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Blog

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology

09/23/22

FROM SOUTH TO NORTH: CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON PLANTS

This summer I went from Manitoba’s southern-most border all the way to its northern one within just a week. I was fascinated to see how differences in climate had influenced the plant communities. The massive trees of the south give way to nearly treeless tundra in the far north. But despite being separated by over 1,000 kilometers, both places had something in common: climate change was beginning to impact the plants.

I went by motor boat to the pristine Reed River to look for rare plants. © Manitoba Museum

To the Southeast

In early August, I drove to Buffalo Point First Nation to search for rare plants, with the permission of the community. Buffalo Point is in the extreme southeastern corner of the province. Many plants reach their northeastern limit in that part of the province, including Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana).

Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) only grows in the southeastern part of the province. © Manitoba Museum

In addition to hiking the trails there, I travelled by boat down the Reed River with two Indigenous guides. I was looking for rare plants that grow on shorelines. Alas, they were not there. Due to the heavy snow and rain this year, the water level was higher than my guides had ever seen in their lives. The water extended right into the forest, killing some of the waterlogged trees and flooding once productive beds of Wild Rice (Zizania palustris).

High water levels in the Reed River flooded areas where beds of Wild Rice (Zizania palustris) used to grow. © Manitoba Museum

To the North
A week later, I was on a plane to Churchill to search for rare plants in that part of the province. Once again, I visited a river that was swollen beyond its usual level: the Churchill River. My Indigenous guide commented that the normal shoreline vegetation was completely covered by water. But it wasn’t just the river vegetation that was being impacted, either.

Vegetation along the Churchill River was flooded in 2022. © Manitoba Museum

Another Indigenous person I met told me that her 70-year old grandfather had witnessed huge changes in the tundra around Churchill in his lifetime. Tall shrubs, like Silver Willow (Salix candida), were much less common in the past. These tall species are now increasing in abundance, as they can out-compete the short, tundra vegetation when temperatures are warmer (Mekonnen, 2021).  With continued warming, this “shrubification” will likely continue, completely changing the plant communities in the far north.

Silver Willow (Salix candida) and other tall shrubs are encroaching on the tundra. © Manitoba Museum

Climate Change Consequences

I reflected that droughts and higher air temperatures are not the only consequences of adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Warm air holds more water than colder air, paving the way for unusually heavy snowfalls and torrential downpours (Konapala et al., 2020; Willett, 2020). Fewer natural wetlands in Manitoba’s south means that much of that moisture flows quickly into our rivers, causing floods, instead of being stored on the landscape. The huge Great Hay Marsh (southwest of Winnipeg), which used to cover an astonishing 194 km2, was completely drained in the early 1900’s, and no longer exists (Hanuta, 2001). It’s water storage and filtration functions, which might have helped build resiliency to climate change, are now unavailable.

The new map in the Museum’s Prairies Gallery shows the location of now extinct wetlands like the Great Hay Marsh. © Manitoba Museum

This summer was a stark reminder that the consequences of humanity’s behavior reverberates in the remotest areas of the globe. We have the ability to alter the ecosystems of the world, for good or ill. Protecting and restoring ecosystems, like wetlands, is just one way to help humanity weather the changes that are ahead.

Short, tundra plants like White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia), shown here in fruit, may become rare in Manitoba, as climate change increases arctic temperatures and thaws permafrost. © Manitoba Museum

References
Hanuta, I. (2001) A reconstruction of wetland information in presettlement southern Manitoba using a Geographic Information System. Canadian Water Resources Journal, 26: 183-194.

Konapala, G., Mishra, A.K., Wada, Y. et al. (2020) Climate change will affect global water availability through compounding changes in seasonal precipitation and evaporation. Nature Communications 11: 3044.

Mekonnen, Z.A. et al (2021) Arctic tundra shrubification: A review of mechanisms and impacts on ecosystem carbon balance. Environmental Research Letters 16: 053001

Willett, K. M. et al. (2020) Development of the HadISDH marine humidity climate monitoring dataset, Earth System Science Data 12: 2853-2880.

 

08/31/22

The Tryzub: Ukrainian Canadian Veterans, Branch 141 (Part II)

For Part I: https://manitobamuseum.ca/archives/49639

When the Ukrainian Canadian Legion Branch 141 building closed on Selkirk Avenue at the end of March 2022, Vladimir Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine was a month old. I visited the Legion building and was shown the flag of Branch 141, and I was struck by the power of the symbols, given the current conflict. Though this flag has its origins among Canadian veterans from the Second World War, history has come around to give it new symbolic power.

