Title and summary of proposed research


Community-based Observing of coastal Nunatsiavut Ocean in Winter Pilot (CONOW-P)


The ocean along coastal Labrador is rapidly changing yet is poorly observed, particularly in winter and at more northerly latitudes. Nunatsiavut, in northern Labrador, has seen up to 75% sea ice loss since 1968 and locals have recently reported an increasing number of incidents of people breaking through sea ice while travelling in winter. This has led to great uncertainty around the safety of traditional travel routes as well as the sustainability of traditional wintertime hunting and fishing activities. Therefore, there is great need to improve our wintertime ocean observations in this region and to do so in cooperation with local communities. The proposed project will partner with the Canadian Rangers and/or community members in Nunatsiavut to perform regular observations of the coastal ocean in winter. While the Rangers perform their regular patrols over sea ice, or while community members travel for hunting or fishing, they will be able take opportunistic under-ice seawater sampling. This proposal will fund a pilot project based in and around the Rigolet Inuit Community (Nunatsiavut), with observation locations focused in the Lake Melville and Groswater Bay area. Resulting data will improve our observational density for the region, contribute to Nunatsiavut’s marine management plan (Imappivut Marine Plan, www.imappivut.com), benefit oceanography summer school activities planned independently by the Principal Investigator (PI), and help validate ocean models under development for the region.


Description of expected outcomes arising from the project, their significance, and how these

outcomes will be achieved


There are three significant outcomes that will arise from this project.


First, the observations themselves will be a primary outcome. These observational data will provide unique wintertime and under-ice observations of the coastal ocean in Nunatsiavut. The region has had very little wintertime oceanographic observations in the coastal zone. Therefore it is expected that the data will contribute to our understanding of the wintertime coastal oceanography and circulation. The data will also feed in to the validation process for numerical ocean models of the region currently under development as part of Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) Modules E & F. Importantly, all data collected will be made freely and publicly available, and in particular will be shared with local communities and the Nunatsiavut Government (NG). A summer research student will be recruited in 2019 to perform initial analyses on these data.


Second, the project will provide meaningful engagement between the OFI and Indigenous communities in northern Canada. The PI is of Inuit descent, is a Nunatsiavut beneficiary, and has family roots in the Rigolet area in southern Nunatsiavut. The NG Department of Environment is aware of this project proposal and a letter of support will be sought. The project will require approval of the NG Research Approval Council, a process which enables modifications to the project to better suit local interests and needs. In addition, the data will be provided to NG for potential inclusion in their Imappivut Marine Plan – an effort which will combine Traditional Ecological Knowledge with scientific observations of the marine environment. By engaging with community members we will ensure that we undertake societally-acceptable ocean monitoring. This will also ensure that we address the five objectives and actions of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s National Inuit Strategy on Research.


Third, the project will contribute to youth engagement in science through providing oceanographic observations of a locally-important and familiar environment: the wintertime ocean. The PI’s independent project “Community-based Observing of coastal Nunatsiavut Ocean Circulation (CONOC)”, funded by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, will support annual summer schools for community youth in which students learn oceanography and then build and deploy ocean drifters (starting in Summer of 2019). These summer schools would benefit from having real data from a local example to study and discuss. Wintertime ocean observations taken by community members, provided by this proposed project, would provide a meaningful example around which we will discuss and learn oceanographic concepts.


Clearly state how this project acts as a seed for future projects; how the proposed project could potentially expand and grow in the future


Continued monitoring over multiple years will enable a quantification of long-term regional change in Nunatsiavut’s wintertime coastal ocean. The equipment and methods will remain usable beyond the first winter season and may be used in the summer season as well ensuring continued data collection beyond the lifetime of this pilot project. The success of the pilot project, through the realisation of the above outcomes, would provide a solid base on which to develop a proposal for a multi-year project which would maintain and expand the observational program as well as the community and indigenous youth engagement activities.


A brief description of the project’s aims, rationale, methodology


The aim of this project is to collect novel oceanographic observations and engage and involve local communities and NG. The project will use local sea ice as an ocean sampling platform. For local people sea ice facilitates travel rather than being a shipping hazard, the typical view from  oceanography. Therefore, the sea ice – specifically, the landfast ice extending out from the coast – will be used to access sites where oceanographic monitoring will be performed.


Under-ice seawater sampling will be performed using an easy-to-use, hand-operated Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) instrument. The CTD to be used (manufactured by RBR) is wifi-enabled in order to transfer data to a smart-device, which will acquire a GPS position – no telecommunications network is required. At each sampling site a hole in the ice will be augered and the CTD will be lowered to the bottom, measuring temperature and salinity over the full depth. The thickness of of sea ice will also be recorded. Weekly sampling sites for this pilot project will consist of a series of locations along Lake Melville (up to 200 m depth) between Rigolet and Goose Bay. In addition, sampling will be performed along the sinâ (landfast ice-edge) in the Rigolet Narrows and Groswater Bay areas (15-50 m depth; see Figure below).


The precise observation locations and times will be determined in consultation with the community members, and will vary based on weather and ice conditions. Regular sampling at the same location will be attempted as much as possible. Sampling should be possible between January and April 2019.



Fig. 1 Location of Lake Melville and Groswater Bay, including proposed sampling sites (red circles) and typical wintertime extend of land-fast ice (grey).


A brief description of how the project supports (or is aligned with) OFI research priorities


The OFI’s geographic focus is on the North Atlantic (NA) and Canadian Arctic Gateway (CAG). Coastal Nunatsiavut lies precisely in the centre of this focus, at the junction between the NA and CAG. 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, and yet this environment is becoming less predictable under the increasing pressure of climate change.


This project will also pursue societally acceptable ocean research by involving local community members and the Nunatsiavut Government. This will ensure that OFI engages local rightsholders to build support for ocean research and that OFI’s research reflects the input of Indigenous peoples, as per the proposed OFI Strategic Framework. The research outcomes will inform our understanding of past and future marine climate change, and feed into local governments’ plans for marine management and climate change adaptation.


Project start date and end date; key milestones  


Start date: December 2018

End date: August 2019



  1. 1.December 2018. Purchase equipment. 

  2. 2.January 2019. Travel for PI Oliver and Collaborator Richards to Rigolet, Nunatsiavut in order to train local volunteers in the use of the equipment and to participate in the first sampling trip. 

  3. 3.February 2019. Consultation with local volunteers on sampling procedure, with modifications implemented based on their recommendations. 

  4. 4.May 2019. Recruit undergraduate summer student to analyse first season of data. 

  5. 5.August 2019. All data from first season made publicly and freely available online. 


Names and contact information of team members: collaborators, partners, students




Dr. Clark Richards

Research Scientist, Fisheries and Oc