Cambridge Bay, Nunavut — With global temperatures rising and sea ice melting at unprecedented rates, the future for Arctic ecosystems and communities is unforeseeable. This August, scientists from Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre are heading north for a second year, to expand upon innovative Arctic research projects started in 2015, in collaboration with Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR), the federal agency responsible for advancing Canada’s knowledge of the Arctic and for strengthening Canadian leadership in polar science and technology.
“Each month in the first half of 2016 set a record as the warmest month globally since temperature records began in 1880,” said Dr. John Nightingale, president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. “As temperatures continue to warm, sea ice continues to melt. It has enormous implications for the Arctic, and for all of us. It’s crucial to establish baselines and assess these changes as they happen.”
The partnership with POLAR is key to gaining insight about the region.
“POLAR has a unique role to advance the collective understanding of polar environments by mobilizing current knowledge and facilitating research in a meaningful and accessible way,” said Dr. David J. Scott, President, Polar Knowledge Canada. “This important collaboration with Vancouver Aquarium is at the very essence of POLAR’s mandate to ensure that research informs policies and programs to improve the lives of Northerners and all Canadians.”
The Arctic research projects undertaken by Vancouver Aquarium scientists this month include:
- Nearshore Ecosystem Surveys, in partnership with Polar Knowledge Canada. Two teams of Vancouver Aquarium divers will identify sites of special interest or ecological sensitivity; create a dynamic catalogue of sites that can be referenced by future researchers; and provide a set of data to which future surveys can be compared. The dive teams will be in the Arctic Aug. 3-27, visiting a range of dive sites in the vicinity of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and hosting community events along with POLAR.
- Narwhal Satellite Tagging. Vancouver Aquarium executive vice president and chief operating officer Clint Wright will be in the Arctic Aug. 12 – Sept. 1. He continues to lend his marine mammal expertise to a multi-year project with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which is focused on tagging narwhals. Part of a long-term strategy to understand this unique species, the tags allow scientists to follow the movements of the narwhals during their annual feeding and reproductive routines.
- Marine Mammal Sightings Data Collection. Vancouver Aquarium scientists join a One Ocean Arctic Expedition from Aug. 14-24, and will enlist passengers on board to help collect sightings of cetaceans in Arctic waters. Ecotourism vessels travel on similar tracks each year and can provide a valuable platform to collect data that will help scientists understand more about populations of marine mammals in the Canadian Arctic and how they are changing.
- Arctic Microplastics. Our oceans are increasingly threatened by plastic debris, much of it composed of tiny particles, barely visible to the naked eye. Scientists at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre have found microplastics in high concentrations off the coast of British Columbia and that they are making their way into the food chain. This pan-Arctic microplastics study — conducted onboard the One Ocean Arctic expedition from Aug. 14-24 — will include seawater sampling, vertical plankton tows, and sediment sampling.
- Physical oceanography. Physical factors like temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen contribute to a set of basic environmental requirements for marine species. Scientists on board the One Ocean expedition from Aug. 14-24 will be using specialized equipment to measure these factors at locations along the way. The data will help researchers at the DFO Institute of Ocean Sciences better understand these important oceanographic factors and how they are changing over time.
- Arctic River Chemical Signatures. As the Arctic warms, an increasing amount of freshwater is entering the ocean and changing the ecosystem. Although it’s difficult to understand how freshwater travels throughout the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, science has recently discovered that each river has its own “chemical signature”—the makeup and amounts of certain kinds of molecules is unique to each river. During the One Ocean expedition from Aug. 14-24, samples will be collected for analysis of their chemical signature at the Institute of Ocean Sciences and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Vancouver Aquarium scientists will be blogging from the Arctic as they carry out these research projects. Follow along at Aquablog.ca.
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a non-profit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. www.vanaqua.org
Polar Knowledge Canada
POLAR consists of a pan-northern science and technology program, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station being built in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and a knowledge management and mobilization function.
Editors: Vancouver Aquarium researchers, marine biologists and divers are available for interviews. Photos and videos will be available throughout the month of August.