ArcTrain Summer School – Day 6: Nordicity, what does The North mean?

In the boreal forest. Credit: Damien Ringeisen

Today we hiked the Harfand summit in the Groulx mountain range, a 12 km long loop across altitudes. We started at a low altitude inside a boreal forest, and while walking up, the vegetation around us changed slowly. By the time we reached the summit we were surrounded by an alpine tundra with only mosses and small berries. We visited this summit during its only snow free month, the last snowfall dating of the beginning of August. We could observe a characteristic feature of the tundra landscape, namely frost polygons (common permafrost landscapes). From the summit, little human influences could be seen, leaving us with a sentiment of isolation in the Manicouagan-Uapishka Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Surprisingly given our latitude, this all added up to our feeling of being North.

Alpine tundra at the summit. Credit: Damien Ringeisen

As arctic scientists, friends and family expect us to go North on an expedition. This time however it felt like we went North, but actually travelled South compared to home – for both of us, Bremen in northern Germany.

We then ask ourselves, what is North? What is the Arctic? What defines it? Some people would say that it is when it’s cold. Some would say that it is when it is not warm in summer. Some people would say that it is when it is in high latitude – e.g. above the polar circle. Climate is much more complicated than just the latitude, it is influenced by many factors, such as topology, ocean currents, winds…

Group picture at the summit, with in the background the Manicouagan resevoir and the only road in the wide surroundings. Credit: Damien Ringeisen

Louis-Edmond Hamelin introduced the notion of Nordicity[link], and created an index that is used to assess Northerness. The feeling of North is not only based on latitude or extreme climate conditions, but also the remoteness, the isolation, the economic and human activity. According to that index, a city like Tromsø is less North than Uapishka Station, our home for the 3 next days. Making it a great location for us to learn more about the North.

However, this “North” feeling is highly subjective. This morning several Innu families visited the station as they were on their way to the province of Labrador -Up North! For a member of these communities, our North is probably their South, the same way than Netherlands is north for someone from Spain.

Quentin picking berries at the summit. Credit: Damien Ringeisen

Next to exploring the landscape, we learned how to make bread on the fire according to an Innu recipe, make jam out edible berries from the bushes, and made some of the famous labrador tea from freshly harvested leaves!

Stay tuned for what we will learn about the North in the next days, and do not hesitate to leave us a comment or a question!

Written by Anouk Vlug and Damien Ringeisen.

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