About CFS Alert
Canadian Forces Station Alert
Canadian Forces personnel, Department of National Defence employees and Department of the Environment employees comprise the entire population of Canadian Forces Station Alert.
CFS Alert maintains signals intelligence facilities to support of Canadian military operations. Signals intelligence is conducted remotely, using the equipment and facilities located Alert.
Personnel at CFS Alert also maintain a geolocation capability to support operations and High Frequency and Direction Finding (HFDF) facilities to support search and rescue and other operations, and provide support to Environment Canada and Arctic researchers. Alert also plays a key role in projecting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
An Environment Canada employee releasing a rawinsonde, also known as a radiosonde. A rawinsonde is an instrument carried by balloon through the atmosphere and equipped with sensors to measure meteorological variables such as pressure, temperature, humidity and so on. It includes a radio transmitter to send the information back to the observing station. Credit: submitted.
The Dr. Neil Trivett Global Atmosphere Watch Observatory at Alert belongs to Environment Canada. It provides data for scientific assessments and other atmospheric research that improves understanding of climate change and air quality in the Arctic and around the world. Alert is also home to an Environment Canada Upper Air Weather Station.
Over the years, technological advances led to the reduction in the number of personnel required for the operational/signals intelligence role.
There are approximately 55 full-time military, civilian and contracted personnel provide services that include administration, operations, construction engineering, transport, supply, food services and medical services. Environment Canada has up to four employees on station at a time. As well, many people come to Alert on a temporary basis.
The tour of duty for most of the permanent positions at CFS Alert is for six months, with some specialized positions being designated as requiring a rotation every three months.
Military personnel who acquire an aggregate of 180 days of honourable service while posted to Alert, or while serving with a military force operationally deployed to or at Alert are eligible for the Special Service Medal.
Flight engineer MCpl Pierre Gagne and pilot Capt Mike Hickman of 440 Transport (T) Squadron in Yellowknife wrap blankets on the engines and wings of a CC-138 Twin Otter to help retain oil temperature and protect the wings from frost in the harsh conditions and extreme temperatures at Fort Eureka during Operation Nunalivut 2009. Credit: Sgt Errol Morel.
Eureka, also located on Ellesmere Island is at 80° North latitude or about 400 kilometres south of Alert, making it the second most northerly permanently inhabited location in the world. Eureka consists an airport, "Fort Eureka" (quarters for military personnel maintaining communications equipment), and an Environment Canada Weather Station. It was established 60 years ago as part of the Canada-U.S. network of post-war Arctic weather stations.
Operation Boxtop, which resupplies Alert on a semi-annual basis, also resupplies Eureka.
CFS Alert's official crest and motto clearly reflect the station's geographic position as the most northerly, permanently inhabited location in Canada or throughout the world.
The heraldic description is as follows: "parted per pale sable and or, above a base indented on four argent, parted dancetty fesse-wise of two azure and charged with two barrulets wavy argent, a muskox head affronte erased or".
The black and yellow background signifies the two conditions of 24 hours of darkness and daylight which prevail in the Arctic. The muskox, a hardy animal that lives and survives despite the many hardships of the icy, barren and forbidding wastes of the Arctic, is suitably symbolic of those who serve at this northern station.
The station's motto, in the Inuit language, Inuktitut, is INUIT NUNANGATA UNGATA, meaning "Beyond the Inuit land".
The motto signifies that no-one, including the Inuit, has been known to go and permanently live as far north as Alert, except as Canadian Forces, National Defence or other federal employees posted there.
The famous signposts at CFS Alert, showing the distances to several Canadian and international cities. Credit: Cpl David Hardwick.
CFS Alert is situated on the north eastern tip of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in the territory of Nunavut.
It is found at 82° 30' North latitude, and 62° 19' West longitude. This is approximately the same longitude as Charlottetown, P.E.I.
It is only 817 kilometres from the geographic North Pole.
The closest Inuit settlement is Grise Fjord, located about 725 kilometres to the south. The Environment Canada weather station at Eureka is about 400 kilometers to the south. Although Edmonton is the nearest Canadian city at 3,475 kilometres, Stockholm, Sweden is closer - is only 3,282 kilometres away.
CFS Alert is always on Ottawa time, either Eastern Standard or Eastern Daylight Saving Time.
The often-photographed signposts at Alert portray other distances from Alert, including:
|Vancouver, B.C.||4,264 kilometres|
|Winnipeg, Man.||3,990 kilometres|
|Toronto, Ont.||4,344 kilometres|
|Ottawa, Ont.||4,151 kilometres|
|Montreal, Que.||4,135 kilometres|
|Halifax, N.S.||4,183 kilometres|
|Resolute Bay, Nunavut||1,046 kilometres|
|Thule Air Force Base, Greenland||676 kilometres|
Geographic environment of CFS Alert
The terrain in the vicinity of Canadian Forces Station Alert is rugged and undulating with hills and valleys. The United States mountain range is visible to the west, and on a clear day the peaks and cliffs of Greenland can be seen 56 kilometres to the southeast.
