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Colombia was an amazing experience, but after 6 months of 35-40 degree weather every day (and night) I was very happy to be home. I got home just a few days before Christmas, which made homecoming all the sweeter. But after the holidays it was back to real life… Couch surfing in Victoria while looking for both a place to live and a job at least somewhat related to my degree. Job prospects were rather slim from what I could find; however there were a few volunteer opportunities. Roberta Hamme, who had been a prof as well as a workstudy supervisor for me had put me in touch withthe Capital Regional District who were looking to set up a Winkler Titration. (Winkler Titrations are the most accurate way to find the oxygen content in a water sample. I had learned how to do them in one of Roberta’s classes and had practiced them and learned how to make up all the required chemical reagents as part of my workstudy). Myself along with a fellow Ocean Science Minor alum met with the CRD contact in mid-January to begin to form plans for setting up the Winkler. We went over the equipment that they already had, and made a list of what was still required along with a timeline for making the chemicals before the first sampling date a couple weeks later.

Two days after our meeting I received an email from the CRD asking if I would like to interview for a 3 month position to help pick up some slack as there had been some short notice shuffling of employees in the Environmental Protection department. This sounded like exactly the type of work I had been looking for and jumped at the chance. And 10 days after our first meeting, I was hired as an environmental technician. Setting up the Winkler titration went from being a volunteer activity and networking opportunity to being one of my duties in my new position.

My time is more or less split between the Marine and the GeoEnvironmental programs of the Environmental Protection division. My regular tasks are sample collecting at the sewer outfalls on the John Strickland once a week for 5 weeks, every three months (so pretty much boat time was the first thing I did, and will also be the last thing I do with the CRD). I also got to go out on the boat to deploy some moorings with oxygen sensors – this was the initial reason for wanting to set up the Winkler Titrations because the sensors will be left in place for 6 months before being collected, using Winkler Titrations it would be possible to verify, and if necessary, correct for any drift in the sensors.


Any day on the Strickland is a good day.


Launching the float and sensors for the mooring. These were trailed behind the boat while the train wheel weight was picked up by the crane to be dropped when we were over the station.


Dropping the train wheel.

A couple weeks after the round of boat sampling I put more time in with the GeoEnvironmental program and was out at Hartland Landfill 3 days a week collecting groundwater samples. It doesn’t sound that exciting, going to the ‘dump’ but almost all of the well sites are on the outskirts in the forest and are not contaminated. And there are tons of eagles and ravens to watch while waiting for the well to finish pumping! Following the groundwater sampling I helped with a 2 day gas survey at the landfill – this time we were right in the thick of things, walking a 50 metre by 50 metre grid with a Flame Ionization Detector for methane and another instrument nick-named Jerome for hydrogen sulphide. The equipment looks just like the Ghostbusters’ proton packs except with an over the shoulder strap instead of a backpack. The point of the gas survey was to find methane ‘hot spots’ since methane is collected at Hartland and burned at a small on site power plant.


Eagles at Hartland, kind of wishing I had a telephoto lens…


Ghostbusters!! .. or the ‘Jerome’ and FID


Weekly I set up and collect samples from the Macaulay and Clover Point sewage pump stations. Not glamorous, but it doesn’t really smell too bad – this is at the point right before it goes out into the ocean and as such has had all (…most) of the solids filtered out. And plus it gets me out of the office for a couple hours!

A week or two ago we started another 5 week round of boat sampling (1 day a week). I spent April 4 on the R/V John Strickland. Our morning started out a little grey and looking like maybe rain, but things started looking up, when at our second station we were passed by a pod of 5 or 6 orca! Then off in the distance the deckhand spotted a submarine cruising out to sea from the base. And to top it all off by the time we were at our 3rd station the clouds had parted and the sun came out! The following week my supervisor had a meeting to attend on the sampling day, so I was out with her supervisor who had not done boat sampling for a while so it was up to me to lead the sampling events and remember how everything worked – aside form mis-labeling a few bottles it went off without a hitch!


