Author Archives: ossuvic

Waves in the Ocean

It is a confused pattern that the waves make in the open sea – a mixture of countless different wave trains, intermingling, overtaking, passing, or sometimes engulfing one another; each group differing from the others in the place and manor of its origin, in its speed, its direction of movement; some doomed never to reach any shore, others destined to roll across half an ocean before they dissolve in thunder on a distant beach – Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

P1020113-1Years ago I took a ride in a helicopter that took off from a ship’s deck. Once we were airborne, I sat with my feet dangling out the door. The ship was out of sight and only my feet obstructed my view of the undulating waves below. The day was calm, so the waves weren’t breaking. I thought we were a short distance from the surface, maybe less than 50 m, until a seagull flew beneath us.

The bird was a tiny white speck, so we had to be several hundred metres up. It was surprising how wrong I was about our height, and at that moment I was very glad I was tethered to the helicopter. The fact that I couldn’t tell how high we were is a common occurrence when looking at the ocean surface.

Without a point of reference, like a shoreline or a seabird, there is no way to tell what size of motions you are looking at once you reach a certain distance above the water. Obviously, you could tell how far away you were if you were getting sprayed by the water – but by then you are very close. A skydiver over the open ocean wouldn’t be able to tell how high they were without an altimeter. A failed altimeter could create a potentially bad day for the skydiver (when would you open your parachute?).

As Rachel Carson describes above, the surface of the open ocean is complex. Ocean surface waves are mostly created by the wind and waves of all sizes occur simultaneously. Once created these waves can travel great distances and interact with waves created elsewhere adding even more complexity. The size and speed, thus energy, of a wave is related to wind strength and the distance over the sea the wind blows (fetch). For example, a large storm lasting several days creates a whole spectrum of waves. In the open ocean, more energetic waves travel faster than less-energetic ones resulting in a sorting of waves. Since, water is great at transmitting waves, these energetic waves can reach the opposite side of an ocean basin where they potentially create great fun for surfers.

Rachel Carson’s ‘The Sea Around Us’ is a wonderful descriptive read about the ocean. Since it was written in 1951, it provides an interesting window into how our understanding of the oceans has changed since then – for example: plate technonics wasn’t accepted then and there was no idea that hydrothermal vents existed.

-Jeannette Bedard

OSS member, Regular Blogger

A Discussion with ASL Environmental Sciences

On February 15, 2013, a discussion with representatives of the company ASL Environmental Sciences was held as part of the Inspire Ocean Discussion Series. Presentations by David Fissel, Chair & Senior Scientist, and Glenda Wyatt, Oceanographic Data Analyst, were followed by an informal question and answer period.

ASL Environmental Sciences provides scientific oceanographic services. It specialized in physical oceanography: measuring currents, waves, sea ice, and sediment. The company currently has about 48 employees. Many of the employees at the company studied at the University of Victoria. Just about everyone on staff has a bachelor’s degree, and some have a PhD or Master of Science degree. The company also hires co-op students.

David Fissel highlighted two of the company’s scientific instruments: the Ice Profiler Sonar, and the Acoustic Zooplankton and Fish Profiler. The Ice Profiler Sonar is used for polar science, climate studies, offshore oil & gas platform design, environmental assessment, and navigation studies. The Acoustic Zooplankton and Fish Profiler is used by research labs; it can be used, for example, to observe the vertical migration of zooplankton.

The customers of ASL Environmental Science include research labs, government, and industry. ASL Environmental Sciences has been involved with the VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada networks of ocean observatories (both now managed by Ocean Networks Canada) since the beginning of these projects. Other customers have included the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the British Antarctic Survey, the University of Alaska, the University of Victoria, and others. Government clients have included the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Industry clients include companies in the oil and gas sector. While ASL Environmental Sciences focuses on oceanography, it also does freshwater projects, such as measuring volumes of water flow through hydroelectric dams. The company aims to have a diversity of client types, and not to rely on a single sector.

