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Ocean watch

Marine Institute launches underwater ocean observatory in Conception Bay


By Moira Baird

The Marine Institute (MI) and partner, the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada, installed a seafloor observatory in Conception Bay last month to enable real-time monitoring of oceanographic conditions and marine life.

Holyrood observatory on the deck of the Marine Institute’s MV Inquisitor.
Photo: Submitted

Equipped with specialized instrumentation, the $750,000 observatory monitors currents, waves, water temperature, salinity and underwater sounds.

It also features a high-resolution camera developed by SubC Imaging of Newfoundland and Labrador to collect time-lapse video of nearby flora and fauna.

Expandable facility

The observatory is expandable and will serve as a development, testing and demonstration facility for subsea instrumentation operating in harsh environments.

Enhancing ocean observation is part of the ongoing expansion of the Marine Institute’s applied research and training facility at Holyrood to support development, testing and validation of next-generation ocean technology.

“We are running out of time to establish the natural baselines of ecosystems, and early detection of change will be key.” — Dr. Katleen Robert

Located four kilometres north of the MI’s Holyrood marine base, the observatory sits in 85 metres of water and sends data via a seafloor, fibre-optic cable.

The cabled observatory was designed and built by Ocean Networks Canada (ONC). It monitors the west and east coasts of Canada and the Arctic to continuously deliver data in real-time for scientific research that helps communities, governments and industry make informed decisions. MI is an associate member of the ocean observation network.

Year-round monitoring

Dr. Katleen Robert, Canada Research Chair in Ocean Mapping at MI’s School of Ocean Technology, says the observatory provides a year-round window on marine life in Conception Bay.

“With current climatic trends, we are running out of time to establish the natural baselines of ecosystems, and early detection of change will be key to proactively adjusting our management strategies,” she said.

“The Holyrood observatory will greatly extend our ability to obtain long-term, time-series data by allowing constant monitoring even under ice. Its camera will also provide year-round, high-resolution observations of an Atlantic Canada subtidal benthic community, including the economically important snow crab.”

Loading fibre-op cable for MI’s Holyrood observatory.
Photo: Submitted

4D Oceans Lab

Dr. Robert’s 4D Oceans Lab and a team of graduate students are mapping the spatial complexity of the ocean from the seafloor to the surface, the distribution of seafloor marine habitats and how those habitats respond to different human-induced and natural stressors.

Rylan Command, a master’s student in fisheries science and technology, is using the observatory to characterize nearby seafloor marine life, such as snow crab, and to measure behavioural responses to the spring phytoplankton bloom in Conception Bay.

As part of a project funded by the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network, Mr. Command will be using a fluorometer added to the observatory to measure chlorophyll concentration in the water, including phytoplankton, which get energy from photosynthesis.

MV Inquisitor and Cartwright lay fibre-op cable on the seafloor north of the Holyrood marine base.
Photo: Angie Bishop

ONC partnership

“Ocean Networks Canada is delighted to be working with Memorial University’s Marine Institute on the installation of one of our cabled observatory systems at their cold-ocean testbed site in Holyrood,” said Kate Moran, president and CEO, Ocean Networks Canada.

“This observatory has multiple purposes: support for ocean science, advancement of Canada’s blue economy as an industry sensor test bed and for ocean education, outreach and public engagement.”

Using cabled observatories, remote control systems and interactive sensors, and big data management, ONC enables evidence-based decision-making on ocean management, disaster mitigation and environmental protection.

Data and video from the Holyrood observatory is publicly available through ONC. Later this month it will also be available on SmartAtlantic, a decade-long initiative in ocean observation by MI.

The Holyrood observatory being lowered 85 metres to the seafloor.
Photo: Submitted

Ocean technology hub

“The Marine Institute is proud to partner with Ocean Networks Canada in launching one of its ocean observatory systems in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Glenn Blackwood, vice-president, Memorial University (Marine Institute).

“It will complement our meteorological and oceanographic buoys already deployed in Holyrood Bay – adding another stream of data to our understanding of this environment and contributing to a controlled test environment for underwater vehicles.”

The ongoing expansion at Holyrood also includes construction of a new multi-purpose building that began in December, a water lot for training and testing, and installation of subsea infrastructure to evaluate positioning systems for robotic and autonomous underwater vehicles.

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