Sometimes the biggest discovery in life is what you don't know.
Karen Butt, a Grade 11 student at Lower Canada College, realized that when she spent 11 days on the Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen, on the most recent leg of its annual research voyage throughout Canada's Arctic. "Now I realize there are so much more you can do; so many things to find out." Butt, a hockey player and student leader at LCC, was among nine young people from across Canada who completed a program operated by Schools on Board, based at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, that lets them observe and work with scientists on the ship.
Schools on Board participates in one leg every year. The students are partially funded by ArcticNet but must raise the registration fee, which varies annually but is kept around $3,000.
On board, they donned floater suits, steel-toed boots and hard hats - often in the small hours of the morning - to watch sampling gear being lowered and raised from the bow, and perform the often messy unloading. Or they worked in labs on tasks like picking specimens from muddy sediments, testing sea water for mercury contamination, and measuring and photographing tiny Arctic cod. Butt was selected to bounce around the Beaufort Sea in a Zodiac, helping researchers to collect mercury test samples, a task so sensitive the water must be taken a considerable distance from the Amundsen to avoid contamination from the ship.
The program also included presentations from scientists about their work and ship's crew about Arctic history and the Amundsen.
The trip opened her to new disciplines and interests: "I never would have thought I liked plankton, it seemed so boring and insignificant," Butt says.
"I think it's really neat now. "Thinking about the food chain wasn't that exciting. But when you're in the place you're actually studying, it's really different. You look outside and you see you're in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. It seems so cool, and you want to know more . the things you can't see and how complicated it is to learn about it."
The voyage also brought home the impact of climate change: "When you're on a ship and days go by and there's still no ice, it has a much bigger effect than seeing a picture that takes 10 seconds."
By PETER GORRIE, The Gazette