Beyond making oceanographic instruments, the company does oceanographic data analysis. As David Fissel put it: “We do a lot of data analysis.” The data collected by scientific instruments are processed, analyzed, and interpreted; numerical models are developed for ocean processes. Most staff at the company do data analysis; and, while the company does do work in the field, nobody spends all their time in the field. For data analysis, the company makes extensive use of MATLAB, and also uses C, Python, and GIS software.

This is some of the career advice that Glenda Wyatt had to offer: Jobs aren’t necessarily advertised. Keep up your network, and foster relationships: stay in touch with friends, classmates, and professors. You never know who might have important contacts. Consider volunteering at a company as a way of gaining work experience, meeting people, and learning the type of work you enjoy. Be flexible; your career might not be what you expect. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs overseas. She also added that your university’s alumni association can be a valuable resource. She recommended that, while you progress through your career, that you treat everything as a learning experience.

-Allan Roberts 


Discussion with Dr. Julia Baum: Insight into Pursuing a Career in Academia

As part of the Inspire Ocean Discussion Series, Dr. Julia Baum kindly gave a presentation on her career path in academia. She received her B.Sc. at the University of Guelph and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Dalhousie University. Today, she is an Assistant Professor at UVic with her time divided into 40% research, 40% teaching, and 20% service (which includes public outreach). Her research focuses on marine conservation and includes how anthropogenic disturbances are affecting marine communities, diversity and ecosystem function. Her work has led her to the Christmas Islands to conduct field research. During the discussion, Julia gave advice and wise words to those planning to pursue a career in academia.

julia and kara She told us about the hard realities of an academic career in the marine sciences – it is a lot of work, but if you really love it then you should go for it. Being a marine biologist isn’t about hugging dolphins. Your drive should come from a curiosity for science as an exercise in problem solving. In other words, you should have a genuine interest in the process of scientific discovery, rather than a romanticized idea of marine science. Julia talked about how much of her time was spent working hard at a computer and in the lab and only a fraction in the field. However, it was her love for the scientific process that kept her motivated.

When pursuing a career in the marine sciences, be creative and keep an open mind about the different career opportunities available. Remember that a large diversity of careers apart from research can have a connection to the ocean – whether it is a journalist, filmmaker or an educator. Julia emphasized that a career path in academia does not have to be a straight trajectory. Don’t be discouraged if you miss an opportunity or if you find yourself in a position that is unrelated to your targeted career destination. When Julia started her academic career she was interested in terrestrial ecosystems. It wasn’t until later that she found an interest and career in the marine sciences.

Research experience outside the classroom is always beneficial, regardless of your academic career path. In particular, lab experience is extremely advantageous and can help you learn how real science is done. Julia advised that when applying for a lab position it is imperative that you write a letter of inquiry as well as provide a CV and transcript. Make your letter stand out and try to refrain from only talking about your personal connection to the ocean – you can include this but go deeper. Tailor your letter to the research interests of the professor in charge of the lab and indicate how they relate to your interests and skill set.

And above all, it is important to remember that it will be your passion and scientific curiosities that will push you through the long nights and dark days of never-ending data analysis and pure hard work.  But the end result will surely be worth it!

-Kara Aschenbrenner, OSS Member

The next discussion will be held February 15th from 3:00-4:00pm at the UVic Grad House. There will be two guest speakers presenting: David Fissel, a research oceanographer and Glenda Watt, from ASL Environment Sciences

For more information about the Inspire Ocean Discussion Series contact Ellyn Davidson: ellynd@ or visit the Ocean Students Society website: .

Glass Sponges Basking in Fast Flows

Glass sponge reefs form an alien world that is right at our doorstep and unique to the BC coast. During my masters research (I’ve since moved on to a PhD project) I had the opportunity to look at how tidal waters flow over the sponges.


One of these sponge reefs has made Fraser Ridge its home. In the shadow of the Vancouver International Airport, Fraser Ridge sits in about 200 m of water a few kilometres off shore. Scoured down to the rock by tides, the ridge is surrounded by muddy goo dropped by the Fraser River. If you have ever flown from Victoria to Vancouver, you’ve passed over Fraser Ridge.

