Title of the project

 

Coastal Oceanographic Monitoring for Nunatsiavut (COM-N)

 

Summary

 

This project will establish regular oceanographic monitoring, through a Voluntary Observing Ship (VOS), along coastal Labrador, in northeastern Canada. The VOS will be based on the local ferry, which serves several communities along the coast and transits a range of environments including estuaries, arctic fjords, and open ocean coastline and shelf zones. The region lies in the critical transition zone between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and adjacent to areas of deep convection in the Labrador Sea, which are important for global climate dynamics and biogeochemical cycling. The region is also home to the southernmost Inuit communities in the world in Nunatsiavut. A predictable marine environment is important for food security and the preservation of culture in Nunatsiavut. Yet this region has experienced significant climate change recently, including an air temperature rise of 2 degrees Celcius since 1993 and 75% loss of sea ice cover since 1969. Changes are also occurring in marine ecosystems which have impacts on northern fisheries and harvesting practices. This project will provide frequent measurements of ocean physics and chemistry along the regular ferry route with a weekly repeat cycle. The project will ensure direct involvement of indigenous communities. The project will establish a monitoring program for the region and the data will be used in marine management plans and to help to constrain ocean models for the region. The program will inform our understanding of past and future marine climate change, and feed into local governments’ plans for marine management and climate change adaptation.

 

Excellence of the project

 

Objectives.

 

The primary objective of this project is to implement regular observation of the coastal and near-shore marine environment off Labrador, in northeastern Canada. The region is home to the southernmost Inuit communities in the world in Nunatsiavut. A predictable marine environment is important for food security and the preservation of culture in Nunatsiavut. Yet this region has experienced significant climate change recently, including an air temperature rise of 2 degrees Celcius since 1993 and 75% loss of sea ice cover since 1969. Changes are also occurring in marine ecosystems which have impacts on northern fisheries and harvesting practices. The region lies in the critical transition zone between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and adjacent to areas of deep convection in the Labrador Sea, which are important for global climate dynamics and biogeochemical cycling. Despite this global significance, the region has very little marine monitoring with no long-term (multi-year) oceanographic time series, and local communities have been left out of environmental monitoring in their own lands and waters.

 

This project will establish the local coastal ferry, which serves communities along the Labrador coast, as a Voluntary Observing Ship. This ferry will be outfitted with oceanographic observational equipment to operate continuously while the ship is under steam. This will provide frequent measurements of ocean physics and chemistry along the regular ferry route with a weekly repeat cycle. The project will involve the Nunatsiavut Government, representing Inuit of northern Labrador, to ensure direct involvement of indigenous communities. The project will establish a monitoring program for the region and the data will be used in marine management plans and to help to constrain ocean models for the region. The program will inform our understanding of past and future marine climate change, and feed into local governments’ plans for marine management and climate change adaptation.

 

Relation with priority themes.

 

This project is primarily related with priority theme 1: “Monitoring changes in ocean life (productivity, biodiversity, distribution...) and characteristics (temperature, currents, chemical cycles...) and their impact on global dynamics”. This project will explicitly set up a program to monitor physical, chemical and biological ocean parameters in a poorly observed region. In addition, this region is home to the Labrador Current, which flows out of the high-latitude regions and into the highly productive fishing grounds off Atlantic Canada. The dynamics in this region, namely the export of nutrients south, may be changing which would have significant impacts on ecosystems and fisheries even further south. This project will feed in to ongoing efforts to develop an ocean model for the region, funded by the Ocean Frontier Institute, which will be used to provide estimates of past and future marine climate change. The data collected by this project will be used to constrain and improve this model.

 

Concept.

 

A Voluntary Observation Ship (VOS) uses existing infrastructure as a platform for oceanographic measurements. VOS are a key platform for supporting measurements of e.g. the air-sea carbon dioxide partial pressure differences which, in turn, help to constrain global assessments of carbon dioxide sources and sinks, including anthropogenic influences. Ships that become VOS have custom oceanographic equipment installed to turn them into independent observing platforms. Essentially, the ship’s seawater intake is used as a source of sample seawater which is passed through a series of equipment which measures its physical, chemical and biological properties.

 

The proposed installation uses a rugged and simplified approach to underway measurements based around compact, easy-to-maintain, flow-through chambers which house multiple sensors for measuring physical properties (temperature, salinity), dissolved gases (pCO2, O2) and bio-optical parameters. As the ship is under steam the seawater is pumped through the system and measurements taken, whereas it is shut off automatically when the ship is in port or areas where water conditions may damage equipment.

 

The Northern Ranger is a coastal ferry that serves nine communities along the Labrador coast. The ferry operates during during the ice free season (approximately mid-June to mid-December) with a weekly repeat schedule. Installing VOS equipment on the Northern Ranger, funded by this project, will enable establishment of a marine monitoring program for the region. The project will train and hire local community members to maintain the equipment and retrieve the data; and the project will work with the local indigenous community (represented by the Nunatsiavut Government) to ensure they have access to the data, that it is incorporated into their Imappivut Marine Management plan (imappivut.com), and to explore opportunities for the data and observation system to be used as an educational outreach tool for community youth.

 

Methodology.

 

The methodology will involve the installation, testing and use of oceanographic measuring equipment as well as the collection and analysis of resulting data. The Volunteer Observing Ship (VOS) equipment will be assembled into a unit and tested in house at the Aquatron, Dalhousie University. After testing, the system will be installed on the candidate VOS (the Northern Ranger) while it is in port in St. John’s (Newfoundland, Canada) for its winter refit. The ship’s Chief Engineer has provided an agreement-in-principle and indicated that this would be a good time to perform the installation. The first operational season for the VOS will be during the its regular ferry season, being the ice-free period from mid-June through mid-December. During this season, two investigators will accompany the ferry on one cycle to monitor the equipment. They will also hire and train a local person, in consultation with the Nunatsiavut Government, as an assistant for equipment maintenance and data retrieval. This assistant will regularly monitor the equipment, maintain cleanliness against corrosion and biofouling, and retrieve the data.

 

After the first operational season the investigators will work on data dissemination. In collaboration with the Nunatsiavut Government, the data will be incorporated in the Imappivut Marine Plan for the region. The data will be made available freely on a public data repository and methods to make it available in near-real-time will be explored. After the second season the research assistant will maintain the equipment and retrieve data, as before. Two of the inv