The extent of Arctic sea ice is hitting record lows, making now as good a time as any to add more gear to monitor the ocean environment in the far North.
The University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada consortium plans to install a underwater sea floor observatory in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, this month.
The technology is similar to the group’s Neptune and Venus underwater observatories off the east and west coasts of Vancouver Island, although much smaller.
The Cambridge Bay observatory will hold devices measuring water salinity, temperature, pressure a high-resolution camera, and critically, an acoustic device that detects the thickness of ice. An onshore weather station will be linked to the system.
This collection of devices will be housed on a frame at the bottom of the bay at Cambridge Bay, linked to the shore via a fiber optic cable armored for cold temperatures. Ideally, and similar to the Neptune and Venus networks, this mini-observatory will stream live data to the world through the Internet, if the installation team can plug into an Internet connection.
“Is a challenge,” admits Kate Moran, director of Ocean Networks Canada. “There’s not great communications there. We are working with the Nunavut government to hook into their Internet system.”
Cambridge Bay is slated as the home of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, announced by the federal government in 2007, but the project is yet to break ground. Installing the mini-observatory will introduce residents to the kind of science involved in the Arctic, and will allow a number to become trained in installation maintenance of the devices.
“There’s been announcements about the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, but nothing is in place. This will help the community learn about (this technology) and allow us to test how to handle remote data,” Moran said.
“It’s a small system, but there a lot of support from all levels of the federal government.”
The observatory will contribute data and better understanding of changes in sea ice and the Arctic marine environment. Moran, an expert in Arctic environments, said the permanent loss of sea ice could have profound impacts on global weather systems, such as shifting stable pockets of cold air from the Arctic to more southern latitudes.
“We need more measurements in the Arctic for better predictions of weather patterns and long term loss of sea ice,” she said. “The significance of having continuous monitoring of the Arctic Ocean cannot be overstated.”
The UVic observator will feed data to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre, which closely monitoris Arctic sea ice levels.
The project also aims to connect the school in Cambridge Bay with Brentwood College in Brentwood Bay, which aslo hosts an UVic ocean observatory. “It’s a neat educational tool students in both environments can talk about what they are learning,” Moran said.