I was lucky enough to watch in real time on an high-definition screen while ROPOS (a robotic submersible) explored the sponge reef at Fraser Ridge. A ‘snow storm’ of settling sediment obscured the view as ROPOS ‘flew’ towards the reef. As the reef finally became visible, my first thought was that I was watching a scene from a science fiction movie where a space ship is approaching a city on another planet.

Glass sponges form elaborate constructions of fiberglass. Touching them feels like pink insulation – smooth and prickly at the same time. Their colour palate is pale – I only saw yellow, peach and white sponges (other colours can be seen elsewhere). Some look like a crime scene for a mass mannequin massacre, hollow limbs sticking up at odd angles, while others look like a discombobulated jumble of bowling pins of different sizes. Nothing like them exist on land.

To form a reef, live sponges build on the scaffolding left by their ancestors. When sponges die, their structure remains which fills with sediment forming a solid base for new sponges to build on. At Fraser Ridge the reef reaches a height of about 14 m.

Glass sponge reefs are unique to BC, but that wasn’t always the case. When dinosaurs lumbered on land, glass sponge reefs grew over large swaths of the shallow oceans. Studying modern glass sponge reefs gives us a window into a past ecosystem. Today, these reefs host a diverse ecosystem by providing shelter and food. Juvenile fish spend their youth darting about spongy spines and crevices while shrimp use their delicate claws to clean alga off the sponges.

Since sponges have chosen to stay put and build, their food must come to them. They filter feed by pumping water through elaborated internal canals (there are some great videos of dye experiments that show this). A sponge’s sustenance comes by water currents and that’s where my work comes in as I’m interested in how water moves.

We used data from an ADCP (acoustic doppler current profiler) to look at the structure of the flow over the ridge. An ADCP works by sending out an acoustic pulse that reflects off the little particles found throughout the water column. The instrument then calculates the water’s velocity at different depths. For my project, this data was collected from a ship and from a mooring we put on the bottom next to the sponge reef.

Local topography, perhaps even augmented by the sponge reef’s own structures, can change how the tides flow – it turns out to be a balance between the water velocity and density. At Fraser Ridge, we found a pocket of intermittently faster flow lasting only a few hours in the region of the sponge reef. This period of high-speed flow flushed away the fine sediment from the river, preventing the sponges from being buried and brought in food. When the tides wane, a cloud of tasty delights is left for the sponges to filter through.

Jeannette Bedard, OSS Member

Photo credit: Sponge Reef on Fraser Ridge, VENUS, Ocean Networks Canada, University of Victoria

Review: A Discussion with Dr. Kate Moran

Recently, as part of the Inspire Ocean Discussion Series, OSS members were treated to an intimate talk with Dr. Kate Moran . Kate took time out of her considerably busy schedule to share her story, and impart practical advice to the budding scientists of OSS. We learned which traits are most important to have, what skills to focus on, how to determine the limits of our freedom when we finally do land that dream job, and where the future of ocean sciences may be headed. I will do my best to summarize what we heard here if you missed it…

As we navigate our scholastic and professional careers we are encouraged to foster persistence, patience, good communication, and most importantly *kindness*. “Build relationships over time. Be a good friend to the ones you have, and keep making new ones.” In a professional setting try to show empathy to others, even when they’re telling us no, it won’t work, or that it can’t be done. Kate cautioned us to be patient. Persevere. Success comes to those who pay attention, and take opportunities when they come.

When perseverance pays off and we find ourself in a new position, Kate spoke of the importance to take the time to figure out the boundaries of the post/position/job. Familiarizing ourselves with the rules and politics can help us determine the level of freedom we’ve been granted. “Learn when to push back, when to go with the flow, and when to go around,” and endeavour to meet those who can help you if you should find yourself limited by the rules. Pretty excellent advice from someone who spent two years in the White House.

