Mars in the Arctic Sept. 1

This is another post in a series that has become a kind of remote travelogue, seeing from afar some of what the passengers and crew of Crystal Serenity are experiencing in their voyage through the North West Passage. Consistent with the theme of this blog, today again we note a place of unusual scientific interest.

Of course, all these places were originally discovered by intrepid explorers over more than a century since Amundsen first recorded his transit 1903 to 1906. All told, there have been officially 236 successful crossings, which count excludes the many who lost their lives failed attempts.


Imagery date refers to Google Earth capture of land forms. Ice extent is for August 31, 2016 from MASIE. Click to zoom in.

The image shows that Northabout continues slowly toward her next port of Tuktoyaktuk NWT Canada. Unless something unforeseen occurs, she should be able to pass through the open waters in the southern channels.

Meanwhile, Serenity is positioned at Dundas Harbour just east of Croker Bay of Devon Island. The ship is located near the mouth of Baffin Bay, the body of water between Greenland and Nunavut.

Devon Island Nunavut Largest Uninhabited Island in the World

Croker Bay Devon Island Nunavut Canada Sept. 2008

An outpost was established at Dundas Harbour in August 1924 as part of a government presence intended to curb foreign whaling and other activity. Hudson’s Bay Company leased the outpost in 1933. The following year, 52 Inuit were relocated from Cape Dorset to Dundas Harbour but they returned to the mainland 13 years later.

Dundas Harbour was populated again in the late 1940s to maintain a patrol presence, but it was closed again in 1951 due to ice difficulties. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment was moved to Craig Harbour on southern Ellesmere Island.

Only the ruins of a few buildings remain, along with one of the northernmost cemeteries in the world.

Haughton Crater Devon Island Mars Analog

A team of scientists led by MARS project scientist Dr. Pascal Lee of NASA Ames Research Center identified a new Mars analog site of high promise: the 20 km-diameter Haughton Meteorite Impact Crater and its surroundings on Devon Island, in the Canadian High Arctic. Haughton is a site of much interest because it appears to present not just one or a few potential Mars analog features, but an astonishing variety of these.

From where on earth are NASA’s rovers sending satellite messages? Devon Island.

More information at Mars Arctic Research Station

August 31 Commentary


Imagery date refers to Google Earth capture of land forms. Ice extent is for August 30, 2016 from MASIE. Click to zoom in.

The tracking shows Northabout is struggling with some heavy seas and making slow progress toward her next port Tuktoyaktuk NWT Canada.

Today Serenity has been stationed for some hours off an obscure bay of Prince of Wales Island. Coningham Bay has nothing at all to recommend it except:

Polar Bear, Coningham Bay, Nunavut, Canada

And in 2013, an explorer created these images and commentary:

Beluga whales rolling on a sandbar — Coningham Bay.

This was the scene at Coningham Bay, a shallow, broad bay with a shoal or sandbar extending across much of the entrance, protecting the waters inside. We were anchored just outside of the sheltered sub-bay.

From the very start, we had occasionally been seeing polar bears in the water, on shore and wandering the low hills. Polar bears are typically solitary, so during the summer months the only occasion on which you are likely to see more than one at a time is when there are a mother and cub.

Bears also typically hunt from the ice edge, so their being there on a quiet bay with no ice in sight was unusual, too. Something very special was going on.

Pregnant polar bear at Coningham Bay

Thanks to Mark Grantham for Belugas and bears in the far north

Aug 30 Report Below


Imagery date refers to Google Earth capture of land forms. Ice extent is for August 29, 2016 from MASIE. Click to zoom in.

Today the tracking shows Northabout is east of Barrow Alaska, having completed the North East Passage, and heading for NWP. Serenity is ahead of them, having left port at Cambridge Bay Nunavut and presently in the Victoria Strait.  The cruise tracker has 3 passenger ships in that area. Given that Serenity’s next scheduled port is Pond Inlet in Baffin Bay on Sept. 4, I’m guessing Serenity is the one in McClintock channel positioned for a visit to nearby Taloyoak.

