Patrick Potter

Natural Resources Canada

Learn about working on an ice camp during the Alpha Ridge refraction study, the effects of Arctic weather, and the experience of building an igloo.


It’s hard to describe the sense of peace and rugged beautify out there. Working in an ice camp is obviously a unique experience. It’s something I’d never done before. It’s magical to be out there on the ice.

When I first got to the ice camp, it was a little bit windy and I wasn’t ready for it. I had my goggles and my fur hat on and thought I was ready. And within about ten seconds my nose had frozen so I sprinted off to the nearest tent to warm my nose up and now whenever it’s cold and windy I can feel my nose telling me, “remember that moment at the ice camp, my first moment in the ice camp.” I’ve got a souvenir.

My involvement in the UNCLOS project was on the Alpha Ridge refraction survey to survey the subsurface beneath Alpha Ridge, to look at the structure there in order to determine that it was really a part of the Canada land mass.

We can’t get down there to look at the subsurface layers. We have to use geophysical means and seismic refraction is one of the best ways of doing that. It’s like an ultra sound where you send acoustic energy down beneath the surface and then received that energy back and it tells you something about the layers they’ve travelled though.

The initial staging work was done at Eureka weather station. Then when conditions were appropriate we started to work from an ice camp which was north of Ellesmere Island. And we had between 3 teams, 110 instruments to lay out in lines that were actually over 100 kilometres long.

I guess the most special memory that I take from the Alpha Ridge program actually had nothing to do with the work we were doing there and it happened at the very end on the last day at the ice camp. A number of us were staying together in a tent and the wildlife observers from Grise Fiord, Tom and Randy, were staying in our tent and we were talking with them about various things, what it’s like to live up north, and we got asking Tom about igloos and if he had ever built and igloo, and did he know how to build one. He grabbed a hand saw out of the tool shed and showed us how to saw out the blocks for an igloo. And before you knew it, there were a dozen guys from down south sawing blocks and Tom built an igloo. We all got to spend some time inside and it was just a real gift, a parting gift before we went home. That’s a memory I’ll treasure forever.

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