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Navigator Magazine | Northwest Passage Transit a Voyage of Exploration for MI Researchers, Students

Northwest Passage Transit a Voyage of Exploration for MI Researchers, Students

As the luxury cruise liner Crystal Serenity sailed through the Northwest Passage for the second time this past summer, a team of Marine Institute researchers and students joined its escort ship, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, to experience and explore the thrilling far north region.

The logistics and research ship, operated by the U.K. government-funded British Antarctic Survey, took the Crystal Serenity through the passage, providing logistics support, research capabilities and ice-breaking assistance as necessary.

It was also a rare opportunity for the Marine Institute’s School of Fisheries, School of Maritime Studies and School of Ocean Technology to work together to conduct research, provide experiential learning and take part in community engagement.

Three researchers from MI’s Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) were onboard for a second year to collect oceanographic and biological data. They were joined by two nautical science cadets and an ocean mapping student who surveyed the Northern waters.

CFER researcher Brynn Devine rigs the Continuous Plankton Recorder for deployment.

CFER research scientist Dr. Jonathan Fisher led the centre’s research with graduate students, Brynn Devine and Devin Flawd. Conducted in transit and during visits to various northern communities, their research built upon data collected in the passage in 2016.

“Last year, we had the unique opportunity to collect and analyze oceanographic and biological data in the remote waters of the Northwest Passage,” said Dr. Fisher.

“Our team was thrilled to be on this second transit to build on our efforts to study sub-Arctic to Arctic phytoplankton and zooplankton.”

Their research plan was developed in partnership with Tactical Marine Solutions Ltd, a British Columbia-based marine management group. Financial support for this initiative was made available through the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI). A partnership led by Memorial University, Dalhousie University and the University of Prince Edward Island, OFI brings together researchers and institutes from both sides of the North Atlantic to understand the changing ocean and create safe, sustainable solutions for development.

As a result of these opportunities, the research team deployed vertical nets at 12 locations along the route when the RRS Ernest Shackleton was stopped. They also collected continuous oceanographic data and plankton samples spanning 2800 nautical miles, with analyses of the biological data ongoing with partners in the United Kingdom. This data is expected to provide an unparalleled view of ocean conditions and biological life that support the growth of fishes and marine mammals in northern waters.

The research team connected with nautical science cadets, Claude Beaudoin and Lucas Hillier, who joined the vessel earlier in the summer in Denmark to prepare the vessel for the passage transit. During the expedition, the two cadets worked with the ship’s officers on navigational tasks, performed deck work and completed maintenance duties.

Sarah Porter, an ocean mapping student with MI’s School of Ocean Technology also joined the Shackleton in St. John’s for the voyage north.

Retrieving the Continuous Plankton Recorder onboard the RSS Shackleton

Thanks to a partnership between the School of Ocean Technology, Canadian Hydrographic Service and MI’s Centre of Applied Ocean Technology, Porter surveyed the very remote and sparsely mapped areas throughout the Northwest Passage.

“We are very pleased with the opportunities this experience provided our students,” said Bernie Brockerville, senior placement officer with MI’s Office of Career Integrated Learning.

“The Northwest Passage is a unique area to navigate and is a practical classroom for our students to broaden their skill-sets.”

“We’re were very pleased to continue our partnership with Memorial University and provide these opportunities courtesy of the generosity of Crystal Cruises. It was such a great success last year that there was no doubt we wanted it to continue and in fact broaden,” said Dermot Loughnane, CEO of Tactical Marine Solutions Ltd.

 

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