Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

GoNorth! Polar Huskies Arrive Thule

A crowd watches as the GoNorth! dogs prepare to deplane. Photos: Kim Derry unless otherwise noted

Community members crowded Thule’s airport yesterday to witness the long-awaited arrival of the GoNorth! Huskies, a pack of charismatic hounds with their own Web site and millions of school-age fans (and older ones too).
 
“All of the dogs, and half of the GoNorth! people, have arrived, and they are wonderful,” PFS’ GoNorth! liason Kim Derry wrote yesterday. “After an overnight flight from Thunder Bay, Canada, Mille [Porsild] and Aaron [Doering] are in good spirits and we unloaded thousands of pounds of dog food and cargo from the DC-3 Basler (Kenn Borek Air). With the help of John [Hansen], the Police Chief, and a few other Thule locals, we moved the dogs from the Basler into a truck and got them situated at the East side of town. They are currently happy to be back on snow—it was getting too warm for them in Minnesota.” 
 
 

Mille Porsild, the dogs' primary handler, passes a dog to Kim Derry.

 

Kim, left, and Mille help the dogs into the truck.

“They’re all very good dogs – the usual mix, where some are shy and others demand loving or are really vocal. After I trucked them across town, they settled right in to their new digs,” wrote Kim.

Weather conditions at Thule Air Base kept GoNorth! leaders Aaron Doering and Mille Porsild inside today. The base commander declared a “Storm Condition Delta” during the day for sustained winds above 50 knots and visibility less than 100 yards.  During these conditions, all personnel are confined to their quarters, an untimely development for the pair who wished to visit their Polar Husky dogs. The “superstar” canines who arrived at the air base for an ice-sheet trek to Summit Station doubtless hunkered down and curled up across town to wait out the storm.

Aaron Doering, right, and Mille Porsild check the weather conditions at Thule. Photo: Robin Davies

The dogs and humans have been exploring the Arctic by sled for years. They’ve visited Alaska, Russia, Finland, Norway, Scandinavia, Canada and now Greenland. The dogs are bred for the adventure, and the people seek to research the impacts of climate change and report back in real time.  The team visits communities as they travel the Arctic, presenting their “What’s Climate Change to You?” program—the heart of the Aaron Doering / University of Minnesota-led National Science Foundation grant—at local schools.  When able, they overnight in these communities, sleeping in the school gym or other host shelters. This year, the need to avoid cross-breeding meant the Polar Huskies stayed home for the community visits; these were completed instead by guest-starring Greenlandic dog teams.

In addition to local outreach, the team takes samples and makes observations for a variety of science experiments, including an investigation of traditional ecological knowledge, and NSF-funded projects examining black carbon in snow and a prototype network for measuring winter precipitation.  Weekly, the team participates in live chats and updates the GoNorth! Web site with trail reports and photos. Classrooms across the US and all over the world participate in these live events and use the curriculum posted to the GoNorth! Web site to learn about the host country, the changing Arctic, and much more.

Soon the GoNorth! team will run up to Summit Station. They’ll follow the Greenland Inland Traverse team for the first 60 or so miles through the crevassed ice of the transition. The GrIT will carry thousands of pounds of dog food to resupply the GoNorth! four-leggers.

But no one’s going anywhere until the weather improves. Thule’s local forecast suggests it could be a little while before the Polar Huskies get in the harness.