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Eye under the ice
Ocean Networks Canada facility will collect dataon sea ice, produce images of underwater marine life

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Monday, Sept 10, 2012

Data on when sea ice melts and freezes as well as images of underwater marine life will be available to Cambridge Bay residents an Arctic mini-observatory is installed later this month.

Ocean Networks Canada recently obtained a five-year research licence from the Nunavut Research Institute to install a cabled seafloor observatory and surface weather station off the community's coast.

The non-for-profit organization, responsible for managing the observatory on behalf of the University of Victoria, will likely install the instrument platform six to 10 metres underwater and linked by cable to the wharf this month.

The platform includes a high-definition underwater video camera and microphone, sensors to measure underwater properties, and instruments to measure ice thickness.

On the wharf, another camera will monitor surface ice formation and a weather station will provide atmospheric conditions.

This will be the network's first observatory in the Arctic, as it already has two on the western coast of Vancouver Island.

The organization was really thrilled to get the licence, said Kate Moran, president and chief executive officer of Ocean Networks Canada.

She said it is important for the organization to observe and quantify climate change to help communities plan for any change.

"It's a very small observatory so it's a very small step forward but I think it's a prototype for demonstrating these kinds of observatories can and should be put in place in many locations in the Arctic," she said.

The mini-observatory will measure water salinity, pressure and temperature, for instance, and an instrument will use sound waves to measure ice thickness, she added.

The camera will be used to observe the biology. Live data and underwater video feeds will be available to the school, library and visitors' centre, for instance, stated information from the network.

At the Arctic Coast Visitor Centre in Cambridge Bay, Clara Wingnek said she is excited to hear about the project this summer.

"A project like this is pretty extraordinary for Cambridge Bay in the sense that having access to view under the ice would be pretty neat for both visitors and for locals," she said.

Bring data to school

She added it will be nice to have access so students can see the changes in ice thickness and see the marine life under the ice year-round.

"We're so used to the idea of ice but do we ever think about what's underneath the ice?" said Wingnek.

As for the community at large, Moran said she thinks the ice data might be of use.

According to the organization, Cambridge Bay was chosen for its existing community infrastructure, the protected location in the bay, the outreach potential to both the community and visitors, as well as science education opportunities at the schools.

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