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Breathe deep

Public lecture to discuss the Labrador Sea's role as planet's 'lungs'

By Kelly Foss

The Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Ocean Science and Technology will deliver the 2017 Elizabeth R. Laird Lecture this month.

Dr. Douglas Wallace is also the scientific director of the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response (MEOPAR) Network, a national Network of Centres of Excellence based at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.

Breathe in, breathe out

The public lecture, titled Vital Signs: Watching the Deep Ocean Breathe in the Labrador Sea, is hosted by the Faculty of Science and the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography.

“The Labrador Sea plays a key role ‘breathing in’ oxygen from the atmosphere and delivering it to the planet’s deep oceans,” said Dr. Wallace. “This oxygen uptake, off our coast, provides life-support to fish and microbes in the deeper parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.”

The Labrador Sea “breathes in” during winter, when surface waters become cold and dense enough to sink to depths of 1-2 kilometres. This breathing continues throughout the winter with progressive exposure of deep, low-oxygen water to the atmosphere, a result of the very high wind speeds and massive injection of air bubbles during storms. During summer, photosynthesis by phytoplankton in near-surface waters produces oxygen, some of which is released back to the atmosphere.

Unprecedented detail

Dalhousie and Memorial, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and collaborators in the U.S. and Germany have deployed instrumentation to measure and monitor this breathing.

“The resulting data reveal, in unprecedented detail, how the breathing of the Labrador Sea operates.” — Dr. Douglas Wallace

“The instrumentation includes a unique, Canadian-designed underwater winch, the SeaCycler, which allows for year-round profiling of oxygen, carbon dioxide and many other related, biological and physical parameters,” said Dr. Wallace.

“We have also deployed underwater robotic gliders to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide during the winter storms. The resulting data reveal, in unprecedented detail, how the breathing of the Labrador Sea operates, and starts to show how the depth of breathing, and hence the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide exchanged with the atmosphere, varies under changing climate conditions. These novel technologies, and the associated studies of air-sea gas fluxes of global importance, form a key component of the research of the new, Atlantic Canada-based Ocean Frontier Institute which links Dalhousie and Memorial researchers with their federal, private sector and international partners.”

Significant contributions

Prior to his MEOPAR and CERC appointments, Dr. Wallace was a deputy director and the head of the Marine Biogeochemistry Research Division at the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, and also spent more than a decade working as a scientist at the prestigious Brookhaven National Laboratory in the United States. He has made significant scientific contributions to his field through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. Department of Energy, where he developed the first survey to measure the global distribution of fossil-fuel carbon in the oceans.

His research interests focus on carbon cycle and air-sea exchange of gases. He holds a PhD in chemical oceanography from Dalhousie University and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

Dr. Wallace’s lecture will take place Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. in the Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation, room IIC-2001. Limited free parking will be available in lot 1A. A reception will follow.

The Elizabeth R. Laird Lecture was established by a bequest from Dr. Elizabeth Laird, a prominent Canadian physicist who held posts at Yale, Cambridge, Chicago, Mount Holyoke and Western Ontario, in the first half of the 20th century.

Advancing ocean exploration

In September 2016, the Government of Canada awarded nearly $100 million in funding for the creation of the Ocean Frontier Institute.

This partnership with Dalhousie University and the University of Prince Edward Island is set to become one of the world’s most significant ocean science research collaborations. Researchers, like Dr. Wallace, will be able to engage in transformative collaborative research that redefines our understanding of sustainable fisheries, sustainable aquaculture, marine safety and ocean data and technology.

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