Hauling a large, 250-pound device connecting hundreds of feet of fluorescent ethernet wire out of icy water is no simple task.
But that’s exactly what a team of divers and young researchers with the University of Victoria and the Ocean Networks Canada project did Sept. 16.
The waters near the Cambridge Bay dock stood at 1.9 C — and would, in fact, start freezing up the next day — but protected by drysuits, two divers managed to bring the marine observatory up to the surface and then hoist it on to the dock for its annual overhaul, a new platform and other new instruments.
By then, the sun was setting in over the Cam-Main North Warning System site to the west — and there would be no time for them to carry on with the plan to take apart the observatory for storage overnight.
But they didn’t have a place to store the four-foot-wide triangular device or even a way to move it.
Thanks to help from an Adlair Aviation pilot, they managed to lift the platform into the air charter’s pickup truck and bring it up to the airport hangar for safe storage.
When underwater, the device measures such things such as underwater temperature, sounds, salinity and ice thickness. It’s also equipped with a camera — which needs replacement — to keep an eye on the seabed.
Similar observatories have been installed off the coasts of British Columbia, part of Ocean Networks Canada, a University of Victoria project, which “operates world-leading cabled ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada,” according to its website.
Cambridge Bay’s observatory could be the first in a series to monitor changes in the Arctic.
Launched in September 2012 — and observed by Premier Stephen Harper last month when he visited Cambridge Bay, the observatory will help establish a baseline of environmental conditions, such as rates of ice growth and the timing of algae blooms.
This year, the team plans to service and reinstall:
- an underwater high definition video camera;
- an acoustic ice profiler; and,
- a fish tag receiver from the Ocean Tracking Network.
They also plan to install new instrumentation, including a photosynthetically active radiation sensor that will measure underwater light levels and help scientists study changes during key periods, such as spring, when the polar sunrise triggers algae blooms under the ice.
Above water, a video camera will continue to monitor surface ice formation and the weather station will provide real-time atmospheric conditions.
An antenna positioned on top of a nearby building will continue capturing signals from nearby ships, a project website says.
Divers plan to sample fauna on the sea floor, and look for a new observatory location in 2015.
This will position the underwater sensors at a greater distance from vessels and winter road traffic near the busy Cambridge Bay dock.
Among the interesting tidbits learned to date by the observatory about air and sea water temperatures during the winter in Cambridge Bay: while winter air temperatures frequently dip below -30 C, water beneath the ice remains near 0 C.
Then, during the summer, prolonged sunshine raises air temperatures and melts the ice, raising seawater temperatures to about 10 C.
And, in November 2013, the observatory caught the sound of ice cracking as a snowmobile travelled over the ice near the Cambridge Bay hydrophone. The snowmobile broke through the ice a short time later.
The University of Victoria team plan to wrap up their work some time next week after they meet with local students and people in the community to talk about their project.
Look for more posts from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut.
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