Carleton’s Mr. Freeze testing ice road endurance in North

Stretching an icy 7.8 kilometres between Carleton University and the Parliament buildings, the Rideau Canal skate way is a popular recreational road for thousands each year — that’s why it’s been aptly dubbed the World’s Largest Skating Rink.

The canal, however, has nothing on the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road.

This heavy haul ice road linking Yellowknife with southern Nunavut absolutely dwarfs the Rideau Canal in every possible way. Tibbitt to Contwoyto spans almost 600 kilometres — built mostly over lakes connected by narrow land portages — carving out a critical corridor between communities and permitting access to valuable diamond mines in Canada’s frozen tundra.

For three months each year, more than 10,000 massive truckloads are hauled across the road, moving more than $500 million worth of goods.

But could global warming eventually put a thaw on this very important economic route? Department of Earth Sciences prof. Tim Patterson and his team of researchers aim to find out.

“The potential for global warming has become an issue of concern for policy-makers, planners and mine developers,” says Patterson, who recently received a $420,680 grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (with additional funding from the Northwest Territories Geoscience Office, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs and diamond mine companies) to look at the impact of climate change on the ice road.

“But even if there wasn’t a global warming scare, they’d still want to know about variability in the climate. Climate is characterized by trends and cycles controlled by a variety of factors with decades — and even centuries — that are warmer and similar intervals that are cooler.”

Whatever the cause, climate irregularities don’t make diamond mine owners very happy.

“2006 concerned them,” says Patterson, after an El Nino event brought in warm air from the south forcing frequent road closures during the usually cold season. The poor weather forced one mine to shut down early for the year as they could not bring in enough fuel to continue operations.

Patterson — Carleton’s Mr. Freeze — will head north to gather ice and sediment samples from lakes on and around the road. The samples will later undergo testing to determine climate-influencing variables like annual precipitation and ice cover through the last 3,500 years.

“There are basically about 15 different proxies that we use,” he says. “We use so many to ensure the validity of the apparent climate signals that we are tracking. If there’s something that happens to be not related to climate or not related to precipitation, you can get a false signal.”

They’ll be targeting mostly tiny, nameless lakes off the beaten path.

“We don’t like looking at big lakes,” adds Patterson. “There are so many other disturbances going on that it is difficult to tease out useful climate signals. The lakes we want are little tiny ones.”

Though it’s a fairly straight forward expedition, Patterson explains that nothing is simple when the temperature drops as low as -50 C with the wind chill.

“It’s a very harsh environment to work in,” says Patterson, adding that even a relatively straight-forward item like dry ice will have travelled hundreds of kilometres from Edmonton to Yellowknife before reaching the research team on the ice road.

In the end, chilly weather and relative isolation are all in a day’s work for the professor, whose work will influence future decisions on the long-term viability of Tibbitt to Contwoyto.

With annual traffic on the road expected to increase to 14,000 loads by 2013, there’s a lot riding on his success. Literally.

With March Break just around the corner, Carleton’s Health Workplace Committee presents some suggestions about how to enjoy the weather with your family and friends.
Seasonal Variations in Physical Activity

Baby, it’s cold outside! And for many Canadians, that means a decrease in their physical activity levels. But cold weather is no excuse to be inactive. In fact, Canadian winters offer a wide range of exciting activities that you can’t do in the warmer seasons. Try some of these:

Tobogganing – Flying down the hill is exhilarating and walking back up the hill is a great workout.
Building a snowman – This is not only a physical exercise but a creative one. Get out the scarves and accessories and use your imagination.
Skating – Check your area for outdoor rinks or consider building one in your own backyard.
Skiing or snowboarding – Cross-country or downhill skiing and snow boarding offer a great way to enjoy the outdoors.

While the winter offers exciting physical activity opportunities, if you’re not careful, cold temperatures can bring hypothermia and frostbite. Remember to dress warmly and if you happen to experience any of the following signs, seek shelter and medical attention:

Grey or blue facial skin
Cold, hard and white skin
Numb patches on the skin
Swollen and blistering skin
Uncontrollable shivering, followed by lack of shivering
Loss of physical co-ordination
Speaking difficulties, such as slurring
Loss of control over small muscles — for example, the muscles of the fingers
A strong yearning for sleep
If you’re going to get active outdoors in the winter, SMARTRISK offers some advice on how to prevent cold-related injuries.

Remember C-O-L-D:

C – Cover your head, neck and face, since they are major sites of heat loss. Wear hats, scarves and mittens and remember lip protection.
O – Overexertion leads to sweating, which causes damp or wet clothing and causes you to become chilled more quickly.
L – Layer clothing to protect against wind and cold. Start with a snug inner layer that allows sweat to escape, such as thin, synthetic long underwear. The second, insulating layer should be loose and warm, such as a wool or fleece sweater. The third layer should be windproof and waterproof.
D – Dry. Wear waterproof clothing and insulated, waterproof boots and gloves. Ensure they are not too tight, as this could decrease circulation to your hands or feet, raising the risk of frostbite.

On days when even the polar bears want to be inside, consider some of the following options:

Mall walk – Go to the mall to walk a few laps. Just remember that you’re there to walk and not window shop!
Swimming – Go to your local pool and swim lengths during lane swimming, or play and splash about during a free swim.
Basketball or volleyball – Look for drop-in programs at your neighbourhood school or community centre.
Indoor active recess – Parents: encourage your child’s school to provide active recess alternatives during bad weather days. Students: join lunch time intramurals or volunteer to organize them at your school.
Living room calisthenics – Put down a mat or blanket on your living room floor and do some sit-ups and push-ups.

Including both outdoor and indoor activities in your winter physical activity routine will help you stay active and healthy throughout the year—whatever the weather!

Reprinted with permission by ParticipACTION and the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute.

This entry was written by Daniel Reid and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media:

Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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