NOAA’s Arkctic: The Great Flood of July 2016

Every day (or every week day) from far away in Edinburgh we are sent three weather emails from our trusty robotics intern Callum.  These weather texts come from NOAA or Environment Canada weather stations along the Alaska and Yukon Coast.  It is with these weather texts that we have some forewarning of the weather to come.

After a very warm few days, the winds started to pick up.  This is fairly normal for Qikiqtarȓuk.  But, what we didn’t know, is that it was also a period of spring tides.  We had noticed the tides getting higher and higher and the water level rising.  Once the winds started blowing steadily and strongly from the Northwest and the tide level was increasing – the storm surge was underway.

First the water was higher than normal, then puddles followed by ponds started forming between the buildings, then some streams of water started to flow from the ocean onto the lower parts of the spit.  As the tides went up and down the amount of flooding increased as the rain and wind was lashing the island.

By Monday at around 1pm, things became pretty epically biblical as the water levels reached their peak.  Our new home the Trapper’s cabin was both surrounded and underlain with about a foot (30 cm) or more of water.  At the peak the water was 10cm from the door level and we were worried that it might flood inside.  If you tried to walk between buildings without hip waders on you would over top your boots.  There was around 2 feet (60 cm) of water between each building.

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The Trappers cabin was surrounded by water but mercifully remained dry on the inside

Jakob and Santo went around camp trying to rescue all the flooded animals – two by two.  First, Jakob tried to rescue a bedraggled sandpiper chick and then Santo, in the process of rescuing the muskox sculls in front of the bone house, unearthed some wet and miserable voles including Leo Volstoy the very good friend of Ernest Lemmingway.

Santo had a plan of building a raft out of plywood planks a giant raft to carry all the drowning animals, but there wasn’t enough time so instead they brought over the Zodiak – called Beluga – from the docks into camp to move stuff between buildings.  In the end Santo, Jakob and Sammy (the German researcher) ended up putting on the survival suits and floating through water flowing onto the spit from the cove and generally splashing around and having fun – because once you are in an epic 100-year flood – you might as well have fun with it!

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Beluga, the Zodiac used to move our stuff away from the flood zone

There were discussions of evacuating all us off of the island, but we said we wanted to wait it out.  If had left then we couldn’t have afforded to come back, and that would be the end of our research field season.  And thankfully, since then with each passing tide the water level has been dropping.  You still need to wear boots around camp though!

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All the logs from the sauna sadly floated away

So now we await the rest of our field crew, who have been stranded in Inuvik because of the floods.  They were meant to fly here on Tuesday, but now the airstrip is very much flooded and won’t dry out for several days or more.  They have booked float planes to get in, but the winds are still too high for the float plane to land on the water. A helicopter carrying the ranger crew change and one of our team members Jeff Kerby has just arrived. And Callum’s e-mails suggest that the high winds should abate today as the winds switch from west to east.  So here is hoping that during that window of fairer weather the rest of our crew can fly in and perhaps we can even get back to science and flying drones!

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Blue skies make us hope that the rest of the team will make it to the island soon!

Casualties of the storm surge:

  1. Three support posts knocked out from under the Canadian Whaling & Trading Company Warehouse Building by waves and logs – it is now precariously balanced on the one side – this is where we store our food and research equipment.
  2. Flooding of the Bone House building with standing water in each of the wings of the building, it is slowly started to dry off.
  3. The fish smoke house was swept away by the waves completely.
  4. Loss of all of the wood and water containers from around the sauna all floated off to high ground about 100 m or more from camp.

And here is our storm surge rap or poem – depending on how you read it:

Let it flood, no bother

We have willow blood

It is wet, no worries

TS connected through the net

Let it storm, no problem

We’re in Super Shrub Form

by Isla and Santo

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