Canadian scientists are back at sea this spring monitoring ocean climate conditions on the East Coast thanks to a data- and ship-sharing agreement between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

The collaboration will enable ship-challenged Canada to carry out the first spring survey of its Atlantic zone monitoring program in three years.

The twice-yearly missions measure biological, chemical and physical conditions from the Gulf of Maine to the Labrador Sea — information that tracks climate change in the ocean and helps manage fish stocks worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The ship, the money, the deal

Woods Hole is supplying the research vessel Atlantis and $1.5 million Cdn in crew time as well as instruments for survey work off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Canada gets Atlantis until the end of May and will pay Woods Hole $5.1 million Cdn.

DFO will collect and share data for scientists at Woods Hole.

“This collaboration builds on decades of collaboration between U.S. and Canadian scientists, trying to understand the dramatic fluctuations that we’re seeing in the ocean environment off of our shores,” says Dennis McGillicuddy, chief scientist at Woods Hole.

u s research ship atlantis 2
Atlantis was made available to Canadian scientists to monitor ocean climate conditions from the Gulf of Maine to the Labrador Sea. (Lindsay Beazley/Department of Fisheries and Ocean)

For Canada, the arrangement solves an immediate problem caused by the abrupt — if unsurprising — retirement of Canada’s aging oceanographic research ship CCGS Hudson in January.

In recent years, the 59-year-old Hudson was frequently unavailable because of mechanical problems.

A catastrophic motor failure last fall led the Canadian Coast Guard to decommission Hudson rather than spend between $12 million and $20 million on refits that could put it out of service until the end of 2023.

Bells and whistles

“We were really fortunate to be able to have this collaboration with Woods Hole on such short notice,” said Lindsay Beazley, an aquatic science biologist with DFO at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia.

Last week, Beazley completed one leg of the mission on board Atlantis off the Scotian Shelf.

Atlantis has all the bells and whistles, including five laboratories and what’s known as an Imaging FlowCytobot.

The submersible instrument takes very high-resolution images of phytoplankton from streams of water samples that are continuously fed onto the ship. The images are then fed back to shore where software identifies the phytoplankton — doing in minutes what would take a person several hours.

“That was a really exciting aspect of this mission,” said Beazley. “That system has opened up an avenue of automated monitoring that we had not used within DFO and on our surveys in the past.”

‘It’s a big deal’

That Canada got the ship was fortunate. Atlantis was between a mid-life refit and its next mission.

“It was a really big deal. This kind of opportunity doesn’t come up all that often. It was a perfect opportunity to partner with Canadian scientists,” said McGillicuddy.

The Imaging FlowCytobot is sending automated data back to the Woods Hole Centre. DFO scientists are also collecting water samples that will be brought back to Massachusetts for analysis.

“We will of course share that data right back to our Canadian colleagues,” said McGillicuddy.

Next mission off Newfoundland

Atlantis arrived in St. John’s late last week for its next mission off Newfoundland and Labrador.

It will also carry out monitoring in much deeper water as part of the complementary Atlantic zone off-shelf monitoring program in the Maritimes.

The spring survey has not been carried out since 2019, leaving a hole in records that measure changes in ocean conditions.

“I think that is what I’d like to convey,” said Beazley. “We have gaps in our time series, and it’s really important that we’re able to maintain our ability to go to sea and collect this data in order to inform on climate variability.”

She hopes to see more of this kind of co-operation.

“We’ve been working with them for a very long time, but I think with this mission and with the Imaging FlowCytobot on board, we both come back with ideas on how we can strengthen that relationship into the future,” she said.

“So I feel really fortunate and very excited for what this opportunity has brought to DFO.”

DFO said it is looking at both domestic and international options to secure vessel time for the remaining missions this year.



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