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Arctic Blast 2001

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"Weekly Topic & News" is posted here every Monday by 7 a.m. CST

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"The Weekly Topic and News" merges the expedition, educational goals, and the needs of teachers. It is the most important component of your online classroom expedition.

Start each week with an in-depth look at this page.

The topic of the week is emphasized with clearly presented, facts and information supplementing each unit of the curriculum package.

Information is also provided to help make real world connections, investigate personal values and discuss current issues.

Completing the circle, the weekly topic will also be highlighted from the Arctic Blast explorers.

Using the sights, sounds, and wilderness perspectives of the arctic facilitate meaningful and energized classes.

The Weekly Topic and News integrates the nationally accredited, K through 12, Nunavut curriculum package and the weekly reports from the expedition. This is where the adventure of collaborative learning really begins.

WEEK 13:
Flying to the Arctic

I have researched this subject extensively. I have looked up information in countless encyclopedias, scientific journals, and even, the Internet. It is part of my personal quest to determine why birds fly. Despite my painstaking efforts, diligent studies, and thorough inquiries, the best answer I have found is, “because they can.”

“Because they can!?!” What kind of an answer is that? That’s not scientific; its silly and everyone knows that scientific and silly don’t mix... Or do they. After all, mammals CAN’T fly (except bats, of course) so they don’t. Sharks CAN’T fly, so they don’t. Snakes CAN’T fly, so they don’t. Well, I guess that’s the logic. The only reason birds can fly is because they can.

Well, actually its not that simple. Birds can fly because they have specific adaptations that allow them to fly. Adaptations are characteristics that enhance the ability of an individual to live and cope with its environment. It is a process by which organisms become better suited to their environment.

Birds are uniquely adapted to live and survive by flying. Of course, not all birds can fly, but most can and those are the ones I want to talk about. Birds are ABLE to fly because of several specific adaptations. Feathers and wings, strong hollow bones, beaks or bills (no heavy teeth), the ability to have babies via eggs, powerful flight muscles, and an extremely efficient, one-way breathing system allow birds to move (fly) relatively easily from one region to another. Flight allows birds to take advantage of several different habitats. For example, while most other arctic creatures are struggling to simply survive the long winter, most arctic birds have flown far south and are enjoying warm weather. The strategy is an equal gamble to tolerating winter or hibernating through it; however, migration allows birds to take full advantage of food resources that are available in a particular region in a particular time.

Migration is the seasonal movement of animals from one habitat to another. Animals migrate between their wintering and breeding habitats. Whales, fish, butterflies, turtles, geese, and caribou are all animals that migrate. Some animals, like the Arctic Tern, travel incredible distances each year. The longest migration of any known animal is that of the Arctic Tern, which travels 10,000 miles from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again each year! Migrating animals follow the same routes year after year. Birds in North America fly north and south along four major paths known as "flyways." They are called the Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. In Europe, some migration routes are oriented more east-west. Most long distance migratory birds fly at night. They may travel continuously or land daily around sunrise to rest and feed.

The Snow Goose spends its summers in and northern Canada and Alaska and winters in the Gulf of Mexico as do many other shore birds and gulls. Again, of course, there is the arctic tern; they are migrating “superbirds.” The snow bunting also travels south for the winter but only to the southern Canada and the northern part of the United States. Each winter they fly south. Each summer they return. How do birds find their way?

Simple... well, at least for a bird its simple. Most arctic avian (that means bird) navigators rely on a few different methods. First, birds sight in on objects like rivers, mountains, lakes, and other geographical features. Some birds even have compasses in their heads. Tiny pieces of a mineral called magnetite react to the Earth’s magnetic field - just like the needle of a compass. Geese often fly at night and use stars to align their flight north or south. In the daytime, the sun can also serve as a guide. The sense of smell is also thought to play an important role. Finally, many birds are “following their neighbors.”

Are birds putting their all their eggs in one basket so to speak. After all, flying long distances north and south can be pretty tricky. Their journey south is difficult at best. Weather, predators, and hunting (not to mention the fact that either winter or summer home could have been negatively affected by people) are all dangers that migrant birds must face each season. The reality is that traveling to different habitats enables birds to find plenty of food throughout the year. For example, in the winter, when food sources are limited in northern areas, waterfowl such as geese fly south to areas that have mild weather and abundant food. Living in the arctic during the summer has provided a far greater benefit than cost to most.

Unfortunately, this may not continue to be the case. Information recently released stated the following, “The emperor goose is one of many Arctic birds that will feel the effects of climate change and habitat loss in the region, researchers say. Climate change could eliminate 50 percent of rare Arctic bird populations, according to a study released Monday by the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Using climate models, scientists from the World Conservation Monitoring Center assessed the effects of temperature and shrinking habitat on water birds in the Arctic region. During the past century, global mean temperature increased by .9 degrees Fahrenheit. Nowhere on the planet has the warming been more striking than in the Arctic, where average temperatures have risen as much as 2.7 F per decade since the 1960s, the researchers note. In the next 70 to 100 years, scientists predict that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the environment could double. Arctic habitats are expected to be among the first biomes to show the direct impact of climate change. The report warns that higher temperatures will cause wooded forests to advance northward, replacing the Arctic tundra, an essential breeding area for millions of birds.”

Birds are truly amazing creatures. Their unique adaptations have allowed them to master flight like no other. However, that same amazing ability is also exposing them to a larger amount of risks and dangers. Understanding the role birds play in arctic ecosystems and the impact their disappearance would have on the rest of the world is helps us make resonsible choices that factor all life.

For more information about birds visit the following websites: Arctic Birds
Internet Field Trip for Children
Bird Migration Facts

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