Capitalizing on academic-industry partnerships to reveal marine ecosystem change within Canada’s Northwest Passage

Lay Summary 

This project was based on academic-industry partnerships in order to collect and analyze new information on marine ecosystems in Canada’s Northwest Passage and Atlantic Arctic gateway. During August and September of 2016, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity transited from Alaska to New York via the famed Northwest Passage. That voyage included transit through, and visits within, the Canadian Arctic. In one of many preparations for that cruise, an ice class escort ship was chartered to ensure safe and efficient transit through the Northwest Passage. The 80 m polar resupply/research ship RRS Ernest Shackleton was selected as the escort. Given the established relationship between the escort broker and the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University and its Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER), CFER research scientists were invited to develop a scientific research plan for the RRS Ernest Shackleton that would complement and extend its escort mission. Such an invitation illustrated the shared recognition of the opportunity and need to collect new scientific information aboard industry platforms, thereby maximizing the use of transit time within the region and facilitating research on the changing Arctic Ocean. Three objectives were planned to take advantage of the RRS Ernest Shackleton’s capacity as a research icebreaker and its ability to deploy scientific equipment and facilitate analyses within its laboratory spaces:

(1) Continuous plankton recorder: The transit spanned ~3000 nautical miles, during which time a continuous plankton recorder (CPR) was planned to be deployed to sample the upper water column. The CPR data design was to provide some of the first characterizations of sub-Arctic to Arctic phytoplankton and zooplankton and at an unprecedented spatial scale;
(2) Station-based plankton and oceanographic sampling: The escorted transit of the Northwest Passage included visits to three Canadian communities (Ulukhaktok, Cambridge Bay, Pond Inlet-September 4) as well as numerous other stops along the route. Those visits facilitated scientific sampling while the RRS Ernest Shackleton was stationary. Station-based sampling included: oceanographic profiles via a conductivity, temperature, depth (CTD) array; large zooplankton sampling using ring nets;
(3) Knowledge sharing: It was anticipated that the results of station-based sampling, CPR procedures, and video footage would be of interest to some guests aboard the Crystal Serenity and northern guides employed on both vessels. Therefore a third research objective was be to provide real-time information about the ongoing research objectives and results, such that information about Arctic marine environments were be extended below the water’s surface.

Following data collection and analyses, project results were shared with northern organizations, DFO, within the MUN research community, the Arctic research community, and others via presentations and publications.

Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research
St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Northwest Territories
Cold Ocean and Arctic, Science, Technology and Society
Industry Sectors 
Scientific Research and Development Services
Water Transportation
Start date 
20 May 2016
End date 
30 Apr 2017