Ukrainian Canadian Veterans Branch 141 flag, likely designed in the late 1940s.

 

The flag includes the Ukrainian flag colours, with light blue above, and yellow below. In the centre is a dark green, organic maple leaf, and within this lies the now famous Tryzub, or Ukrainian “trident” symbol. A green maple leaf might be surprising, but today’s abstracted red maple leaf on the modern Canadian flag was only adopted in 1965, after the Branch 141 flag was created. The organic maple leaf was first adopted by Lower Canada in the 1830s, and has been associated with the Canadian military since 1860.

The golden Tryzub currently used as a symbol of Ukrainian independence has a much deeper history. It is based on symbols over 1000 years old that appeared on coins minted for Volodymyr the Great of Kyiv in 980 CE. The Tryzub was adapted for use in the coat of arms of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1918, after the fall of the Russian Empire during the First World War. When Bolshevik forces took over the country in 1920, the Tryzub was replaced by Soviet symbology, most notably the hammer and sickle. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic existed from 1920 until 1991.

The Tryzub is seen here on the cover of a Ukrainian language phrasebook published in Winnipeg in 1931. The publisher was Frank Dojacek, a Czeck immigrant to Winnipeg who started the Ruthenian Booksellers and Winnipeg Music Supply store on Main Street in the 1910s. He supplied products to the large Eastern European population in Manitoba, and knew seven languages. H9-7-23

 

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine once again declared its independence, and the Tryzub was instituted as part of the “small coat of arms” in 1992. It has continued as a symbol of independence for 30 years.

Today, during the war between Ukraine and Russia, the Tryzub is recognized by many as a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to aggression and invasion. Seeing it joined with the maple leaf on the Ukrainian Canadian Veterans flag suggests new symbolic associations, such as the current support of Ukraine’s war efforts by the Canadian government, as well as Ukrainian Canadian heritage in Canada.  

It’s important to note that national symbols often get hijacked by nationalist groups, far right elements, and other extremists for their own purposes. Symbols are open to interpretation, but at the same time act as a focus for emotions.

08/09/22

The 2022 Perseid Meteor Shower

[Image: Prokhor Minina/Unsplash]

August brings with it hot summer days, earlier sunsets, and the annual Perseid meteor shower. Here’s how you can get the best view of the shooting stars this season.

TL;DR: Best views  for Manitobans will occur between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, August 13th, or the mornings immediately before or after that date. Go somewhere where you can see the stars, face east, and watch the sky. Don’t look at your phone or you will ruin the night vision you need to see them. If it’s cloudy, the morning before or after will still be pretty good. Expect to see a meteor every few minutes. If you’re lucky you might see more.


The Perseid meteor shower is the best-known, if not the best, meteor shower of the year, and August is a reasonable month to spend some time under the stars. On good years you can expect a meteor every minute or so. 2022 isn’t a “good year”, though, because the nearly-Full Moon will light up the sky and make it hard to see the fainter meteors. But it’s still worth getting out for, and the sky has a lot of other sights to see while you’re under the stars.

What’s Happening?

So, some basics first: a meteor is a glowing trail of light that shoots across the sky and disappears in the blink of an eye. Some are faint, while others can be so bright they light up the ground like the flash from a camera. They are caused by tiny pieces of dust floating out in space. When the dust hits the Earth, Earth’s upper atmosphere slows it down very quickly. At heights of 50km or more,  all of that speed energy gets turned into heat energy, and the piece of dust vaporizes. The excess heat causes the air around the dust to glow, and we see that glow from the ground as a meteor. (Some people call them “falling stars” or “shooting stars”, but they’re not related to stars at all.)

On any given night of the year, if you watched the sky for an hour continuously you’d see about half a dozen meteors on average. (They’re much more common than people think!)  But on certina nights of the year, the Earth crashes through a cloud of dust – like an interplanetary dust bunny – and we see more meteors than usual. That’s a meteor shower.

