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Thursday, 7 July 2016

University of 3rd AgeSnow, Permafrost, Insects, Iron


Tod U3A, with speaker Dr Frank Nicholson

Dr Frank Nicholson gave a full house at Todmorden U3A's AGM on Thursday, June 16th a very well illustrated talk about his time as Director of the McGill University Subarctic Research Laboratory at Schefferville in north-west Quebec, a land where it is possible to sharpen your whisky with 300 year old glacial water.

Temperatures of -40

But such exceptional luxury is not to be taken for granted, for north-west Quebec is also a land where temperatures of -40 are common, where snowsuits, snowshoes, skis and snowmobiles are de rigueur, where aeroplanes end up on their noses if the brakes freeze, and snowstorms in August are not unknown and complement the discomfort caused by myriads of biting flies.

Scientific research

So what was Dr Nicholson doing there? There seemed to be two reasons for anyone to live in such an environment: one was iron ore, the other was scientific research, and Dr Nicholson's was the latter. In his talk he covered subjects as varied as lichen, insect life, permafrost, snow maps, and CO2 absorption by plants.

Burning trees

He also fulminated against the deliberate burning of trees to make survey and road-building costs cheaper. In burned landscapes at those latitudes the ground freezes more intensely making it harder for trees to set seed. If he saw a fire, he and his colleagues and students would set off to fight it, even if they had to improvise rafts to reach the flames.

Hydro-electric schemes harmful

He also contended that hydro-electric schemes were proving environmentally damaging. One of the consequences of the land being flooded is that mercury is released, finds its way into the water courses and poisons the fish which are one of the staple foods of the indigenous Naskapi and Cree peoples.


Much of Dr Nicholson's work concerned permafrost, as it was permafrost that was often a major challenge in considering the viability of a mining operation. The mining operations are all opencast, and access to the ore is only possibly once the frozen overburden has been removed. Sometimes the overburden is so bound by permafrost, that the cost of explosives to remove it may make the operation non-viable.

Transport of materials

However, in the past, the mines have been productive enough to have made it worthwhile flying in materials for both rail links to Sept Îles (the port on the Gulf of St Laurence) and for dams to produce electricity required to support the population and the mining industry. Trains were sometimes up to two miles long, carrying in excess of 25,000 tonnes. A two-miler would have three engines at the front, one in the middle and two at the back. Even the iron ore dump trucks could carry 200 tonnes.

It's not often that we are able to secure the time of such a knowledgeable speaker, and we are very grateful to Dr Nicholson for his interesting and scientifically authoritative talk.

Our AGM was conducted with exemplary and meticulous exactitude and speed by our outgoing Chairman, Keith Coates, who was able to announce that Marion Kershaw had been returned as Secretary, Dinah Kenworthy as Membership Secretary, and that Ernie Rogan was was our new Chairman, there being no other nominations. We offer them all our best wishes for success in their roles. Our thanks go to Keith for his gubernatorial nous, and to Margaret Gunnill, Liz Hurst, and Jean Pearson who have all served on the committee and are now standing down.

Our next meeting will be held on Thursday, 21st July in the Central Methodist Church in Todmorden at 1.45 when our speaker will be David Gilman who will be talking to us about volunteer building projects in Guatemala and Palestine.

Our contact details are (website) www.u3atod.org.uk, (email) enquiries@u3atod.org.uk or (phone) 01706 839175.

Many thanks to Anthony Peter for this report


Previous U3A reports on the HebWeb

HebWeb News:Stranger in a Strange Land - with speaker Gill Russell (7 May 2016)

HebWeb News:Life with polio and a career as a TV and Radio presenter. with speaker Jane Shepherd (12 June 2016)

HebWeb News:Small in a Tall Person's World with speakers Hamish Willis and Penny Dean OBE (31 March 2016)

HebWeb News:In the Footsteps of Norbert Carteret (22 February 2016)

HebWeb News:Gallivanting on Public Transport - a Bus Pass from Berwick to Land's End (30 September 2015)

HebWeb News: Magna Carta - A (Mostly) Light-hearted look at 800 Years of History (1 September 2015)

HebWeb News: Summat a' Nowt - talk by Steve Murty (28 April 2015)

HebWeb News: My Convict Ancestors (12 April 2015)

HebWeb News: Aquaponics Lab - A Radical Solution (16 January 2015)

HebWeb News: British Professional Cycling – Tykes and Le Tour de France (11 December 2014)

HebWeb News: Life in La Serenissima, Venice - Kathryn Ogden (9 July 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: The Machine that Changed the World (25 February 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Music and the Deaf (12 February 2014)

HebWeb News: University of the Third Age: Psychology and You - Part Two David Groves made a welcome return as a speaker at the October Todmorden U3A (26 October 2013)

HebWeb News: Hebden Bridge Little Theatre, A Short History was recounted by Ray Riches to the University of the Third Age. (28 Aug 2013)

HebWeb News: John Sheard, retired land agent to the Duke of Devonshire, gave his third talk to members of the U3A, this time on Sir Joseph Paxton, Knighted Gardener (26 July 2013)

HebWeb News: Off Stage Choices: Andrew Rawlinson recounts his theatre experience from Tod Operatic to General Manager of a leading Theatre Group. (18 July 2013)

HebWeb News: The Story of the Hebden Bridge Calendar (April 2013)

HebWeb News: Changing Times in the Press (March 2013)

HebWeb News: Cancer from Both Sides (Nov 2012)

HebWeb News: Steve Halliwell outlined the history of the Woodland Trust (Sept 2012)

HebWeb News: Ray Riches talks on Walking the Pacific Crest Trail (Aug 2012)

HebWeb News: Pitch and Pythagoras - Pulse and Prison (July 2012)

HebWeb News - Lord Shutt explains the workings of the House of Lords (May 2012)

HebWeb News - Claire Benedict talks acting to Todmorden U3A (April 2012)

HebWeb News - Kate Moreton-Deakin spoke about her day job as Associate Director - Corporate Social Responsibility with Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust. (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fair Trade Movement (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Fancy a cruise to the Antarctic? (Feb 2012)

HebWeb News - Gail Allaby, U3A's Queen of the Underworld (Dec 2011)

HebWeb News - September meeting report - Report of meeting about Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

HebWeb News - August meeting report - Bolton Abbey

HebWeb News - May and June meeting report - Keep Learning: Live long and prosper and the role of the Lord-Lieutenant

HebWeb News - April meeting report - Belt and Braces - An Everyday Guide to Risk and Chance

HebWeb News - March meeting report - Growing Old in the Twenty-First Century

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