As we spend this time learning in school, the one particular skill Kate advised us to hone is writing. The ability to communicate succinctly comes with practice, and is an essential, highly sought after skill in the work force. Have people read what you’ve written, and encourage them to critique it. Criticism, constructive or otherwise is an excellent opportunity to learn.

So, what is the future of ocean science? Well, the imminent loss of sea ice on our planet will have a huge effect on climate, and our planet as a whole. The certainty of climate change and ocean acidification opens up many new avenues of research, as well as marketable products relating to climate change.  For example: the advent of AccuWeather in the 1970’s was a ‘weather product’ that kept the public better informed as to what to expect with the weather, and a similar need is arising now with climate change.  New products to help planners, farmers, etc adapt to climate change. So, whether your skills lie in science, social science, technology, R&D or teaching, we find ourselves at an exciting time in world history to be a part of ocean sciences.

See you all tomorrow at the next talk (from 2:30-3:30pm same place Grad House room 108) to meet Anna Hall, a marine mammal biologist who is a recent PhD graduate with lots of great insight so far.

-Kim Thornton, OSS Member

Basking in the Splendor of some Gentle Giants

Did you know that Basking Sharks are the second largest fish in the sea, reaching lengths of 10 meters? Yet despite their large size, these lovely creatures feed only on plankton. Romney McPhie, a biologist specializing in Basking Sharks, shared this and other neat facts with OSSers last Tuesday.

Basking Sharks can sometimes be seen skimming B.C.’s coastal waters, filtering plankton with structures called gill rakes. Once plentiful, catching a glimpse of one today is rare. Populations off the west coast are estimated at no more than 500, and The Species at Risk Act (SARA) lists the shark as endangered.

Considered a nuisance to the fishing industry, these gentle giants were subject to a massive eradication program in the 1950’s. Fishing boats were equipped with a sharp blade that impaled and killed the shark as it fed near the surface. Although, thankfully, no longer in use, the method was highly effective at slaughtering these misunderstood animals. “One boat managed to kill 34 Basking Sharks in a single day,” said McPhie, noting at that time it was considered an accomplishment. The species has yet to recover.

McPhie’s research aims to collect more information about these remarkable animals. Much of her data comes from the use of tags and reported sightings, but she said more information is needed to establish critical habitat and distribution. Details on how to identify and report the Basking Shark is available at .

As a closing there was discussion about career advice. In addition to sending resumes and cover letters to prospective employers, often McPhie would stop by to follow-up, or even to just ask some questions about the work being done. When the discussion ended students traded business cards with McPhie so everyone who attended the talk felt connected with her.

McPhie’s career is a reminder to OSSers that if you are passionate about something — pursue it. Your persistence will pay off.

-Meaghan Leah Duke, OSS Member

October Meeting Update – More training and more fun!

The OSS October installment of the monthly meetings was held this past Monday October 22nd. This meeting sparked a lot of discussion about making the group and the experiences that the group offers to its members more meaningful and valuable. We also talked about having more fun (and more club bonding) time. We then talked about the club collecting and archiving its own data, either from beach clean ups, from organized mass egg counts (possibly organized with the SCUBA) or from other field opportunities that may arise for the club. I think it would be great that as a result of being a member the OSS, you could say that you had the opportunity to gain field and data experience, hopefully making you more prepared for the world outside academia. Don’t you?

As a result of our discussion a couple of training opportunities have been set for the near future. There will be an all day field training session on November 24th with Ramona De Graaf from the Forage Fish Matter Initiative (stay tuned for details). There was also a suggestion to run another “Communicating Ocean Science” workshop, so we will work on that for you.

There has also been a proposed change to the monthly meeting schedule. We are thinking of having two meetings per month now; with one of the meetings being fun/club bonding/social time and the other one being more about business. Thoughts? I hope to schedule both of these November meetings soon, so again stay tuned.

If you have any suggestions or feedback about this meeting, please shoot me an email at  Also, please send me an email if you are interested in helping the club with the data collection and archiving initiative.

Looking forward to the November meeting(s)!


ps. Many Thanks to Kim for having us all over at her house! You make a mean salad. And to Katie for making a mean nacho dip.