Assembling a disparate group of international scientists aboard a giant floating research platform in the Arctic and directing them to work together to gather timely data to better understand the changing environment sounds progressive and inspired — and almost impossible. But the CCGS Amundsen, based at Université Laval in Quebec City, is a testament to what can happen when funding, desire and public opinion converge.
“The Amundsen is an example of one infrastructure that really transformed an entire field of research for Canada,” says Louis Fortier, the Amundsen’s scientific leader.
Since undergoing an elaborate refitting before launching in 2003 as Canada’s dedicated research icebreaker, the Amundsen has spent 1,008 days at sea in support of science. It has facilitated groundbreaking, multidisciplinary research on climate change, sea ice, glaciers, fish distribution, contaminant transport and the impact of global warming on marine mammals. It is providing vital baseline data that are crucial for documenting how drastically the environment is changing.
The Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study had more than 200 scientists from 15 countries examining a portion of the Arctic’s annual flaw system, a zone of ice-free water or thin ice between the coastal ice and the mobile central pack ice. The study revealed that the zone teems with marine mammals and plankton, grows year by year and is sensitive to atmospheric and oceanic forces. “It’s the embryo of the future Arctic Ocean,” says Louis Fortier.