Ocean Frontier Institute releases details on $16 million in new ocean research

Projects bring scientists together with industry, Indigenous partners, communities and government

- June 4, 2020

The Ocean Frontier Institute logo.
The Ocean Frontier Institute logo.

The Atlantic-Canada based Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) is putting millions of dollars into six innovative new ocean research projects.

This is in addition to 17 large research projects currently underway to examine approaches to help ensure sustainable management of the North Atlantic and Arctic Gateway.

OFI is a transnational research hub created to study the ocean’s most pressing issues, and to deliver those results and recommendations to inform government policy, community development and industry needs. This powerful partnership links ocean experts from Dalhousie University, Memorial University, and the University of Prince Edward Island with world-leading national and international collaborators.

This second phase of OFI research, scheduled to run until 2023, is focused on two themes:

The North Atlantic as a Climate Ocean: Understanding the physical, chemical, and biological processes governing climate, productivity, and ecosystem processes in the North Atlantic and Canadian Arctic gateways.

Coastal Communities and the Ocean: Addressing how changing ocean dynamics impact coastal communities, and how rapidly-evolving social and economic conditions impact the marine environment.

This is in addition to six pre-existing themes that range from ensuring sustainable fishing practices and big data to marine safety and ocean-atmospheric interactions.

Critical work in global ocean science

“These projects will operate at a new scale of connectivity that spans natural and social science, industry and government, and local to national to international, in order to create a truly transdisciplinary program,” says Paul Snelgrove, OFI associate scientific director. “Each project links multiple Atlantic universities, builds partnerships with industry, government, and Canada’s Indigenous communities. These are the partnerships that Canada must embrace in order to achieve a sustainable future.”

OFI was founded in 2016, thanks to a $94-million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, designed to position Canada to become a global leader in the search for safe and sustainable solutions for harnessing the world’s ocean resources.

“There is really nothing like the OFI anywhere else in the global ocean science landscape,” says Anya Waite, OFI’s scientific director and AVP of research (ocean) at Dal. “We enable teams from all over the world to work together and share perspectives and experience working toward one common goal. We break down silos and allow unprecedented collaboration. The more minds on these problems, the better.”

Engaging youth across Canada in science and discovery

The phase two projects differ from the first round of funding in adding some innovative new facets linked to society.

While they faced the same rigorous scientific review as the earlier projects they were encouraged to include a more robust public engagement strategy, Indigenous partnerships, and clearer ties to community. Once the researchers go out into the field, film crews from Ocean School will join them and follow their progress, incorporating their discoveries into learning modules they will share with middle-school students across Canada.

“Ocean School’s approaches are unique and they bring research to life for the next generation of potential ocean researchers and advocates,” says Dr. Waite. “The youth of today are deeply concerned about the environment, and it’s important for everyone to see how ocean research can inform a sustainable future. If we can, together, learn more about what is happening in the ocean, we can figure out what we can do to reverse the decline of ocean health.”

Research results from OFI phase 1 are already rolling out, and expected to peak in 2022, with results from Round 2 expected by 2023.

About the projects

Each new project has received between $1.2 and $4-million in funding. They are:

This project aims to provide better understanding of the connection between ocean health, marine animal health, and human health.    

Offshore groundwater resources in a changing marine environment: Continental shelf surrounding Prince Edward Island
Freshwater offshore aquifers located beneath the seafloor may represent a new and critical water resource for Prince Edward Island, and for similar island settings worldwide.

BEcoME - Benthic ecosystem mapping for sustainable ocean stewardship in a shifting ocean climate
Surprisingly, only a small fraction of the seafloor has been mapped at the levels needed for us to understand ocean seafloor processes. This project aims to address data gaps in the Northwest Atlantic and help predict how threats like climate change will drive changes to vulnerable marine life on and near the seafloor.

Coastal Infrastructures  
Researchers are re-thinking the way we design, develop, and manage infrastructures, with an overarching aim to ensure the designs of the future are sustainable, safe and inclusive.

The NorthWest Atlantic Carbon Pump
Living organisms move large amounts of carbon dioxide deep into the ocean, and without this “biological carbon pump”, carbon dioxide concentrations would be nearly double the amount in the atmosphere today and Earth’s climate would be radically different. Currently, we lack measurements or models to reliably predict how these processes will change as the climate warms.

Sustainable Nunatsiavut Futures

This project will look at rapidly changing environmental conditions in Northern Canada and the impacts on local communities who depend heavily on marine resources. The project will combine community-led knowledge and monitoring.


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