Expedition Day: 49
Position: N 80° 32′ W 89° 35′
It seems impossible to really capture this place with a camera, or even with words for that matter. No matter how sophisticated the equipment we carry is, it cannot capture the feeling of sitting alone atop an iceberg in the frozen sea listening to the distant howls of wolves. The howls set our dogs into their own symphany and the silence of the sea ice is broken.
We decided to make today a short travel day, not for lack of energy or difficulties, but simply because the region we just entered is by far the best environment to see wildlife. In the shadow of an iceberg we made camp, and set to getting ready for a day in the mountains. We abandoned the skis because the snow on the land is sparse, and we are soon satisfying our urge to explore this land in more detail. Until now I have seen little wildlife and I had no opportunities to get any worthwhile photos of what I did see. That far I’ve seen a few lemmings and a snow bunting, a sparrow sized arctic bird. Only 45 minutes of hiking into the steeper hills and we found a herd of muskox with 14 members, a number of those being calves. The muskox seem to have been transported straight from the ice age with their curled horns and powerfull bodies. It seems strange to me that they are close relatives of the common mountain goats I see often in the Colorado Rockies because their character is so foreign to me.
A quick look around makes me really wonder about how these animals manage to survive here, as specialized as they are. Even lichens seem to have trouble growing on the rocks, and grass is nowhere to be found. The muskox prefer a type of willow that stays close to the ground, but I didn’t even see this anywhere. This only deepened my respect for these animals, then i think of how they manage to survive through the dark arctic winters with -40°F temperatures and their past issues with over hunting and dwindling populations. How then will these creatures manage when global warming takes its toll? Just today Will who has been coming to the Arctic for years mentioned that he’d never seen the oncoming spring take hold so early. We are experiencing June weather in May! With the early snowmelt, the black cliffs of Ellesmere Island are exposed and reflect even more sun, speeding the thaw. All around us patches of black dust blown in by the wind have absorbed the sun’s heat and sunk deep into the snow and ice. We are forced now to travel on the rough sea ice because the land holds so little snow. This cycle has continued to escalate over the years, and we now can hardly argue that we are not causing drastic changes to this environment, and to those majestic creatures that inhabit this harsh landscape and nowhere else.
The Muskox (Ovibos moschatus) is an arctic mammal of the Bovidae family, noted for its thick coat and for the strong odor emitted by males, from which its name derives.
Muskoxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than to oxen, but are in their own genus, Ovibos. Both sexes have long curved horns. Muskoxen are usually around 2.5 m (8.2 ft) long and 1.4 m (4.6 feet) high at the shoulder. Adults usually weigh at least 200 kg (440 lb) and can exceed 400 kg (880 lb). Their coat, a mix of black, gray, and brown, includes long guard hairs that reach almost to the ground.
During the summer, musk oxen live in wet areas, such as river valleys, moving to higher elevations in the winter to avoid deep snow. They graze on grasses, reeds, sedges, and other ground plants, digging through snow in the winter to reach their food.
Muskoxen are social and live in herds, usually of around 10–20 animals, but sometimes over 400.
Muskoxen have a distinctive defensive behavior: when the herd is threatened, the bulls and cows will face outward to form a stationary ring around the calves. This is an effective defense against predators such as wolves, but makes them an easy target for human hunters.
View the Global Warming 101 Ellesmere Island Expedition map and follow their progress.
Map updated daily with new position.
This dispatch was created and posted using Dispatch 1.0 – an expedition dispatch software developed by The Will Steger Foundation and Global Warming 101 Expeditions.