MI researchers, students to navigate Northwest Passage
Friday, August 26, 2016

When the 820-foot-long, 13-deck luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity transverses the historic Northwest Passage this month, Marine Institute researchers and students will accompany that vessel onboard its escort ship, the RRS Ernest Shackleton

The logistics and research ship, operated by the U.K.-government-funded British Antarctic Survey, will take the Crystal Serenity through the passage, providing ice-breaking assistance as necessary. The crew will be joined by three researchers from the Institute’s Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) and two nautical science cadets. Along the 32-day voyage, the researchers will collect oceanographic and biological data and the cadets will assist in navigating the route.  

The invitation to be part of the history making journey was one the Marine Institute could not pass up.

It began with an invitation from Dermot Loughnane of Tactical Marine Solutions Ltd, a British Columbia-based marine management group, to MI’s Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) to develop a scientific research plan for the RRS Ernest Shackleton

CFER research scientist Dr. Jonathan Fisher will lead the research, along with two graduate students, Hilary Rockwood and Devin Flawd. 

“Our research will involve the deployment of plankton nets and a continuous plankton recorder (CPR) to collect oceanographic data and plankton samples in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada,” said Dr. Fisher. “We are very pleased to have two graduate students participating in this important work. The opportunity to do research in the Northwest Passage is one that very few students around the world will have during their studies.” 

The research will be conducted in transit and at stations during the Crystal Serenity’s visits to various northern communities. The data will provide some of the first characterizations of sub-Arctic to Arctic phytoplankton and zooplankton (and potentially ichthyoplankton) at an unprecedented spatial scale. 

“The data collected will provide novel baselines of information in an area of the world in which climate change is anticipated to be most severe,” continued Dr. Fisher. “The information collected and analyzed will be shared with northern communities through accessible publication of maps and other materials – in addition to the publication of peer-reviewed scientific publications highlighting the results.” 

The research team will connect with nautical science cadets, Susan Snow and Jacob Knee, who joined the vessel earlier this summer in Denmark and have been part of the crew preparing the vessel for this upcoming mission. During their time onboard, they will cross the Atlantic twice and sail westbound and eastbound through the Northwest Passage. 

During the expedition, their role as cadets will be to assist the navigation officers with all navigational tasks, perform deck work and assist with maintenance duties. The work term is scheduled for approximately three months ending in October before the RRS Ernest Shackleton mobilizes and departs for Antarctica. 

“This is an incredible opportunity for CFER scientists to conduct important research in these relatively unchartered waters and for our cadets to gain valuable experience on the journey of a lifetime,” said Glenn Blackwood, vice-president, Memorial University (Marine Institute). “I would like to thank Tactical Marine Solutions, the British Antarctic Survey and the crew of the RRS Ernest Shackleton for this opportunity.” 

“In addition to working with our partners to respond to the evolving needs of key ocean industries, MI proudly equips future industry leaders with the tools they need to make an impact in their chosen field,” said Bernie Brockerville, Senior Placement Officer with MI’s Office of Career Integrated Learning. “Part of this learning comes from gaining practical experience in a typical working environment and I can think of no better learning opportunity than this mission through the Northwest Passage.” 

The Crystal Serenity’s Northwest Passage voyage departed Alaska on August 16 and will visit 12 ports before concluding in New York City, New York mid-September.