Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Heading to the Arctic?

By:  Tom

Sarah and I are not actively publicizing our Great Slave Lake trip.  After all, we're only in the planning stages.  No plane tickets have been purchased and no reservations have been made.  Our imaginations have been fired up, however.

I do talk about the trip to family members and acquaintances on occasion.  When I mention to people that I plan to be paddling next summer on the GSL in the Northwest Territories I often get the response that "Oh, you're going to the Arctic."  Well, not exactly.

The Arctic is generally defined as consisting of "regions around the North Pole," which is not real specific. The cartographers have drawn the Arctic Circle on the globe at 66 degrees 33' north of the equator.  This line marks the northernmost point where the sun is visible on the winter solstice (and southernmost point at which the midnight sun in visible during the summer solstice.  Everywhere north of the line is the cartographer's Arctic.

This one-size-fits all approach does not account for differences in temperature and vegetation.  Another way to define the Arctic is to place it wherever the summer high temperatures fall below 50 degree Fahrenheit.

This temperature-based definition transforms the Arctic into almost an oval-shaped area.

Another approach is to use the tree line as the marker for what is the Arctic.  The regions in the north where the land is too harsh to support trees make up the Arctic.

There are some subtle differences between the Arctic as defined by the temperature and tree line approaches.

As this map shows, the GSL lies just outside the tree line, which means that we aren't going to the Arctic this trip. (GSL is the lake at the bottom of the map.)
One of the appeals of paddling in McLeod Bay, at the far eastern/northern extreme of the East Arm of GSL, is its close proximity to the tree line.  I'm looking forward to exploring observing how trees get fewer and small as we get closer to the tree line.

While I've crossed tree lines on numerous mountains, there is something special, even a little ominous, about a tree line that marks the entrance to thousands of square miles of tree-less barrens.  The great presence of that land just miles from where we will be paddling will keep my imagination bubbling.

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