Monitoring the rapidly changing Arctic is vital to climate science. However installing and maintaining real-time ocean observing infrastructure in Canada’s remote and icy north is complex. Every instrument must be designed to withstand sub-freezing temperatures on land, in the water, and⎯for most of the year⎯under sea ice. Access to a reliable high-speed Internet connection in remote regions can be challenging, and that’s assuming you’ve figured out how to transport the specialized high-tech gear thousands of kilometres to the Arctic circle in the first place.
After five years of gathering real-time Arctic Ocean and sea ice data, Ocean Networks Canada’s (ONC) Cambridge Bay community observatory infrastructure received a major overhaul in September 2017. In addition to annual maintenance, the original network equipment and servers were replaced and all dock electronics and shore instruments were relocated to a new secure shore station.
Introducing new ocean observing infrastructure to the remote Arctic takes time and planning. A three-metre container (Figure 1) spent six weeks and close to 10,000 kilometres in transit, travelling first by truck from Victoria, British Columbia to Valleyfield, Quebec, and then by barge through the Northwest Passage to Cambridge Bay, where the shore station was installed with power and Internet near the Arctic Ocean shoreline.
Once the container was installed and connected, the ONC team relocated all dock electronics and shore instruments to the new shore station (Figure 2). The locked container provides both security and protection from the weather.
Computer hardware needs to be replaced every five years in any climate. Originally installed in 2012, all the servers and network equipment in the Cambridge Bay government building were replaced in 2017 (Figure 3).
For real-time access to ocean observatory data 24/7, the underwater instruments also need be connected to both power and the Internet. The ONC team dug a trench through the permafrost and installed a new 50-metre fibre-optic cable that connects the new shore station to the existing subsea cable.
Every year, the ONC team pulls the underwater observatory out of 13 metres of water to clean, service, and maintain the two dozen instruments that collect Arctic Ocean data (Figures 5 and 6). Bio fouling is a common and costly problem in oceanography, as the accumulation of organic matter on the instruments can cause them to malfunction.
In addition to deploying and maintaining ocean observing infrastructure, a rewarding and important part of ONC’s works involves engaging local youth and community members (Figure 7).
A highlight of this year’s youth engagement involved providing the local high school youth with the opportunity to conduct their own underwater experiments. Each student made sea ice predictions for the upcoming winter season, and marked their predicted sea ice freeze-up and break-up dates on a calendar which was placed in a water-tight tube. A series of classroom activities using borax crystals and a raw egg helped the students to develop theories about the fate of these substances after a year in the Arctic Ocean. The calendar, borax, and egg were all placed in the time capsule that was then attached to the underwater observatory prior to redeployment (Figure 8).
To bring the Cambridge Bay resident and research communities together, ONC hosted an open house at the newly completed Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) building (Figure 9). This well-attended event provided the entire Cambridge Bay community with an opportunity to learn more about ONC and our Cambridge Bay community observatory, and an update on new POLAR Knowledge Canada funded research projects, such as Safe Passage.
After two weeks of hard and rewarding work, the ONC team redeployed the newly cleaned and maintained observatory (Figure 10), where it will collect real-time Arctic Ocean data (Figure 11) and help us understand climate change over the next year.
Check out the real-time data and video from the shore station on the Cambridge Bay observatory page.