Muskoxen on Ellesmere Island. Credit: MCpl Kevin Paul.
Pack ice is usually present offshore during summer and is frozen solid from shore to horizon in winter. The coastline is irregular with many small inlets, bays and points of land. The rocks in the area consist almost exclusively of slate and shale, which break down easily, forming ravines and canyons in the plateau regions, and stony clay along the coast. In summer, the shale disintegrates to a very fine penetrating dust, and the ground thaws in some places to a depth of one meter, under which permafrost is found.
Although the soil is poor and growing conditions are extremely harsh, more than 70 different species of plants are found in the area. Vegetation manages to exist in the lee of hills and cracks in the ground, and during most of July and August many miniature flowers grow, resulting in a profusion of reds, purples, whites, and yellows from every available sheltered place. Common plant types are blue grass, chickweed, arctic poppy, saxifrage, arctic willow, and mountain avens.
A curious Arctic wolf during Operation Nunalivut 2008 on Ellesmere Island. Credit: MCpl Kevin Paul
There is an astonishing variety of wildlife in the area, but the total population is small due to the scarcity of available food. Arctic hare and fox are common to the area, while seals, arctic wolves, musk-ox, caribou, lemmings, and weasels (ermine) are occasionally seen.
Many types of birds nest here in the summer, but are gone by September. They include glaucous and ivory gulls, longtailed jaegers, sandpipers, turnstones, knots, snow buntings, oldsquaws, and occasionally snow geese. Although insect life seems to be almost non-existent, spiders, deer flies and warble (blue) flies abound on Ellesmere Island. In some areas, large numbers of small flies swarm a few inches above rocks on hillside heated by the sun, but they are not bothersome.
The most noticeable differences in the environment compared to southern Canada are the periods of full daylight and full darkness, lower ambient temperatures, and lower annual precipitation.
Sunset on Ellesmere Island during Operation Nunalivut in March 2008. Credit: MCpl Kevin Paul.
From approximately April 8 to Sept. 5, there is absolutely no night time. At the peak of summer, the sun revolves around the horizon, rising no higher than about 30° above the horizon at noon, and dipping to about 16° above the horizon at midnight.
From Oct. 10 to March 1, there is no direct sunlight, and between these two extremes there is a fairly rapid transition period, which takes approximately six weeks.
During the summer months, CFS Alert experiences about 28 frost-free days. The temperature rises to an average daily high of approximately 10° Celsius, with 20° Celsius being the record high.
Aerial view of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. Credit: MCpl Kevin Paul.
In July, the warmest month, the daily mean is 4° Celsius. During the winter the temperature typically hovers around -40° Celsius for extended period; the record low is -50° Celsius. Severe storms can appear on short notice, and when this happens, visibility quickly deteriorates to zero because of blowing snow. The human body's ability to keep itself warm is also severely reduced as the wind gets stronger. This effect, known as 'wind chill', makes the temperature feel far colder than the thermometer indicates.
An example of this occurred on Jan. 23, 1993, when the thermometer indicated -45° Celsius, but with the 40 km/h winds, it felt like -71° Celsius. Human skin will freeze in less than one minute if left unprotected at temperatures below -30° Celsius, so it is imperative at CFS Alert that everyone dress for the worst when leaving the immediate camp area.
The area surrounding CFS Alert, like much of the high Arctic, is classified as desert. It may seem strange to picture a place covered with snow most of the year as a desert, but the average precipitation that falls in the area of CFS Alert is less than that in the Sahara Desert.
Since 1951, when recordings began, the mean annual rainfall at Alert has been only 17.5 millimetres, falling almost entirely in July and August. Snow, however, falls in every month of the year, with an annual average of 148.1 centimetres. September has the greatest snowfall of any month, averaging 33 centimetres.
CFS Alert and Eureka were featured as one of Environment Canada's top weather stories of 2007:
Worst Weather on Earth!
"In April, after nine days of slogging through blinding daily blizzards and at times measuring their progress by inches, eight members of the Canadian Forces' Arctic sovereignty patrol ended their mission between Eureka and Alert, along a route believed never to have been taken before. They traveled by snowmobile in temperatures of -50°C and winds that regularly exceeded 100 km/h. The team was one of three that traveled a combined 5,589 kilometres over 17 days to assert Canadian sovereignty in the North. The biting winds and blowing snow meant it took up to two hours just to put up tents, and a simple task like putting gasoline into a snowmobile became an ordeal."
A CC-138 Twin Otter aircraft from 440 Squadron, Yellowknfe, flies in front of the sheer mountains at McClintock Inlet, Ellesmere Island, as part of a resupply mission during Operation Nunalivut 08. Credit: MCpl Kevin Paul.