Canadian Rangers are known for being the watchers of the North in terms of sovereignty operations, but patrols across the territory are also expanding their roles by taking on some new environmental monitoring efforts.
Ranger leaders from across the Western Arctic got some additional training last month in Inuvik to use on their annual Polar Passage trip, which sends patrols out on sovereignty missions across the Northwest Passage during late February and early March.
Teams were instructed on the use of equipment supplied by the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to be able to take samples and do readings of ocean water while out on the land.
According to Capt. Rich Layden, the operations officer for Polar Passage, the project is mutually beneficial to both the Rangers and scientists.
“It gives good interoperability with other government departments,” Layden said. “With today’s constraints, sometimes they’re not able to send scientists, and sometimes scientists aren’t the best for doing that kind of traveling and work, whereas the Rangers are ideally suited for it; they just need the baseline training on the equipment. In regards to patrolling 300-400 km away from their community and back safely, that’s their bread and butter.”
While demonstrating sovereignty remains the Rangers’ number one task, Layden said the patrols are now also trained in the use of several pieces of equipment monitoring changes in sea ice and water related to climate change, which he said is now “of grave concern” in the Arctic.
One type of equipment tests ice and is dragged behind the Rangers’ komatiks when traveling out on the land. The other is a sensor dropped through a hole in the ice to the bottom of the ocean floor that collects a wide range of data for DFO.
“During that process, the sensor…does salinity, temperature – all those fundamental base readings that DFO scientists require. That’s something they’ve trained our patrols in doing,” Layden said.
DFO then picks up the sensors, which contain the data, and takes them to be analyzed.
This is the third year the Rangers have assisted in gathering scientific data for the DFO while on Operation Polar Passage, but the first time the training has been offered in the NWT. This year’s operation focused on the western entrance to the passage at Amundsen Gulf, which saw Rangers from Tuktoyaktuk, Paulatuk, Kugluktuk, Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour do patrols.
Previous years have focused on the more eastern and central parts of the passage.
“We move year to year just to spread the experience, the training, and all that around,” Layden said. “It’s been such a good success that each year…we’ve been able to borrow more and more equipment from DFO and put it in more communities. So each year, the sphere of scientific data we’re able to give back to DFO is a little larger.”
He said his goal as operations officer is to have enough capacity established that Rangers could patrol the passage from end to end throughout the month of February.
“But that could be a dream on my part,” he said with a laugh.
The Rangers also collect polar bear feces for a separate study being done by Queen’s University.
“It doesn’t cost us anything except for a few minutes of time,” Layden said. “We’re there, we’re doing other things anyway, it’s no burden.”