to. "Most sites were within one to one-half an hour walking distance, but some days we needed a helicopter, which was exciting," says McCleary, a second-year biology Master's student. Sleep is a bit more challenging when camping up in northern Ellesmere Island in the territory of Nunavut, where McCleary conducted her first field study in July 2007. "It doesn't get dark in the summer in the Arctic - the sun dips slightly but never goes down."
McCleary has been to the Canadian High Arctic twice to complete field work for her Master's degree. She has been once to archeological sites on southern Baffin Island, and once to Ellesmere Island based out of the town of Resolute. "I am very lucky to have a supervisor who does such exciting field work," says McCleary, who works with John Smol, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Queen's, as well as Professor Marianne Douglas of the University of Alberta. Professor Smol directs PEARL (the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory) at Queen's with Dr. Brian Cumming-a lab that uses paleolimnological methods to investigate the history of changes in climate and the environment.
Is field work common for many graduate students? At least one trip for field work is common for graduate students in the lab-to places such as northern Ontario and others.
McCleary's research is part of a suite of government-funded projects to promote research in the Arctic, including the International Polar Year 2007-2008. While on Ellesmere Island she was based at the Polar Continental Shelf Project, a government-funded project which houses a residence for scientists and other researchers and worked farther north is Lake Hazen, which is located in an Arctic oasis, a warmer area of the Arctic with comparatively lush vegetation. "Why this calibration set is interesting is because if this part of the Arctic is warmer than the rest, it can give us some insight into what might happen to the Arctic in the future with continued climate warming," she says.
While on Baffin Island McCleary visited different fresh-water lake sites to take water, plant and sediment samples for a full analysis of the lake. "The end goal is to determine to what extent the people who settled around the lakes affected the lake ecology," she says. She also worked with archaeologists from the Museum of Civilization to identify the settlement sites.