These dust bunnies are left behind by comets that orbit the sun. A comet is a small body of ice and dust only a few kilometers across. There are millions of them, but most stay out at the fringes of the solar system and are invisible. When one gets nudged in towards the sun, it can warm up and melt, and the comet forms its characteristic tail. After the comet loops around the Sun it re-freezes, becoming invisible once again until its next return. The orbital path of the comet becomes very dusty from repeated passages of the comet. If the Earth’s orbiot happens to intersect the comet’s orbit, we will hit that dusty patch at the same time every year.

Meteor activity from the Perseids actually begins around the end of July, but because the edges of the comet’s path aren’t as dusty as the middle, we don’t see very many Perseids until a few days before the peak. This year the peak occurs on the 12th of August, but there will be decent activity from the 10th through the 14th or so.

There’s a big, “BUT” on when the peak activity is for your location, though. Just because the earth is in the dustiest part of the comet’s path doesn’t mean you can see meteors then – it might be daytime for you, or you might be on the far side of the earth from the direction the earth is moving. So, the best time to watch is between about 3 a.m.and 5 a.m. on the mornings closest to the peak. Due to a variety of factors we won’t get into here, you’ll almost always see the most meteors from a single location in the pre-dawn hours.

How to See the Perseids

Like most astronomical events, a meteor shower is best seen away from the lights of the city where you can get an unobstructed view of the stars. Unlike most astronomical events, no special equipment is required – the most complicated item you’ll need is a reclining lawn chair or a blanket.

First, watch the weather. Meteors happen above the clouds, so if it’s cloudy we can’t see them. You want a clear forecast in the critical 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. period.

Second, get out of the city. Street lights make it hard to see stars, and this is even more true for meteors which flash by in a second or two. You don’t have to go far, but even 15 minutes outside of the city in an area without any big streetlights will quadruple your meteor count at least.

Third, get comfy and be patient. Meteors can occur anywhere in the sky, so you want to watch as much sky as possible. A reclining lawn chair or blanket lets you fill your view with sky instead of ground. And watch the sky continuously. By the time someone says, “there’s one!” you have already missed it. Keep your eyes on the sky. Don’t use binoculars or a telescope, since those only show a part of the sky at once – you want the wide field of view provided by the factory-installed optical detectors you came with.

In the age of mobile devices, this advice is even more critical. It takes a good five minutes for your eyes to go from “daytime” mode to “night vision” mode, but it only takes a second of bright light to ruin your night vision and require another five minutes to switch back. every one second you look at your screen means you’ll miss at least 5 minutes’ worth of meteors.

Shooting a Shooting Star

You can take pictures of the sky with any camera, even the one in your mobile device – if you know how. The typical camera is designed for family pictures at the beach, not stars, so find out how to make your camera work well. Turn your flash off (it won’t help, and will ruin the night vision of everyone else around you), and set the camera for “night mode” or long exposure. There are also dedicated apps for taking star pictures you can find on your device’s app store. Point-and-shoot cameras often let you set the camera to “bulb” (manual) or take exposures up to 30 seconds. A DSLR or mirrorless camera will take amazing star pictures, but takes practice to use.

Point the camera at an area of sky, set it on the ground or use a tripod, and press the button. You’ll get a picture of the stars at least, and if you’re lucky, a meteor will happen in that part of the sky while you’re taking the picture. If not… just try again. And again. For every meteor image you see online, that photographer has hundreds of no-meteor images that still show the constellations, Milky Way, satellites, or Northern Lights. Still cool, even without the meteor.

If you get any good pictures this meteor shower, I’d love to see them! Send them to [email protected] and we’ll show the best ones on our [email protected] show.

 

 

 

 

08/05/22

Top Flight: The Churchill Rocket Range

A two-stage rocket departs for space on a clear day in Churchill. Photo by Ken Pilon.

By Tamika Reid, Volunteer Researcher, and Roland Sawatzky, Curator of History, Manitoba Museum

 

Churchill, Manitoba is well known for its scenic arctic landscape, polar bears, and vibrant northern lights, but did you know that Churchill was once home to the most active rocket range in Canada?

While the Churchill Rocket Range was in regular operation, between 1957 and 1985, Churchill hosted an international array of scientists, technicians, students, contractors, and military personnel. Through their pioneering studies, Manitoba has a permanent place in the history of early rocket development, and research into the mysteries of the upper atmosphere and aurora borealis. This work enriched humanity’s understanding of the thin layer surrounding our fragile planet.

