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NSCC Gets $1 Million For Ocean-Floor Mapping Research

Nova Scotia Community College has received $1 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to expand its expertise in ocean-floor mapping technologies.

The funding, awarded through the College and Community Innovation Program, allows the college to establish a Chair in Integrated Ocean Mapping Technologies.

“It is very much an opportunity to improve the way that we are able to map and understand the sea floor environment,” chair holder Craig Brown, an applied ocean technology research scientist at NSCC’s Waterfront Campus, said Wednesday.

The college is partnering with Clearwater Seafoods and two ocean technology companies, Quality Positioning Services BV and Blue C Designs, to develop and improve mapping capabilities. Some students in the college’s ocean technology programs will participate in the research.

“The initial focus will be looking at sea floor mapping technologies and how they can support offshore fisheries,” Brown said. “We will be working closely with our industry partners on this project to really try and improve the way that we can use technology — really focusing on multi-beam sonar and underwater camera systems — to produce better maps of the ocean floor.”

Sonar systems, usually mounted on the bottoms of vessels, use sound waves to provide data about the sea floor. The technology has improved vastly over the last couple of decades.

“It is comparable to what we can do on land with satellite remote-sensing to map terrestrial habitats. Now, we have the technology to be able to do this on the ocean floor,” Brown said.

“In shallow water, we are getting centimetre resolution. We can pick out very detailed features that help us understand the morphology of the seabed, the geology of the seabed, and then we can infer where the… sea floor biology is living.”

Brown, who has a PhD in marine ecology, said the technology employs echo sounding techniques.

“The frequencies of these systems are not controversial in terms of impact. It is very much focusing on how we can provide improved maps of the ocean floor to really improve the environmental benefits.”

As part of the research over five years , the college and its partners will also develop camera systems to deploy from vessels, collecting high-resolution information about the ocean floor that can be linked with the acoustic data.

The research will be focused on water depths from about 20 metres to 200 metres.

Clearwater’s partnership with NSCC builds on the company’s existing investments in sea floor mapping that have provided economic and environmental benefits to its scallop fishery, the company said in a release.

“Our partnership with NSCC will build on these investments and broaden the application of mapping technologies to other areas of our business such as the clam fishery, ”said Christine Penney, vice-president, sustainability and public affairs at Clearwater Seafoods.

While the initial focus involves the fishery, the technology holds significant potential for other industries, such as oil and gas, renewable energy development and marine-protected area mapping, Brown said.