Baseline monitoring of marine productivity and oceanography spanning the Northwest Passage using ships of opportunity

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: physical sciences, water quality, climate change, fish, oceanography

Principal Investigator: Fisher, Jonathan AD (2)
Licence Number: 15963
Organization: Memorial University of Newfoundland
Licenced Year(s): 2017 2016
Issued: Sep 14, 2016
Project Team: Dr. Pierre Pepin (plankton expert, oceanographer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada), Hilary Rockwood (field technician, MSc student, Memorial University of Newfoundland), Devin Flawd (field technician, PhD student, Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Objective(s): To collect, analyze and report the findings from station-based and continuous plankton sampling and data on depth, temperature and salinity in the upper water column throughout Canada’s Northwest Passage.

Project Description: The first objective is to collect, analyze and report the findings from station-based and continuous plankton sampling and data on depth, temperature and salinity in the upper water column throughout Canada’s Northwest Passage. As a contributor to marine climate change research, this program will provide northern communities with the first regional-scale view of marine productivity—thereby providing a benchmark against which to evaluate future changes in this region. The second purpose and longer-term goal is to demonstrate the utility of using ships of opportunity to effectively and inexpensively monitor the marine productivity potential of northern marine waters.

This project’s methods are built around the fact that the RRS Ernest Shackleton will transit continuously through the Northwest Passage in August-September 2016. The ideal and proven method to collect oceanographic and plankton information is through the use of a continuous plankton recorder (hereafter CPR)--a towed device approximately 1 m long that has a 1.6 cm2 opening at the front into which seawater flows as it is towed behind the ship. The CPR samples the upper 15 m of the water column, sampling approximately 3 m3 of water per 18 km towed. The device has silk screens inside that capture and preserve both phytoplankton (floating marine plants) and zooplankton (floating marine animals) as a mechanical device advances the silk as more water flows into the device. No fish are retained. The deployment of the CPR and an attached oceanographic data sensor will collect temperature, depth, salinity information throughout the Northwest Passage and constitutes a major activity of this monitoring program. The indictors derived from CPR are globally acknowledged as informative indices of phytoplankton abundance and zooplankton abundance and composition. In combination, those indices have proven instrumental as leading indicators of marine ecosystem change in southern regions. Planned station-based sampling off of Ulukhaktok, Cambridge Bay, Pond Inlet will provide additional net-based plankton samples using bongo nets (0.5 m diameter nets, mesh size <0.5 mm) to again sample plankton. A conductivity-temperature-depth recorder will also sample the water column in each of those three areas.

This project aims to collect new oceanographic and plankton data spanning the Northwest Passage. This information is intended to provide baseline information about the drivers of fisheries distributions and abundances in northern waters in an era of climate change. It is expected that this research will inform integrated fisheries management in northern marine waters so that communities and fishing organizations can understand the local-to-regional current marine productivity and evaluate and/or plan for future changes.

This project will report results directly to the community of Ulukhaktok, to the Manager of the Aurora Research Institute (and Nunavut communities along the Northwest Passage) largely through the development and dissemination of a plain-language summary of results from oceanographic and plankton monitoring, including maps. It is expected that this information will be disseminated directly and also hosted on the Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research website ( The reporting of information and the development of slide-show presentations aimed at NWT general audiences and local communities will be another associated communication product that can be presented live and/or viewed online. The Marine Institute has exceptional capabilities to host distance-learning via web connection meetings, pre-taped presentations, etc. and the ability to broadcast and share those with internet-connected communities. Such an ability could serve to report results to NWT audiences, in addition to printed reports and mapping products.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from September 14, 2016 to December 31, 2016.