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Chubb Crater - Part 4 of 12
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- Date: Thu, 07 Oct 1999 21:22:52 +0200
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Scientific Detective Work Begins
Jack Keefe (soon dubbed "Long John") was eager to get started on the
land survey to which he could tie in future readings taken from his
magnetometer, the delicate and valuable instrument used to determine
whether any buried meteorite mass lay beneath the crater rim. Len Cowan
teamed up with him - a good partner, for Len had had considerable
surveying experience in the Canadian Rockies.
"Nick" Martin's job was to make the soundings that would establish the
crater lake's depth. He also was to study any life in its waters or
those of adjacent lakes, and to gather all information possible on bird,
animal, and plant life in the area.
Fred Chubb worked with Nick on the lake, where his frontiersman's skill
with a canoe was invaluable, and also assisted me.
Strictly speaking, Dick Stewart's only job was to compile a photographic
record of our activities, yet somehow he found time for the cook-tent
chores and always was ready to assist anyone in need of help.
In my primary capacity as expedition geologist, I devoted my attention
at the outset to three studies: the region's rock formation; the effects
of the terrific explosion believed to have produced the crater; and what
had taken place since that blast. I also assumed the task of searching
for fragments or other traces of the meteorite.
This search was a major preoccupation with me. Over and over I kept
asking myself, "Where are the fragments of the meteorite?" Surely there
must be some evidence that would tie the crater to a meteoritic origin.
We got on with our work in what seemed an abandoned, inhospitable world.
The landscape might have been that of some deserted planet. There was no
escaping the universal loneliness of our surroundings, the oppressive
silence, the feeling of utter isolation.
The sparsity of vegetation heightened the monotony of all vistas.
Nothing higher than nine inches could be found. Plant life seemed
limited to a species of heather, various lichens and mosses, Arctic
cotton-grass, Iceland poppy, and dwarf willows. The insect population
also was negligible, although occasionally we encountered voracious
Rainy weather we had in unwelcome abundance. Usually the storms were not
driving downpours, but the rain always was sufficient to soak the
lichens on boulders and make them dangerously slippery. Work had to be
stopped until the lichens dried.
On colder days the rains gave way to sleet and snow. Toward the end of
our stay we had snow squalls daily. These aroused considerable worry.
If, at any time, there had been two or three hours of steady snow, the
expedition's work might have been ended for the season. A prolonged
snowstorm would have blanketed boulders and the gaps between them so
completely that any attempt to pass through the rock fields would have
Fortunately the snow we had did not remain long enough to cause serious
Though it was August, the average temperature ranged between 37° and 49°
Fahrenheit. The lowest temperature we recorded was 26°. Twice the
mercury climbed as high as 65°, but only for a few minutes. On most days
it never reached the 50° mark.
We all found it cold, despite heavy Arctic clothing. It was especially
hard on Dick Stewart, who came to Chubb almost direct from tropical
Panama jungles. There he had spent five months with a National
Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition.
Land of Seven-week Summer
And, mind you, the weather conditions we encountered represented
craterland's summer at its best. Winter's ice does not leave this region
until mid-July. Even before the end of August increasingly heavy fogs
were rolling in on us from Hudson Strait, sealing off the barrens from
air transport for days at a time. Such weather explains why we had to
confine our work to this so-called "open period." Even then, one can
expect to face the vanguard of winter snow before leaving.
In this cold emptiness birds were the only form of animal life we saw in
any variety. Among those identified were snow buntings, American pipits,
northern horned larks, Lapland longspurs, sandpipers, semipalmated
plovers, golden plovers, herring gulls, Arctic terns, common loons,
red-throated loons, duck hawks, and a lone eagle. But even bird life
seemed very scarce.
Four-footed animals were an extreme rarity. We saw only three. One was a
lemming, and Len Cowan pounced on it to provide the expedition with its
lone specimen of the rodent family. We also spotted two Arctic foxes and
shot both. Nothing else was taken. Scores of small traps were kept
baited, but we always found them empty.
An explanation of the marked scarcity of animal life may be that many
Arctic species are subject periodically to unexplained fluctuations in
population. It happened, as I learned later, that 1951 was a year of
sharp decline for these creatures of the Far North.
One day we found, near the crater, the remains of some Eskimo campsites.
They probably were about a century old, a reminder of the long-vanished
days when big caribou herds made good hunting in these parts.
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