What was I doing in the Arctic?

I was fortunate to spend 18 days on board the National Geographic Explorer visiting the Canadian High Arctic and Greenland as a Grosvenor Teaching Fellow! The purpose of my travels was to gather resources to use in the classroom. This blog reflects my adventures and attempts to explain what the Arctic is like for those who are interested. 

Below is our travel route, which included Nunavut, Canada and the west coast of Greenland.

Here's a brief video made by National Geographic, introducing myself and Betsy Wilkening, my partner teacher for the expedition.

After coming home from my Arctic journey, I was eager to share my experiences. After presenting to my current class and a teacher workshop, I invited my former students to come back for an Arctic reunion!

It was great to see them all, looking so much taller but still excited to learn about the rest of the world!

Teachers can have a great impact on their students.Here's one of my students who decided to get a red explorers coat like mine the weekend after I gave my Arctic presentation in class.

My journey to the Arctic gathered some media attention.

NBC News Interviewed me live at 7pm on August 30, 2013. Click below to watch:

Teaching Traveling Blog also did an interview about my journey. Click below to read:

Life on the National Geographic Explorer

Each day, we would wake up to an itinerary that would include activities for the day. Many days it included hiking, kayaking, zodiac cruises, wildlife watching, city tours, and/or lectures by our National Geographic presenters.

Photo by Sven Lindblad
Zodiacs are inflatable boats used for landings and to get up close and personal to places that the larger, National Geographic Explorer could not, like the iceberg pictured above.

Photo by Sven Lindblad
Kayaks also allowed us to get up close to icebergs and coastlines. One of my favorite days was kayaking under bird cliffs while Thick-billed Murres were trying to teach their chicks how to fly - right over our heads!

Photo by Betsy Wilkening
The kayaks used in the Arctic are inflatable and almost impossible to flip over.

We enjoyed beautiful scenery wherever we hiked. Being in such a remote part of the world, we wondered if we were the first people to see some of the places we hiked. Our guides carried guns, as constant reminders that we were in polar bear country.

 Before we disembarked to hike in the Arctic on our first day, we had to have our clothes decontaminated. This meant that staff members vacuumed our clothes to remove any seeds or other products that could harm the Arctic environment. Here's Henning decontaminating my raincoat.

We also had to walk in some kind of disinfecting liquid before and after leaving the boat.

One day, a few brave souls and jumped into the freezing water! This is referred to as a "polar plunge". Apparently, if I also do this near Antarctica, I can become a "bi-polar plunger". I guess it's good to have goals... :-)
Photo by Michael Nolan
In between adventures, we were fed excellent fare. The boat was staffed with specialists in bread making, soups, desserts, and entrees. We always had fresh fruit and mid-afternoon was tea time. It was nice to have someone else do the cooking for a few weeks!

Dinner Entree

Tea Time Treats

Dinning in the Bridge with Steve McLean
Since we were considered semi-staff, Betsy and I stayed in the staff cabins. Here are some picture of our room. Notice how the shelves and cabinets are designed to keep objects from rolling around the ship.

This was our bathroom. We called the shower/toilet combo a "shal-lette".

Polar Bears!

We saw 61 polar bears on our trip!

Admittedly, many of them were from afar, like this bear below that is searching above the bird cliffs for an easy meal.

Some, however, were quite curious about the ship and walked right up to us! Here's one bear, checking out the icebreaker on the front of our ship.

Photo by Sven Lindblad
Photo by Sven Lindblad
After scoping us out, he laid down and rolled around nearby and two other  males came to check us out.

Photo by Sven Lindblad
Photo by Sven Lindblad
We saw several fat, happy looking cubs. The experts told us that it was a sign that the polar bears were doing well if the mothers were able to raise two cubs.

Photo by Sven Lindblad
Photo by Sven Lindblad

Animals of the Arctic

We saw quite a selection of arctic animals on our voyage. Below are some of the highlights.

Photo by Henning Thing

This is not the actual Musk Ox that we saw, because we saw a whole herd of them in Greenland, but they were too far away for me to get a good picture. 

We saw many types of whales including the Finn and Bowhead whales pictured above, which were taken by Betsy Wilkening.

A pod of Killer Whales came right up to our ship. They showed a lot of curiosity and one even swam upside down next to us.

We saw several groups of narwhals, which were absolutely amazing. However, they are very hard to photograph, so I have only this no smoking sign to show for it.

Photo by Sven Lindblad
We also saw many types of seals.

We saw lots of evidence of lemmings but only this one up close, who was a pet to an Inuit child.

At Bylot Island we saw thousands of Thick-Billed Murres. They were teaching their little ones how to fly and we kayaked among many adolescents swimming with their parents in the water.

Photo by Sven Lind
Many Kittiwakes and Fulmars were interested in following our ship because as we cracked through the ice, we uncovered little fishes for them to eat.

Arctic Plants

The adaptations that help plants in the Arctic survive are absolutely amazing!

Photo by Henning Thing
Photo by Henning Thing
The Common Bearberry and the Arctic Bell-heather both trap heat in their bell-shaped blossoms.

Photo by Henning Thing
The Arctic Poppy is one of many plants which turns to follow the sun to gather as much sunlight as possible.

Photo by Henning Thing
Photo by Henning Thing
 Some plants, like the Arctic Willow and the Three-Flowered Campion grow their own "fur coats".

Photo by Henning Thing
Many plants practice cohabitation by using moss as a kind of soil for their own growth over rocky terrain.

Photo by Henning Thing
Some plants even develop anti-freeze proteins to block the formation of ice crystals between their cells. Other plants produce sugars and amino acids to protect against the formation of ice crystals and lower the freezing point.

Even the Arctic Bees have adapted! They have extra thick fur and hibernate for roughly nine months of the year.

Arctic People

We traveled to several places where humans lived in Canada and Greenland. This video is quite popular with my students, and features a man dancing all around the Nunavut capital of Iqaluit.

Notice as you watch that most of the houses are raised from the ground. This is to prevent the foundations from cracking with the freezing and thawing of the earth. 

This was the safety card from the charter flight we took to Iqaluit. It shows English, French, and Inuktitut in both traditional writing and in the English alphabet. 

Stop sign in Inuktitut.

Prices for food were very high in the Arctic. This gallon of milk was $12.09 in Canadian dollars. 

The polar bear was proudly displayed in many places, including on these two license plates.

Due to the cold weather, people sometimes plugged their cars into heating units like this to keep the engines from freezing while they went shopping. 

In Greenland, the houses showed a more European influence.

The people of Greenland seemed to be in better spirits than those in Canada. Below is a photo of some 5th grade students petting a sled dog puppy on their way back from a sporting event. 

Other parts of Greenland are uninhabitable, like the Greenland Ice Sheet, which we are standing on below.