Searching for answers on the Arctic seafloor

June 23, 2015


Research team receives $492,000 for seafloor mapping project

There was a buzz of excitement in associate professor Mark Furze’s office. He and his research partner (and wife) Anna Piénkowski—both MacEwan University faculty members in the Department of Physical Sciences—were riding high with the news that their research project had just received $492,000 in funding from ArcticNet.

Their international research team is studying a range of environmental, human and cultural elements in Arctic Canada. Mark and Anna are team members focused on the environmental side; though their research, and that of others, will show contributions to climate change, sustainable resource development, geohazards, Arctic sovereignty and more.

Telling a story

“Ultimately in some ways it’s about telling a story,” says Mark. “What were conditions like in the past? How have they changed through time? And the question then is why is that story important? It’s because it informs our understanding of long-term processes, and therefore we can use that to, in part, understand what’s happening today, but then also forecast what’s going to happen in the future.”

As early as this summer, Mark and Anna will begin the process of mapping Canada’s Arctic seafloor aboard the icebreaker ship CCGS Amundsen. Collecting all the data they need could take another three or four annual trips.

Anna’s expertise is in microfossil palaeontology (how environmental shifts or climate change are documented in the geological record by fossils preserved in the sediments) and Mark’s is in sedimentology and geomorphology. The group’s research project will build upon earlier seafloor mapping and geological data.

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“The $492,000 is shared and the largest part is going to go to the mapping group because that’s the most intensive in terms of getting ship time,” says Anna.

International collaboration

The research project is led and managed by Université Laval, and co-investigators include Mark and Anna (MacEwan University) and researchers from Dalhousie University, Université du Québec à Rimouski, and the University of New Brunswick. Key collaborators include the Geological Survey of Canada-Atlantic, the Geological Survey of Norway, Keele University and Bangor University in the United Kingdom, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, and Memorial University of Newfoundland—making this project an international collaboration.

“The last time we were aboard the Amundsen, we were invited to help out as team members with the Geological Survey who were involved in ArcticNet,” says Mark. “This time we’ll be there as full members—MacEwan is an ArcticNet partner now—and we would have full involvement and much more influential in where we go, what science is done and what materials are recovered.”

The findings from the research will have significant information for community groups, industry and government in Canada and beyond.

Photo by Professor John England, University of Alberta.

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