Life Under the Ice

Latest update February 21, 2019 Started on September 1, 2018

With ice melting in Canada’s Northwest Passage, the area will soon be a new route for international shipping. This will have potentially big impacts on the life there. We are studying the area and planning for this with local communities, government scientists, and managers. For one part of that work, we are going to document the marine life in the western Canadian Arctic, in particular the remote and mostly frozen Viscount Melville Sound. Let’s look under the ice!

September 1, 2018
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Just a quick update. I did a trial dive with the Trident ROV in Florence Lake, Victoria, BC, Canada, yesterday. It was a rare circumstance when there was actually a thin layer of ice on Florence Lake, so it was practically like testing the ROV in the Arctic (but not really). See the short video below.

Florence Lake is a shallow, small lake in the Westshore area of Greater Victoria in a small city called Langford. The lake has a fairly muddy bottom, and gets heavily vegetated in the summer. It has a lot of small fish species, although I didn't see any during this dive.

This trial was a much better training run for me than the last trial. I was still using my Android phone to control the ROV still, but with much better light levels in the water PLUS being able to see the ROV through the ice. I was really able to practice steering the ROV.

In my next trial, I'll use a larger Android device to control the ROV. I'd also like to practice running controlled transects with the ROV, which is much more in line with what I will be using it for in the Arctic. I eventually need to be able to deploy this ROV from a boat in deeper water (30 m), dive down to the bottom, and find our mooring. Lots of practice is needed before I'll be ready to do this!

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I find the same - driving it when it's within sight is more intuitive and you basically watch the drone itself rather than the screen. The shift to using the screen to pilot is tricky. I'm guessing it comes more naturally to some people. And, lots of practice will help, of course!

I just returned from some winter field work at Minto Inlet, which is in the eastern Amundsen Gulf just north of Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada. I joined some scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to deploy an oceanographic mooring with one of our acoustic recorders through the sea ice, to sample zooplankton and fish below the ice, and to try out our new Trident ROV. I’m not going to dwell on the first two goals, other than to say that we successfully deployed our mooring and sampled for fish and zooplankton. What I’m talking about today is my first test run of the Trident ROV. This ROV was provided to us at WCS Canada by an internal grant through Wildlife Conservation Society, in partnership with Open ROV. Check out the video below, which shows some background info and footage from the dive through the ice.

Now a disclaimer: this was my first time driving the ROV. I obtained it while en route to the Arctic, and read the instruction manual in the Whitehorse airport. I thought I was getting a controller with it, but then learned that I needed my own Android device to control it, so I used my smartphone to drive the ROV. This was less than ideal, but it got the job done.

On our second day working on the ice, I got 10 minutes in between zooplankton sampling to try out the ROV. I shoved it through a hole that we drilled through the 120 cm thick sea ice, and captured some cool footage of the water below the ice. I couldn’t see a thing when looking down towards the sea floor 300 m below the ice, but could see lots of detail on the surprisingly flat bottom of the sea ice. The only life that I saw was a few zooplankton that quickly swam past the ROV. The ROV seemed to work quite well, even under these extreme conditions.

Now I have the ROV back in Victoria with me, so I’ll get a better controller for it and practice driving it in the much milder conditions around Victoria. More footage from those test dives to come in future posts. This is all in preparation to take it up to the Arctic again over the summer to document marine life around our acoustic mooring on the sea floor.

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That's awesome William! Good piloting for a first timer. Looking forward to following along with future posts.

Thanks for sharing this, William. All the context is fantastic.
Expedition Background

Increased shipping through Canada's Northwest Passage has begun and it will soon become a regular transit route for international shipping. The associated potential environmental problems are many, the most severe being fuel spills, introduced foreign species and pathogens, noise pollution, and ship-whale collisions. We are studying and planning for this - with local communities and government scientists/managers - including documenting marine life in the western Canadian Arctic and helping. We have been limited to the Southern Route of the Passage yet it is the Northern Route, from M'Clure Strait to Lancaster Sound, that will become the main shipping thoroughfare once melting ice allows. One particularly biologically rich area - the Viscount Melville Sound - is remote and mostly frozen. We will be documenting life under the ice through audio recordings and visually using a Remotely Operated Vehicle.

This work is part of our research program with Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Canada:

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Sounds like a great project! Do you plan on sharing some of the sounds you record? I'm curious about those and how can you identify species from the sound alone. Keep us posted!

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