In late summer 2016, Cambridge Bay, Nunavut found itself at the centre of an arctic crossroads of sorts: a pivotal meeting place where ice-bound history is melting into climate science. A week after the first luxury cruise ship sailed through a virtually ice-free Northwest Passage and anchored in Cambridge Bay, the wreck of Franklin’s ship The Terror—abandoned in 1845 due to impenetrable sea-ice—was finally discovered in Terror Bay, just 200 km east.
The coincidence in time and place of these two iconic voyages poignantly highlights how quickly the arctic climate is changing, the need to monitor these changes, and the growing importance of Cambridge Bay as an emerging arctic hub.
Just days before the Crystal Serenity passengers visited the tiny hamlet, an Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) team was also in Cambridge Bay. Since 2012, ONC’s Cambridge Bay Community Observatory has been continuously monitoring the Arctic Ocean. The goal of this year’s annual maintenance expedition was to upgrade and expand ONC’s ocean observatory, and to continue building local and national collaborations aimed at understanding our changing Arctic Ocean.
Expanding Arctic Ocean monitoring
With the support of the Arctic Research Foundation’s research vessel Martin Bergmann and their small Seabotix remotely operated vehicle, the upgraded instrument platform was lifted out of the water, maintained, upgraded, and redeployed. The observatory platform now hosts more than 20 sensors, which measure and monitor everything from water quality, ocean acidification and ice thickness to fish tracking and marine life activity. The observatory includes an underwater high definition video camera, a hydrophone, and an onshore weather station with a shore camera. The data from these instruments can be viewed and downloaded for free from the ONC website.
During their eight-day visit, the ONC team stayed at Polar Knowledge Canada’s (POLAR) newly built Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), an impressive multi-use facility which will be completed in 2017. CHARS is a hub for arctic science research, providing ONC an opportunity to connect with other arctic research teams such as the Vancouver Aquarium dive team on their annual visit to sample and photograph the area, and Jean-Sébastien Moore, the researcher responsible for the local Ocean Tracking Network fish tagging program.
“This year’s operations in Cambridge Bay went extremely well,” comments ONC’s Observatory Support Engineer, Ryan Flagg. “The teamwork and support from our partners and the community made it possible to get a lot of work done in a short period of time. I can’t thank everyone enough.”
POLAR provided invaluable support to this year’s maintenance, doing everything from picking up the team at the airport to discussing joint initiatives, including Safe Passage, the POLAR funded sea-ice monitoring project that ONC is leading.
Understanding sea ice
As part of the Safe Passage program, the ONC team met with community members and educators to discuss the development of a local snow monitoring program that will be led by ONC’s Arctic Youth Science Ambassador, Mia Otokiak. The snowfall and snow depth data collected by local community members—as well as observations collected by youth through interviews with elders, hunters, and vessel operators—will directly contribute to developing a better understanding of conditions for arctic sea-ice freeze-up and break-up.
“This project highlights the importance of both scientific and Inuit knowledge,” comments ONC’s Indigenous Community Learning Coordinator, Mercedes McLean. “Having students be part of a project that will directly contribute to scientific models is incredible. It’s so important for youth to understand what the arctic was like 100 years ago, and how these changes are affecting the Inuit way of life.”
Hands on marine operations: Research builds community!
While in Cambridge Bay, the ONC team held a community event and engaged with the Kullik Ilihakvik Elementary School and Kiilinik High School students and teachers to link local knowledge with ocean science and explore the topic of climate change. The grand finale was a trip to the local dock for an interactive hands-on session with the team installing the newly upgraded observatory and sensors, and a discussion on how students could become more involved in ocean science.
The following operational and science goals were accomplished:
- Retrieving and maintaining last year’s platform, instruments and cable
- Deploying an upgraded platform with additional sensors, including:
- Satlantic SeaFET ocean pH sensor, made in Halifax, Canada
- acoustic Doppler current profiler for Safe Passage, funded by POLAR
- new conductivity, density and temperature sensor
- co-locating the previously offset hydrophone and fish profiler onto the main platform
- replacing the housing of the shore camera
- upgrading the shore station to include environmental monitoring electronics
- installing a C02 Optode
- splicing an additional lifting point and rigging the pop-up buoy for next year’s recovery
- conducting a full video inspection of the platform and cable using the Seabotix remotely operated vehicle
- Collecting high definition video footage of the existing cables and platforms
- Checking on ONC’s data storage servers and swapping the hard drives (used for hydrophone data storage)
Due to the cost of northern travel, collaborations in remote locations are important. While in Cambridge Bay, ONC supported multiple colleagues and partners including:
- the installation of three snow measurement boards for POLAR Safe Passage project
- compiling Canadian Hydrographic Service tide gauge survey
- deploying an autonomous passive sampler for Environment and Climate Change Canadacollecting University of Victoria and Fisheries and Oceans Canada science samples destined for transport home on the CCGS Sir Wilfred Laurier, including:
- coordinating samples collected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada
- collecting a seafloor sediment sample for University of Victoria researcher, Vera Pospelova.