Planet Ice: Mysteries of the Ice Ages opens at the Natural History Museum
The Canadian Museum of Nature’s summer exhibit, “Planet Ice: Mysteries of the Ice Ages” reopened to the public on Friday May 20 after a pause for several years due to public health measures following its first launch in October 2020. The exhibit explores the impact of ice and cold on the earth’s history as well as its continued importance for supporting life on this planet. It also provides insight into the role of human activity in disrupting the earth’s natural heating and cooling cycles and practical steps that can be taken to respond to climate change.
Planet Ice has five different zones for visitors to see covering an 80,000-year period. Each zone focuses on a major theme such as the role of ice and glaciers in shaping the foundations of life on earth and “lost lands” such as Beringia, the prehistoric land bridge that connected Asia to North America. The exhibit contains 140 specimens, models and artifacts including a skull from a “Packenham” whale that once swam in Champlain Sea, an inland body of water that once covered the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa River valleys (including present-day Aylmer).
Also on display are skeletal casts of a mastodon, a giant beaver, a short-faced bear, and a sabre-toothed cat. In addition to highlighting the ways animal and plant species evolved to adapt to cold temperatures during glacial periods, the exhibit discusses the tools and different techniques that humans developed for survival in cold climates. On display for the first time is a remarkable collection of tools and other artifacts from the Tuniit (Dorset) and Thule-Inuit peoples displayed on behalf of the Government of Nunavut. The collection of specimens and artifacts at this exhibit is wide ranging and its overall design is impressive – it is a summer activity that is not to be missed.
There are also several engaging interactive elements such as a ‘design your own snowflake’ station and an interactive screen where visitors can “conjure” a giant woolly mammoth in a snowstorm. On weekends and Thursday evenings in both May and June there will be an educator on site who will be available to answer questions and guide visitors. Describing its mission as “science advocacy”, the museum's head of design Dan Boivin explained that “one of the museum’s main aims is to inspire people to become interested and to care for nature.”
Planet Ice is the outcome of three years’ work that involved close collaboration between a diverse group of scientists and the exhibit’s design team. Archeologist and palaeobiology curator for the museum Dr. Scott Rufolo explained how creating the exhibit involved “nearly a year’s worth of consultation between design team and research and collections'' which included the participation of scientists from a wide range of fields and disciplines such as archeology, paleontology, zoology and mineralogy. This collaboration and investment of time ensured that the exhibit was both engaging and accessible to the public while also remaining faithful to the complex body of scientific research on which it is based.
While the exhibit itself is located at the museum’s main building Ottawa, much of the background work for this as well as other exhibits is carried out at the museum’s Research and Collections facility that is located in Aylmer at 1740 Pink Road. Containing a collection of over 10 million specimens, the research and collections facility is one of Canada’s major research institutions and is part of a growing international network of Global Biodiversity Information Facilities dedicated to collecting and sharing scientific data on biodiversity worldwide.
Later this year in mid-October there will be an open house at the facility where visitors can explore the vast collection of specimens as well as learn from the team of researchers and curators who will be on site at stations throughout the facility. While there was no open house last year due to public health measures, the annual event has been very popular in the past, usually attracting thousands of visitors. For those anxious to explore the facility earlier, a virtual tour can be found online at: https://nature.ca/nhc/. In addition, the facility has a library which is open to the general public year-round.
There is also an ongoing need for volunteers at the facility to help with processing and organizing its growing collection of specimens and to assist with other tasks that support the work of the museum. Dr. Rufolo noted that there is no need to have a science background or formal training to volunteer at the facility, “all you need is to simply have an interest in learning about natural history”. Those interested in volunteering at the facility can contact the museum’s volunteer Program Coordinator Katja Rodriguez at email@example.com or by phone at 613 566-4261.
The Planet Ice exhibit will be open from May 20 to September 5 at the Canadian Museum of Nature at 240 McLeod Street in Ottawa.
For more information on the exhibit, visit the museum’s website: www.nature.ca or call at 613 566-4700.
Photo credit: Greg Newing
Photo caption: Arctic animals on display at the newly opened Planet Ice exhibit.