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From Lake to River to Sea

Exploring the Canadian Arctic Waters

Published onMar 06, 2018
From Lake to River to Sea


One of the greatest challenges facing us is understanding impacts of changes to climate on ocean science. Changes to the climate system will have significant impact on Arctic communities. To understand these changes and their impacts, baseline measurements, monitoring efforts, and community engagement is needed, while at the same time it is imperative that we train the next generation of engaged citizens and scientists.  Although periodic sampling can provide temporal snapshots of the environment, new technologies will be the key to long-term understanding and exploration of these regions.  Cambridge Bay, Canada is an ideal place for a pilot study to demonstrate how technology can enhance our understanding of these environments because there is already infrastructure in place (field station) and we have collaborators that have planned field programs in place already. Here we challenge ourselves to use innovative technologies to see if they can greatly enhance our ability to study climate changes in a remote and rugged environment.


We will bring together scientists, engineers, outreach specialists, and artists. The diverse team will consist of scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution [Lead: A. Michel (ocean engineering), D. Nicholson (marine chemistry), and S. Wankel (marine chemistry)], MIT-WHOI Joint Program Graduate Student V. Preston [aero/astro engineering and oceanographic engineering], WHOI Engineer K. Manganini, A. Normandin (MIT Media Lab Student), M. Simun (MIT Media Lab Student), and M. Ranganathan (MIT EAPS Graduate Student). Although we are currently unsure as to how many team members would be able to travel to Cambridge Bay due to logistics issues, we will work together as a team before and after the deployment to plan and evaluate the exploration and outreach activities.

Technical Approach

We propose a 2-week pilot study in summer 2018 where we will deploy a newly developed ChemYak to look at changes in water chemistry throughout the lake-river-sea continuum after the ice thaws. The ChemYak consists of a remotely controlled kayak outfitted with a suite of chemical sensors for making water measurements even in very shallow environments.  This exploration will provide us with a first look at how we can utilize technology in a changing Arctic environment to understand the link between ice thaw, lakes, rivers, and the sea.  

Community Engagement Approach

Team lead Michel is a female engineer who has developed a very successful 4-day program for middle school girls, GOES: Girls in Ocean Engineering and Science. The goals of this program are to introduce engineering to girls in a hands-on, inquiry based approach. The GOES program involves such activities as building wind turbines and underwater robots. By integrating students from the MIT Media Lab, EAPS, and Aero-Astro departments in this project, we will have the expertise to develop an engaging outreach program that shares technology with students in this remote location. As part of the pilot project at Cambridge Bay, we will develop an outreach program for children of the community, a primarily Inuit community, based on lessons learned from the GOES program focusing on ocean engineering and with direct input from the whole team whose has significant expertise in outreach.


Although other collaborators have worked in this environment, taking the ChemYak into this environment will be new to us. Key unknowns include 1) how well will the ChemYak work in this environment, 2) what unknown challenges exist working here (e.g. deployment difficulties, weather, ice), and 3) can the ChemYak provide us baseline data needed to better explore this environment. Prior to bringing the ChemYak to this location, we will decide which new sensors to add to the system. Students M. Ranganathan and V. Preston will lead the effort on selecting which sensors will enhance our study of this environment. An additional unknown is how many team members we could take to Cambridge Bay due to limitations in flights, housing, and potential permit issues.

Available Resources

We currently have the ChemYak available to this project, which is capable of measurement of in situ methane, carbon dioxide, nitrate, oxygen, temperature, and salinity, in addition to air temperature, humidity, and wind speed.  We also have collaborators who work in the region that can provide experienced insight. The ChemYak and its sensor packages will be available in kind to this project.

Needed Resources

Funds are requested for travel to/from Cambridge Bay in summer 2018 for 3-5 team members. Funds for flights, shipping, and local housing are needed. Salary support for engineering is needed. Supplies for both scientific measurements and for outreach activities will be needed.  To enhance the scientific capabilities of the ChemYak, additional funds are requested to add additional submersible sensors to gain a better picture of the system. We will evaluate which sensors will enhance our science the best during Spring 2018. Additional funds for logistics are requested (e.g. permit fees, satellite phone costs, safety training classes, boat and ATV rentals).  Outreach funds will cover 1) supplies for hands on activities that we actively utilize during our outreach event and 2) supplies that we will provide to the participating students to keep for additional learning. We anticipate leaving the students with books, hands-on activity kits, and Lego.


  • Spring 2018: Planning of field deployment and outreach activities. Make connections with schools in Cambridge Bay.

  • April 2018: Purchase of outreach supplies and ChemYak supplies and additional sensors.

  • May 2018: Shipping of gear to Cambridge Bay.

  • June 2018: Field deployment in Cambridge Bay (exploration and outreach).

  • August - October 2018: Analysis of data from field deployment. Evaluation of outreach program.

  • November 2018: National Ocean Exploration Forum: Presentation of results of field deployment and outreach program.

James Neilan:

Any interest in have the Chemyak remotely piloted from say Virginia Aquarium or Berkley, CA?

anna michel:

Not quite at that level yet… one day!

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anna michel:

anna michel has submitted this pub for publication.