Ken Pilon worked at the Churchill Rocket Range in the early 1980s as a meteorologist, supporting winter launches by providing crucial wind and temperature information. The northern climate made blizzards and high surface wind speeds a concern for launch trajectory. Pilon worked with a team of up to 60 people. “The hours and working conditions were extreme at times, but I never heard a single complaint from any of them,” said Pilon.

A recent episode of [email protected], a bi-weekly virtual program hosted by Planetarium Astronomer, Scott Young, featured Pilon’s artifacts and images. In response, a viewer from Colorado, Dr. Ron Estler, contacted the Museum and shared his experience as a graduate student at the Churchill Rocket Range, along with more photographs.

For six weeks in 1975, Estler was part of an Aerobee 150 rocket launch funded by NASA, through John Hopkins University. Studying Chemical Physics, Estler was tasked with overseeing electron spectrometers to be launched with the Aerobee, for analyzing the energy of electrons. 

The Churchill Rocket Range, 1975. Photo by Ron Estler.

Having visited Churchill last March for the first time since working there as a student, Estler is already planning another trip north. On the way, he plans to visit the Manitoba Museum. “It will remind me that I played a very small role in something much bigger and fundamentally important to the knowledge of our own planet,” said Estler.

The Manitoba Museum is planning a future exhibit on the Churchill Rocket Range to highlight stories like these, and the role of the Rocket Range in space and science research. You can see a Black Brant V, a type of rocket also used at the Churchill Rocket Range, in the Science Gallery at the Manitoba Museum. 

A daytime launch of a Black Brant VB rocket, February, 1984. Photo by Ken Pilon.

07/25/22

Maximizing Space: Improving the preservation and storage of large mammal skins

Post by Marc Formosa, Collections Technician (Natural History)

A current and ongoing problem for museums is collection storage space. Maximizing space for expanding collections requires Tetris-like problem solving. We are always looking for ways to make the most of the space we have, while improving the long-term preservation of the objects in the collection.

In the spring of 2021, I had the chance to virtually attend the joint American Institution for Conservation (AIC) and The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) conference.  A presentation by Laura Abraczinkas and Barbara Lundrigan titled “Storage Improvements for Tanned Mammal Skins at the Michigan State University Museum” covered folding techniques for large mammal skins to reduce the space they take up, while also discussing how to protect parts of the skin like the paws and head from potential damage while folded.  The information in this presentation inspired a rehousing project for polar bear, grizzly, cougar, grey wolf, and leopard skins in the zoology collection.

Most of the skins that were rehoused as part of this project were attached to a felt fabric backing.  This is typically done if a skin is going to be used as a rug.  The head is stretched around an armature (made from a variety of materials including wood, foam, and plaster) to maintain a semi-life like position, but it also makes the head quite heavy. The mouth and teeth are created by the taxidermist and are not part of the original mammal.

Marc with the grey wolf skin getting it ready for rehousing. Image: © Manitoba Museum

For each mammal, I started by creating custom mittens for their paws out of Tyvek – a lightweight and durable nonwoven material that is resistant to water and abrasion, and has good aging properties.  I used a sewing machine, for the first time, and stitched the Tyvek together with cotton thread so each mitten fit snug around each paw.

The stitched Tyvek mittens fit snuggly on each paw. Image: © Manitoba Museum

The folding method can be simply described as a ‘bear’ hugging itself. Every fold is padded out with volara, a smooth closed-celled polyethylene foam, to add support and prevent creases forming in the skin. Finally, the head sits on top of the folded skin, again padded out with volara.

Cougar skin folded and padded with volara supports inside a coroplast box. Image: © Manitoba Museum

For the cougar and leopard heads, customs pads were created for each head to sit on away from the body in order to alleviate stress and prevent the skin from creasing on the neck where the head armature meets the skin.

The cougar’s head is supported with a soft Tyvek-covered chin pillow. Image: © Manitoba Museum

The skins were individually wrapped in polyethylene sheets as an additional barrier from dust accumulation and insects. Custom boxes were built out of coroplast which allow for the skins to be more easily handled as they move in and out of their new home in the collections storage vault. Overall, this rehousing project improved the preservation of the skins and their storage method. It freed up space, but free space does not remain long in museum collections storage spaces.

The rehoused large mammal skins are safely stored in cabinets inside the collections storage vault. Image: © Manitoba Museum