V. GENERAL NATURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT

What the temperature now (in early November)?  As of this afternoon, I believe I read it was -11, windchill -24, heat loss chill -255.   Read this to learn about the Heat Loss Factor on humans in Arctic temperatures (this link is within this site):   Heat Loss from Human Skin

Was the night sky awesome with the Aurora and stars every night?  Well, the one night for a few hours, yes.  Most of the time is was cloudy and snowy. (See the Aurora Borealis links below)

How cold is it there in Churchill this time of year?  This year the locals have said it has been extremely warm. (0 to -5).  The coldest it has been so far for me has been -50 with the windchill. Here, take a look at this temperature conversion chart:   Temerature Conversions C/FTemperature & Climate Links

What kind of rocks are there?  There is a small amount of exposed rock.  Mostly sandstone, and grey quartzite.  I have heard it called "grey-whacky" by some of the locals.

In some of the photographs of the rocks (sometimes they were in the background) you had on this website, were some oddly coloured mold, plant or lichens.   What is that, how does it survive, what does it do?   The substance that you might have noticed is indeed a lichen.  There are thousands of different species of lichen.  Most are edible.  Chewy, but edible in most cases.   Please, do not run outside and grab a handful and eat it!  As a matter of fact, Samuel Hearne's exploration party that was in Churchill could have lived longer, but many perished (died) from scurvy.  Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C.  If the men had known that the lichen were high in vitamin C content they just might have lived a little longer!  Lichens are a cross between a plant and a fungus.  They can grow on almost anything (like rocks and trees and rotting materials).  Even in the arctic they grow, very slowly, but they grow.  A patch found here in the subarctic about the size of a U.S. quarter might be as much as 100 years of growth.   They grow so slowly due to the temperatures and winds.  The niche or job of the lichen is to break things down.  Growing on rock, the job is to eventually decompose the rock into soil.  It will take hundreds of thousands of years, but it will be done.  Look at these websites that might help explain this more:  Lichens 1,   Lichens 2Lichens 3 with lots of other lichen links!

What are the Northern Lights?  Good question.  There has been a lot of research going on about the Aurora Borealis.  They are found both in the northern and southern hemispheres.  Current thinking is that the lights generated in the sky on a clear night here in the north, are caused by electron particles or molecules bouncing around.  The lights are in different colours.  Red light is caused by oxygen; green by nitrogen; white by hydrogen.  This time of year they are normally white.  In Indiana they used to be seen, but street lights and other lights have blotted them out.  On Nov 5 & 6, 2001--the Northern Lights were visible in the nighttime skies in the rural areas....away from all lighting.   They appeared red to white in the northern horizon and then up in the sky a bit.  They were long and at times seemed to fill the lower skies and continued to change shape.   Links for the Aurora:   Aurora Borealis 1  or   Aurora Borealis 2 , or Northern Lights over Scotland,   or similar to AB 1   Northern Lights 1. and check this one out, too: Aurora

How does the cold snow keep the animals, people warm when it is used as an insulator (like in an igloo, ice cave or polar bear den)?  It's all based on the dead air space.

What do the beluga whales do when the bay freezes?  And, is it legal to hunt them?  The white whales, similar, but larger than a porpoise, go out into the deeper parts of the bay.  Only the Inuit may hunt the belugas. See the Seal & Whale Hunting 1,2,3 links above in the NATIVE section.

What are beluga whales?  And, are they anything like the mystical "narwhals" that I have heard of?  Beluga whales can be seen in the estuary of the Churchill River in Churchill.  I have seen hundreds of them when I was here in the summer, but are not able to be found here in the wintery months. They are a little larger than a dolphin, but are pure white and are sometimes referred to as sea canaries.  The links listed here are excellent ones that will tell you more about them and show you pictures.  The narwhals are considered an endangered species, but really do exist.  I have never seen one, just in television specials like most people.  I did have the opportunity to see and touch the horn or "tooth" of a narwhal that had been hunted by some of the native population.  The tooth was for sale at the Arctic Trading Post in Churchill for several thousand dollars.  Even if I had enough money to purchase it (if I wanted it), since this is from an endangered species, bringing it back into the United States would be a violation of Federal Laws and fines, imprisonment and confiscation could result.  Look at these extraordinary links to both of these wonderful aquatic creatures found in the icy waters.   Beluga 1,     Beluga 2,    Beluga 3,      Narwhal 1,   Narwhal 2,     Narwhal 3

According to materials that I have seen or read before there are reindeer in the arctic and subarctic areas near the Churchill area.  Is this true and what is the difference between a reindeer and a caribou?  Yes, there are caribou in the area.  In fact I saw four running one way and then a little while later, heard a shot (probably from a gun) and then three running back!  One of the animals was probably hunted/killed and would be the evenings' dinner for some group or family.  None of the animal would be wasted.  That would be for sure.  I am sure that there population in this area has gone down drastically with the amount of people (even though small numbers of people, still this would scare the deer to other locations, or could be over-hunted).  There are many ideas that suggest the differences between caribou and reindeer.  I have always thought that the rack or antlers that a caribou had were thicker and had "fatter" or widder central branches of their antlers, while the reindeer had thinner branches.  I am sure this answer is not very clear.  Take a look at this variety of website links.  These might help in understanding what these animals are and their differences:  Reindeer and Caribou 1   ,    Reindeer and Caribou 2     ,  Reindeer of Scandanavia and Russia   ,  and look at this interesting site:    A Scandanavian Reindeer Farm

Are there many trees in the area of Churchill?  How about in all of the Arctic?  No and No.  There are some trees just a few miles south of here, but then they taper off.  There are some scattered about.  There is one clump of trees just outside Churchill.  Any trees that do survive in the subarctic are small and have a reduced growth rate compared to those in warmer latitudes.  The pine trees have branches only on one side of them, as the wind with the ice crystals blowing over the tree actually works as an abrasive, scraping off any chance of a branch forming.  Where the branches come out of the trunk is always opposite of the direction that the wind comes from!  Here is some more information about plants in the arctic and subarctic regions:  Subarctic Zone Plants ,   Arctic PlantsArctic Information and Other Arctic Links

When the ice melts in the area rivers, do people find a lot of gold?  No.  The Churchill/Nelson River moves very swiftly and is filled with the Beluga Whales (see above).  This is not a place where someone could stand and pan for gold after the ice melts away in July!   To learn about the gold rush of the Far North and about the river around Churchill, try these links:   Northern Gold RushChurchill RiverThe Klondike Gold Rush1, The Klondike Gold Rush 2 (many links)

Does the McKenzie River (as mentioned in the book Far North) really exist?  From my research on this, yes it does.  I have not seen it.   It is not located in this part of the subarctic, but is on the far western side of Canada.  You might look at this website:  McKenzie River

Are there many mineral mines in the far north?  And, if there are, what are they mining?  On a couple of trips to Churchill, I drove from Winnipeg several hundred miles north to a north-central-eastern town of Thompson, Manitoba before I took the VIA Rail train across the tundra (on earlier visits).  In Thompson, I visited the nickel mine which was the only (well almost) emloyer in the town.    Look at these arctic mining sites:  Diamonds, Mines & Mining (with many links)

Need to ask a question concerning Polar Bears or this project? Just click on this: Questions will attempt to be answered by Mark Weaver based upon his experiences in and around Churchill, Manitoba.  (If you are in a school or library computer lab, please check with the person in charge to see if you can post e-mail from that computer terminal).    If this "send e-mail" is not operating, please use   mweaver@ccs.k12.in.us