You’re miles from home, it’s -40 C, it’s dark as night, and your snowmobile won’t start. This would be a nightmare scenario to most, but to Angulalik Pedersen, 24, it’s game time. Pedersen grew up in Kugluktuk, Nunavut and works in technical science support for Polar Knowledge Canada, helping to develop its Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) in Cambridge Bay. “If I’m outside, to me, that’s not work,” he says.
“A lot of what I know on the land is from my dad, from my grandfather, from my uncles who I’ve hunted with. It’s all passed down knowledge.” That includes how to dismantle and reassemble a Polaris snowmobile engine. In the Arctic, knowing how to maintain your equipment is not just an asset, it’s a requirement because in the field, a vehicle is a lifeline. “I’m not going to go out unless I know that it can get me there and get me home, and if it does break down that I can fix it.”
Scheduled to open in 2017, CHARS, a multi-disciplinary hub for Northern science, will house advanced laboratories and centres for traditional knowledge and technology development. In the meantime, staff are gathering inventory data from surrounding lakes, streams and tundra, and piloting studies for plant phenology, bird migration, parasites affecting mammal populations, and changes in ecosystems for zooplankton, phytoplankton and fish like Arctic char.
“The idea that he is going to go out and maintain weather stations all year on his snowmobile, he can’t believe he’s getting paid to do it.”
Last year, Pedersen maintained, monitored and collected data from remote meteorological stations to test air temperature, permafrost depth and wind direction. He’s a registered bear and guns monitor and he also works as a cultural interpreter, introducing researchers to Northern life.
Pedersen began working with CHARS as a summer student while studying for an environmental technology diploma at Nunavut Arctic College. He chose the college over a program in Edmonton so he could study in the North. It’s a good thing, because that’s where he met his fiancé, Candice, who works as a conservation officer. His snow-sculpting skills sealed their engagement. “Inuit tradition is you cannot get married until you can build an igloo. How are you going to have a family when you can’t even build a home for yourself?”
Pedersen did leave home to pursue his education earlier in life. At 14, he moved to Toronto to attend a private international baccalaureate school, though it took time convincing his mother to let him live so far away at such a young age. He was the first Inuk to attend the school and first indigenous youth to fully complete the program.
Donald McLennan, CHARS senior program officer, says Pedersen brings with him a tremendous knowledge of Northern ecosystems and wildlife—and an unparalleled enthusiasm for the job. “Angut loves working at 40- and 45-below,” he says. “The idea that he is going to go out and maintain weather stations all year on his snowmobile, he can’t believe he’s getting paid to do it.”
He makes work fun for those around him too. Northern isolation is commonly underestimated. Above the Arctic Circle there are 24 hours of daylight in summer and in the deep of winter, total darkness. Cell reception is a relatively new concept; minus 60 isn’t. “You’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re kind of on your own and it’s cold,” he says. “Things are slow, quiet.” To bring brightness, he builds inuksuit from coloured ice blocks and strings them with Christmas lights. “It illuminates people’s personalities. It keeps moods up.”