Taloyoak – ᑕᓗᕐᔪᐊᕐᒃ – ‘Large caribou hunting blind’

Taloyoak village on Spence bay

Taloyoak (population 850) is located on the southwestern coast of Boothia Peninsula at the Northwest Passage. It is the northernmost community on Canada’s mainland. Taloyoak enjoys constant 24-hour sunshine from May 17 to July 27. The sea ice usually breaks up in June. Summer temperatures range from 5°C to 20°C. The snow begins to fall in late September or early October. Winter days have four hours of daylight and temperatures that range from -15°C to -35°C. With winter wind chill it can feel like -50°C.

The local people are Netsilik Inuit descendants of the ancient Thule culture. The hamlet name of ‘Taloyoak’ means ‘large caribou hunting blind’ in Inuktitut. These screens were built with piled stones along the caribou migration routes. Muskoxen are also found near here and the fishing is some of the best in Nunavut. The Netsilingmiut women of Taloyoak have distinctive clothing. Their amautiit (traditional parkas) are often brilliantly coloured, fringed and beaded, plus they are famous for their handmade ‘packing dolls,’ which are very popular. Artistically unique Taloyoak carvings made from stone, whalebone, caribou antler and walrus ivory frequently depict mystical subjects of ancient Inuit legend.

Taloyoak soapstone carving

Background on North West Passage

The man in charge of Serenity, Capt. Birger Vorland, has spent 38 years at sea. Vorland, who is originally from Norway, says the Northwest Passage has special meaning.

“My countryman, Roald Amundsen, did the first transit here between 1903 and 1906,” Vorland says. “We’re going to do it in 32 days and in a lot more comfort.”

The official record of transits through the North West Passage is kept at the Scott Polar Research Institute (here).  The listing begins with that first transit by Amundsen and provides details of the 236 crossings recorded through 2015.  13 ships passed through the NWP last year, and the highest number was 29 in 2013.

Cambridge Bay is partway through the NWP and will be home for the new Canadian High Arctic Research Station, pictured in the foreground above. The CHARS campus is expected to be operational in July of 2017 and fully complete by March of 2018.

The image also shows that the southern route through the Archipelago is mostly open water at this time, and the outlook is good for both Serenity and Northabout to achieve their itineraries. The most interesting section of the Nunavut gauntlet lies in Victoria Strait and McClintock channel.

Arctic ice extents are declining as usual approaching the last 2-3 weeks of the annual melt season.  Estimates are fluctuating a lot due both to drift ice moving around, and also the difficulty of measuring under cloudy and darkening conditions.  The after effects of the recent sizable Arctic cyclone appear in the chart below.

MASIE 2016 day242


The table below compares 2015 and 2016 at day 240.  This year is slightly lower, largely due to Beaufort Sea.  Losses elsewhere in Baffin Bay, Greenland Sea, Hudson Bay and E. Siberian are more than offset by surpluses in Chukchi, Laptev and Central Arctic.  Note that several seas that are down provide more open water for the ships exploring NWP this year.

Presently 2016 ice decline is running 3 days ahead of 2015.

Region 2016240 2015240 Difference
 (0) Northern_Hemisphere 4799401 4972160 -172759
 (1) Beaufort_Sea 325257 597329 -272072
 (2) Chukchi_Sea 418423 289433 128991
 (3) East_Siberian_Sea 237311 332785 -95474
 (4) Laptev_Sea 405208 81071 324137
 (5) Kara_Sea 28704 10133 18571
 (6) Barents_Sea 0 701 -701
 (7) Greenland_Sea 120256 207476 -87220
 (8) Baffin_Bay_Gulf_of_St._Lawrence 20965 140815 -119850
 (9) Canadian_Archipelago 258978 301788 -42810
 (10) Hudson_Bay 7308 67369 -60061
 (11) Central_Arctic 2976412 2942427 33984

For more context on Arctic ice extent see Arctic Ice Watch July 31.  For background on Polar Ocean Challenge see Laptev Wall and Nunavut Gauntlet.  For those who wish to browse Arctic ice in Google Earth, the procedure is simple.  Go to MASIE homepage and download the kmz file.  Clicking on the file should open it in Google Earth (presuming it is on your computer.) Then you can browse, zoom in and out, and take images.

Crystal Serenity

I was once told by a fellow cruise passenger not to call our ship a boat.  He said in the Navy they knew if you were in a boat it meant something awful had happened to your ship.

The Good Ship Northabout






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s