The dramatic pace of environmental change in Canada’s north requires monitoring and research to help inform decisions relating to everything from environmental protection and stewardship to sustainable development and more. The collection and analysis of these data often requires specialized scientific instruments and software.
Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) and Nunavut Arctic College are collaborating on the design and delivery of a course in Instrument Technology that will train local marine biology students in the use of ocean sensor technology in ocean and freshwater environments, both in ice-covered and open-water conditions. Using a collaborative interdisciplinary approach that includes both science and Indigenous knowledge, this course, a component of the college's Environmental Technology Program, expands the potential for northern-led monitoring of snow, sea ice, and ocean conditions as part of a larger POLAR Knowledge project.
ONC’s Dave Riddell has been working with college staff and students since April 2018, developing the classroom and field components of this course. He returned in September 2018 to pilot the course with college staff and second-year students during a six-day marine biology field camp.
Dave (above centre) traveled to Iqaluit—Inuktitut for “place of many fish”—which is located on Frobisher Bay on southeastern Baffin Island. Nunavut Arctic College has five campuses across the territory, including one in Nunavut’s capital city Iqaluit.
September weather in the Arctic can be unpredictable. With temperatures hovering around zero degrees Celsius, it may be warm and sunny one day with wind and snow the next. The start of the field trip was delayed by sustained winds of 17 knots and gusts of 43 knots, which made it dangerous to travel by boat to the camp.
Meanwhile, Dave and the marine biology students initiated a clam survey at low tide in Frobisher Bay (above left). The collected Mya sp. clams (above right) were measured and frozen for later analysis by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for contaminants and age estimations.
With 11-metre tides, Frobisher Bay is a long tidal flat that is home to many seaweed species and invertebrates such as arctic isopods and whelks (above, left to right)
The 20 students and five teachers finally reached the field camp, located at the head of Peterhead Inlet (northwest of site 153 on map above), a popular local campsite adjacent to Qaummaarviit Territorial Park. This site has been regularly used for field trips by the college’s Environmental Technology Program over the last 30 years.
In the field, students performed conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) casts, and conducted profiles to measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll-a at different locations along the coast. During the first night in camp, evidence suggested that a polar bear was nearby.
After waking up to blowing snow, the students attempted to set gill nets for a fish survey, but the boat was pushed back by strong winds.
During September in Iqaluit, the sun rises at about 6 am and sets at about 7 pm. Evening camp activities included big bonfires, spectacular northern lights displays, and Inuit ghost stories!
A hydrophone was used to take underwater recordings of blasting near the Iqaluit port development. On the return to camp, the students spotted the remains of a bow whale (above right). A limited amount of subsistence whale hunting is carried out by Inuit groups in the Canadian Arctic, managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
At some sites, the college is collaborating with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to complement their benthic and water sampling with CTD casts. Intertidal surveys at low, mid and high tide, and point samples and depth profiles along a two-kilometre transect in Peterhead Inlet (above left) will form the basis of a long-time series of data on which Nunavut College will build in future years.
In the coming months, Dave Riddell will be working with the college’s instructors to finalize the course content and design in preparation for a 2019 launch.
“With five Nunavut Arctic College campuses and community learning centres located in all 25 communities of Nunavut, ONC’s work with the College has the potential to foster learning and monitoring opportunities for people throughout the territory while also building connections between instrument-based data collection and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit,” comments Dave Riddell.