Backgrounder: How ocean data is driving solutions


Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a University of Victoria initiative, has been awarded $114.8 million over six years under the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) 2023 Major Science Initiatives (MSI) Fund, which supports a portion of its operating and maintenance costs.

Why is ONC Canada’s national ocean observatory?

Canada has the longest coastline of any country in the world, and ONC is Canada’s only national ocean observatory, with installations and partnerships on the west, east and Arctic coasts. 

What physical infrastructure does ONC operate?

ONC’s cabled observatories supply continuous power and Internet connectivity to scientific instruments and 12,000-plus sensors distributed in, on and above the seabed, along with strategically located mobile and land-based assets including coastal radar.

What does ONC data deliver?

ONC data makes possible delivery of services and solutions including climate impact monitoring; climate change mitigation innovation; enhanced maritime safety; safer communities through support for earthquake and tsunami early warning networks; and scientific discovery in forensics, material sciences, marine biodiversity, neutrino particle physics and more.

How are these observatories maintained?

Using specialized ships and Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs), ONC conducts annual near-shore and deep-sea maintenance expeditions of its ocean observatories, working at depths of more than 2.5-kilometres below sea level in some locations. This complex array of networked observatories, along with their digital interfaces, require highly skilled integrated teams that include engineers, scientists, data specialists and mariners.

What data does ONC collect?

ONC’s data portal and management system Oceans 3.0 enables researchers to access instruments remotely and receive data on the physics, chemistry, biology, and geology of the ocean. This data reveals the dynamics of ocean processes across time-scales from hourly to seasonal and decadal scales, supporting research on complex Earth systems in ways not previously possible. Data, such as hydrophone data, also show the influence of human activities on the ocean.

What community observatories does ONC support?

ONC’s community observatories, developed in partnership with coastal communities and Indigenous Peoples, connects ocean science with knowledge and stewardship built over generations, supporting ocean health through coastal monitoring, shared knowledge and school programs, youth and citizen scientist training and Indigenous ocean science leadership.

Who can use ONC data?

In short, everyone. The CFI funding supports ongoing access to ONC’s real-time and long-time series ocean data for all stakeholders including researchers, students, educators, Indigenous partners, coastal communities, industry members, policymakers and international organizations. 

Why does ocean discovery matter for planetary and ocean sustainability?

The ongoing operation of ONC will ensure that the scientific research enabled by its observatories will translate into action for a sustainable planet, achieved through ocean-based climate change mitigation and adaption solutions, and through ocean monitoring which supports Canada’s marine conservation target of protecting 30 per cent of its ocean by 2030.

What’s next for ONC?

Over this next decade, ONC, guided by three strategic ambitious goals, is evolving ocean observing systems, broadening the impact of the data, partnering to analyze and apply findings, and working to inform policy on Canada’s and the world’s most pressing ocean and planetary challenges. 

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Keywords: sustainable impact, climate action, life below water, community, Indigenous, international, sustainability, administrative (faculty and staff), Ocean Networks Canada, oceans, environment, climate, technology, earthquake, arctic, biodiversity, research

People: Kate Moran, Kevin Hall

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