Eureka Weather Station

Monitoring and Data Services Directorate

During World War II, there was a growing understanding that the Arctic air mass had a considerable influence on weather in North America. In the mid-1940s, there was very little weather information from the Arctic region. Both Canada and the United States shared a common goal of increasing weather observations in the north to improve forecasting capabilities across the continent. On February 27, 1947, the 2 nations agreed to establish a network of 5 Joint Arctic Weather Stations in the Canadian High Arctic.

The first High Arctic Weather Station to be officially established was the Eureka Weather Station in Nunavut. Centrally located on Ellesmere Island at a latitude of 80°N, a suitable site was found that had these advantages:

  • surrounding hills that provided protection and shelter from the prevailing northwesterly winds
  • access to freshwater in the summer
  • favourable terrain for an airstrip
  • ice-free access to the sea in the summer months

On the morning of April 7, 1947, a 6-man crew arrived at the frozen shoreline of Eureka. They had supplies to construct temporary buildings to house themselves and their equipment while they established and maintained a program of weather observations. By 7 pm that same day, the buildings were up and heated, radio equipment and facilities for weather observations were in operation, and hot meals were available for personnel. On August 9, 1947, an icebreaker reached the Eureka Weather Station. It brought permanent buildings, additional equipment, a year’s worth of consumable supplies, and 2 additional station personnel.

The primary purpose of the Eureka Weather Station was, and still is, focused on measuring various atmospheric parameters using a radiosonde instrument carried high into the atmosphere by a helium or hydrogen filled weather balloon. The instruments measure wind speed and direction, temperature, pressure and relative humidity. The data is transmitted to a receiving station using a built-in radio transmitter. As part of the global monitoring network, weather balloons are released twice per day at the same time (11:15 am and 11:15 pm Greenwich Mean Time) to collect weather data to a height of approximately 35 km, at which point the balloon bursts due to low atmospheric pressure.

In the early years of operation, transmitting weather observations to the southern forecasting offices was not a simple process. John Gilbert, who worked as a radio operator/meteorological technician in Eureka from 1956-1958, recalls having to send weather observation data using Morse code to Resolute Bay, located over 600 km to the south, where the data was then transmitted to the regional forecasting offices across the country. While technological advancements have simplified the collection and transmission of data over the years, the atmospheric parameters monitored remain the same to this day.

The Eureka Weather Station has undergone several major investments over its 74 years of operation, including construction of the Ridge Lab. It was constructed in 1992, approximately 15 km west of the station, to support the study of stratospheric ozone and other atmospheric research. The Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change currently operates the lab named the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory. Additionally, a new operations complex was constructed in 2005, including living quarters for Environment and Climate Change Canada’s staff, kitchen and dining hall, recreation space, the weather observing program operations and other workspaces.

In 2019, the Government of Canada provided 5 years of funding for the refurbishment of infrastructure at the Eureka Weather Station. This includes the airport runway, the freshwater reservoir and sewage system, the lab, the main complex, and the decommissioning of buildings that are no longer in use. This investment will improve the resilience of Eureka’s infrastructure, and ensure cleaner, more carbon efficient government operations.

A man works in front of a typewriter and instrument console.

Figure 1: John Gilbert working in the radio room at the Eureka Weather Station in 1957. Most communication was by Morse code. At that time, voice communications were limited to the occasional aircraft. Photograph submitted by John Gilbert

A very snowy landscape is dotted by multiple buildings.

Figure 2: The Eureka Weather Station in 1957. Photograph submitted by John Gilbert

A helicopter sits along the shoreline. There are ice chunks floating offshore.

Figure 3: A pontoon helicopter in Eureka (1957)

A man standing in front of an orange tracked vehicle along a shoreline. The word EUREKA is stenciled along the side of the vehicle.

Figure 4: John Gilbert standing in front of a modified M29 Weasel in 1957. Studebaker built these tracked vehicles during World War II. Their durability proved valuable in the harsh Northern terrain. Photograph submitted by John Gilbert

A large helicopter lands on barren, rocky terrain. The words “U.S. AIR FORCE” are on the side.
Figure 5: A United States Air Force cargo helicopter takes off from Eureka in 1957. Commonly called “the flying banana” due to its shape, it could operate using wheels, skis or floats. Photograph submitted by John Gilbert

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