Walta-Anne Rainey

Marine Geoscience Technologist
Natural Resources Canada

Learn about what it is like aboard an ice breaker, the amazing collaborations needed to do the mapping, and unforgettable experiences such as seeing polar bears running alongside the ship.


You know that the arctic is a vast vast area. And you know it’s cold and you know it’s isolated. Logically you know all these things before you go up. But once you get there and you’re standing on a ship, and you’re breaking ice and you’re looking out over the horizon you don't really grasp the magnitude of where you are and how big an area this is, until you’re sort of standing there.

At that moment, when you’re leaning over and looking at - it’s just beyond comparison. You know, the blues, the white, the horizon where the sea and the ice and the sky all meet, it’s breathtaking, absolutely breathtaking.

Working in the arctic is challenging for most people, depending what they’re working on. I actually was lucky; I didn’t actually work on the deck of the ship. I was one of the lucky ones who actually got to work inside, in a heated environment. The challenges though…there is a certain level of isolation, even modern day with the technologies that we have and the communications that we have. There are many times that we were without communication. No Internet, no cell phone.

I’m a GIS person on this project and my main task is to take all of the data from all of the scientists no matter what the format. And I actually take all of that information, put it into a data base and put it into a software called Geographic Information Systems. I actually create maps and figures.

Collaboration on this project, more so I think than any other project, is extremely important. There is no way that NRCan or Canada could have actually done this work without the collaboration of other government departments. And then the collaborations with other countries - we worked hand in hand with the Americans in the arctic using their ship and our ship to collect the data together and sharing the information. It was invaluable. Because with the collaborations, you also get the knowledge base that comes with it. All this information you’re sharing back and forth was unbelievably challenging and unbelievably rewarding at the same time.

There was one day I was on a little break, and I was standing on the deck and off to the side, I sort of caught a movement with my eye and I glanced over and there was this polar bear. We weren’t travelling very fast because we were actually surveying at the same time so our speed was a little lower. And I looked and was close enough to see with the naked eye, luckily I had my camera with me, a juvenile bear, he couldn’t have been any more than 3 years old. He wasn’t really, really big. But he was running alongside the ship and he was keeping pace with us. And he’d run and he’d stop and look. Then he’d run and he’d stop and he’d look. But it was just to see it for the first time, and I’m not sure if maybe we were the first ship that he saw, because he seemed completely mesmerized with this big red and white creature.

It’s funny, the inspiration for this work is kind of out in left field considering I don’t like the cold and here I am working in the arctic and have been for the past nine years. And the funny thing is that when this project is all said and done I have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to be still working in the arctic…There’s something wrong with me.


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