A float we drop to monitor surface currents while doing surface samples at set stations around the outfalls. (we deploy the float right above the outfall and collect a surface sample, and then hit our 12 surrounding stations before re-collecting the float and a final sample)

Even as my time here winds down, I am learning new things! I am currently helping with a surface water survey in of the water bodies around Hartland. The job involves walking to little streams, creeks and lakes to collect water samples in order to ensure that no contaminated water is leaving the landfill via surface flow. Apparently the last surface water survey was a little chilly because it was in early January, but walking through the forest in the middle of April is very enjoyable… even if it rains a little.

My time with the CRD is wrapping up now; my contract is up at the end of the month just before the last day of boat work! There was another work opportunity in the same department, but the job had to be offered to regular employees before I could apply and they got a fair bit of interest in the position so it looks like starting next month I will be back in the hunt for another new experience.


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

Fast time at Gwaii Haanas High

This past summer my field work took me into the watery backyard of the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site (GHNMCA). Gwaii Haanas, a new Canadian NMCA founded in 2010, is located in the southern portion of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago 130 km off the northwest coast of British Columbia.  Its vast area encompasses some 5000 square kilometres including 1700 km of coastline.  At the forefront of research requirements for the Park’s management plan is establishing an inventory of nearshore habitat in the shallow subtidal zone (0-20 m depth).   However, the difficulties associated with mapping underwater habitat and the vast coastlines of the park pose a significant challenge for accomplishing this task.

Enter the intrepid Masters student.  Working with Parks Canada, my MSc. involves using remote sensing technologies to map nearshore marine habitat, with a focus to map vegetated habitats, specifically eelgrass (Zostera marina).  Briefly, remote sensing involves obtaining data about an object or feature indirectly. Two commons remote sensing technologies involve high resolution satellite imagery and single-beam acoustic mapping.  Very simply, both technologies rely on discerning a spectral or acoustic signature, respectively, that can be related to a specific habitat. However, there are many factors that affect the quality of the signal to habitat relationship therefore georeferenced ground truth data are crucial to training and verifying remote sensing products (aka habitat maps).

For my research ground truth data involved towed underwater video for each of my study sites.  Video was recorded concurrently with coordinates from a dGPS (which has low positional error, <1m).  All my field work was conducted on a 22’ aluminum vessel, with two Parks Canada boat operators to help me conduct my research and for safety purposes.  While in the field, we stayed at Huxley Hut, based on Huxley Island, with a not too shabby view.  During a return visit I also stayed at the Bischoff float camp, a unique and marvelous experience.

While field work always presents the most exciting part of research, the hours spent preparing and organizing a single trip are enormous. However, this preparation ensures that the data collected are of high quality and caliber suitable for research and scientific publication.  I cannot deny that there were trying moments where cables snapped, cannonball weights were lost, or inclement weather trapped me inside the cabin. There may have also been an incident involving being stuck knee deep in a muddy eelgrass meadow with a black bear having been sited not 5 minutes beforehand.  It is through all of these experiences that I have learned that (1) is that it is crucial to be responsible for all aspects of your field work including being able to fix anything you have that may break (and also being able to fix your supervisor’s gear helps too) and (2) accept the inevitability that things will break and your plans will need to be changed. Be flexible!

Finally, in between my field trips, I had the opportunity to go on a one week self-guided seakayak trip throughout the park and explore mist-covered land of mountains, ancient rainforests and wild coasts that give Gwaii Haanas its otherworldly atmosphere.  Highlights involved visiting the Haida Watchmen sites to see the ancient totem poles that are slowly decomposing and relaxing in the thermal hotpools on Hot Springs Island.  I feel privileged to have been able to visit a National Park in Canada that only receives 2000 visitors a year and I hope to be able to return in the near future.

-Luba Reshitnyk, OSS Member

(Note: this blog entry can also be found in the Marine Protected Areas Research Group website).