If you’ve travelled between Halifax and Dartmouth using the MacKay bridge, you’ve probably seen it. Under the inbound side of the bridge, along the water’s edge and out of sight from the main road, is Canada’s gateway to national and global ocean research. The largest ocean research station in the country, the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO) was established in 1962 and has been at the forefront of Nova Scotia’s oceans sector leadership ever since.
Underwater robotics one example of success
Proof of BIO’s leadership can be found in Argo, an international project that uses underwater robots to measure the temperature, salinity and acidification of the ocean.
“Canada had a very prominent role in the formation of the Argo program and we’ve been involved since the beginning,” said Dr. Blair Greenan, a research scientist who manages Canada’s contribution to the Argo program.
Deployment of these robots, called Argo floats, began in 2000 and Greenan says they have changed temperature monitoring programs quite significantly. Before these autonomous floats were used, data was being collected from ships using onboard instrumentation just two or three times per year.
With a network of approximately 4,000 Argo floats in the water at any given time, global and continuous data is now available.
Advanced technology required
Argo floats collect data at 10-day intervals. They begin on the surface of the water and transmit data to a satellite, then descend to a depth of 1,000 meters. After drifting there for nine days, they descend another 1,000 meters before ascending to the surface and sending information back to a satellite. If all goes well, a float will repeat this cycle for five years before sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
The engineering required is highly complex and BIO sources it from less than 10 minutes away, in Burnside. MetOcean telematics is headquartered in Dartmouth and is a leader in the satellite communications industry. Through a standing offer contract, they currently provide all of the floats BIO uses for Canada’s participation in the Argo program.
Collaborating instead of competing
“One interesting aspect of the Argo program is that all of the data that’s collected is made public immediately,” said Greenan. “If we put a float into the water off the coast of Nova Scotia or in the Labrador Sea, the data it’s collecting will begin to be available within 24 hours. You don’t have to be involved in the Argo program to see it and you can use the data to facilitate your own research.
That research tackles a wide range of problems and uncertainties, including the impact of ocean changes on sea life, circulation and sea level rise. Once it is published in peer-reviewed journals, Argo-enabled research can inform global climate monitoring programs, climate change assessments and eventually, policies and ratifications.
“The ocean is changing pretty rapidly and there’s a lot of changes going on that we as a science community don’t understand,” said Dr. Greenan. “It’s very important that we do research in order to better understand how these changes may impact us in the future.”
The data being collected by Argo floats have educational and operational uses, as well. It can inform classroom curriculum and science workshops, as well as weather forecasting systems that take both the conditions of the atmosphere and the ocean into account.
“The ocean is global and the issues we’re trying to tackle are global so you really need to be using data from the whole ocean,” said Greenan. “You can’t collect that data on your own, so it’s important that the information be available to anyone who needs it. Science is competitive, but in oceanography we’ve always believed that sharing data is better than keeping it to yourself because it fosters more innovation. In order to inform the public about the impact of the [ocean] changes that are taking place, we need to be doing innovative research.”
Mark your calendar
BIO opens their doors to the public once every five years. The next open house will be taking place from September 22-24, 2017.