World Oceans Day: Celebrating the heart of our planet

- June 8, 2016

The Seacycler hits the sea. (CERC.OCEAN photo)
The Seacycler hits the sea. (CERC.OCEAN photo)

Healthy oceans, healthy planet. It’s more than just a catchy theme for this year’s World Oceans Day.

The ocean regulates the climate, feeds millions of people every year, is home to an incredible array of wildlife and provides us with important medicines. In short, we depend on it for our existence.

At Dalhousie, there are over 100 faculty members conducting oceans research. This includes working on an answer to the complex question of how healthy our oceans are.

Monitoring the ocean’s breathing

To help diagnose the health of our oceans, a new oceanographic mooring system called the SeaCycler is spending the next year studying air-sea gas exchange and deep convection within the Labrador Sea, or as the scientists involved like to say, they are “monitoring the ocean’s breathing.”
The Labrador Sea is an area that is a critical part of the world’s ocean for impacts and feedbacks associated with climate change. Here, the surface water becomes so dense in winter that it sinks, bringing oxygen and carbon dioxide into the deep ocean where it disperses into the ocean interior. At the same time, large amounts of heat are released back into the atmosphere.
The SeaCycler was successfully deployed on May 22, and has been busy at work collecting preliminary data ever since. This includes oxygen and carbon dioxide levels along with light, nutrients, salinity and temperature. (Left: Some members of the Seacycler team.)
“The data are being sent back to Dalhousie via satellite and will allow us to gain a better understanding of how a warming climate may be impacting this region, which scientists refer to as one of the ‘lungs of the ocean’ given its role in facilitating the deep ocean’s intake of oxygen,” says Doug Wallace, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology and Dal’s lead investigator on the SeaCycler project.

Presently, the region also takes up and stores large quantities of the carbon dioxide that have been released to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuel. The SeaCycler will also act as an offshore reference station for visits by other smaller, more mobile robotic vehicles that make measurements in the region.

An international partnership

The SeaCycler is the result of a collaborative effort with a long history and involving financial support from Canada, the USA and Europe. The energy-conserving system that allows SeaCycler to profile such a large suite of sensors was originally developed by George Fowler at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in 1999. A patent was granted shortly afterwards and an impressive partnership has since formed to enhance the new technology and further its ongoing development. The present development version is a result of a major cooperation between Dalhousie, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) in San Diego, California and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

The SeaCycler is a resource shared between Dalhousie and SIO, and deployment was from a German research vessel, the Maria S. Merian, in cooperation with the GEOMAR research centre in Germany. The deployment effort in the Labrador Sea was supported largely by the VITALS program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) which is coordinated by the University of Alberta, as well as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology at Dalhousie. These types of international partnerships are becoming the norm for modern observation of the ocean.

A UN-designated international day of ocean celebration

The concept of World Oceans Day was first proposed in 1992 by the Government of Canada at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. A United Nations General Assembly resolution was passed in December 2008, which led to June 8 officially being recognized as World Oceans Day. Each year, an increasing number of countries and organizations participate in this annual event.

To mark the occasion, the Dalhousie affiliated International Oceans Institute (IOI) is hosting its annual Elisabeth Mann Borgese lecture on June 8. The focus of the event will be on the implications of climate change in Nova Scotia.

Georgia Klein from Dalhousie’s College of Sustainability is one of the panelists. She is speaking on the importance of having the tools available to help make change.
“At the College of Sustainability, we are teaching the students to become the leaders and look at the bigger picture to find solutions,” says Klein. “I see a lot of initiatives related to oceans happening here in Nova Scotia, and that makes me very happy.”

This year’s lecture will be hosted by meteorologist, radio host and author Richard Zurawski. In addition to Klein, panelists include Blair Greenan from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Tim Webster, research scientist, Applied Geomatics Research Group, Nova Scotia Community College; and Shannon Miedema, manager, energy & environment, Halifax Regional Municipality.

“Lectures like these are a beautiful example of making something that may seem very academic available to the general public,” says Klein.

For more information on World Oceans Day and all the events taking place, visit the World Oceans Day website.


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