A voyage of discovery
“It makes me realize that there’s so much to do in oceanography”
ON BOARD THE AMUNDSEN — Filtering seawater for micro-organisms and picking through rocks with tweezers for starfish: these are among the hands-on science activities that Kayla Bruce of Rankin Inlet practiced — and enjoyed— on her recent 10-day voyage through the Northwest Passage aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen.
The 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Maani Ulujuk School was one of eight students — four girls and four boys, 16 to 18 — and two teachers chosen for this year’s Schools on Board program.
Unlike other Arctic shipboard programs that put students on a ship with experts in different fields, Schools on Board puts a handful of students on an icebreaker filled with scientists studying the Arctic’s water and air.
From Aug. 2 to Aug. 12, students from Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, and high school science teachers, Katharine O’Connell from Maani Ulujuk school in Rankin Inlet and Sheena Adamson from Inuvik’s Samuel Hearne Secondary School, got a crash course in oceanography and marine biology.
There were daily lectures on everything from contaminants, to the Arctic food chain and sonar mapping as many of the 40 researchers on the ship came to speak to the group.
But the Schools on Board participants didn’t just listen to talks, they also helped process samples of deep-sea marine life and seawater pulled from deep under the surface.
And they worked on deck to collect samples needed for research.
At all hours of the day or night, students put on their orange survival suits and hard hats to handle nets and other equipment lowered off the deck by winches into the water.
For Bruce, this round-the-clock activity was an eye-opener. She didn’t realize how passionate scientists are about what they do or how hard they work to get the samples they need for their research.
Piliriqatigiingniq, working together for a common cause, appeared to be the foundation for the research aboard the Amundsen, Bruce and her science teacher O’Connell reflected.
“People don’t know how much work goes into it,” Bruce said.
Karine Martel, a former student at Iqaluit’s Ecole de Trois Soleils who now lives in Manitoba, was amazed by the quantity of tiny jellyfish and other sealife that came up with the nets— and then needed to be cleaned, sorted and counted.
“It makes me realize that there’s so much to do in oceanography,” she said.
After watching researcher Fiona Wong isolate contaminants in a seawater sample by running the water through a jerry-rigged system of pipes and filters, Linda Zhou, a student from Toronto, was impressed — and ready to become a chemist.
But two students from Inuvik said they preferred the technical work involved in getting samples— such as putting together a heavy metal tube to get sediments or lowering a metal barrel called a rosette into the water to collect deep water samples.
After immersing himself in ocean science for 10 days, Baruch Watters said sorting starfish from stones isn’t for him — but he was quick to say that it’s been “cool” to learn about this and other aspects of ocean science.
As for John Vlanich, Watter’s classmate from Inuvik, “sea sponges are not my thing.”
“I’m interested in animals that are a little bigger,” says Blanich, who is planning to be a doctor.
But that’s okay.
Schools on Board wants to inspire the next generation of scientists by introducing them to Arctic science, says program co-ordinator Lucette Barber, who started the Schools on Board program in 2004 after the Amundsen was refitted as a research icebreaker.
While students usually think of science as being biology, chemistry and physics, after they’ve been on the Amundsen, they see many different options for careers in science, Barber says.
And some students will bring what they learn about science on the Amundsen to careers in other fields like business or turn to science later, she says.
As for the science teachers, the Schools on Board program puts them into direct contact with research studies.
O’Connell, returning to Rankin Inlet for a fourth year of teaching science, has been piloting Nunavut’s new science curriculum in her classroom — and likes to use the land as her classroom’s science laboratory.
She’ll take back some new ideas from the Amundsen — such as bringing her students out to tidal pools to gather samples of the plants and animal life there.
While on the Amundsen, students build an instrument called a pyranometer to measure solar energy, At the end of the trip, they compare their results with the ship pyranometer to determine which of their instrument produced the most similar results.
Adamson, also a program assistant with the 2010 Schools on Board program, says when students do their own research, they learn what science is all about— collecting data and then seeing what it says.
Living 24-7 with researchers on the Amundsen also rubs off on the Schools on Board participants. Many of the young researchers on the Amundsen are only a few years older than students in Schools on Board.
But it’s not a one-way communication: one evening on the Amundsen, the students lead the researchers in Arctic games.
For students to participate in the Schools on Board, their schools must be involved with the program, which is the main community outreach activity of ArcticNet’s network of researchers and universities.
Schools nominate students or teachers — with one-third of the places being reserved for the North, although Youth Science Canada sent four students to this year’s program and both Bruce and O’Connell were nominated by the Kivalliq Science Educators Community,
All student participants were chosen for being curious and good communicators — and maintaining a B-plus average.
The program costs between $3,000-4,500 per person — a fee which the Nasivvik centre for Inuit health and changing environments covered for Bruce. BP covered the program for the two from Inuvik.
This year’s Schools on Board program also included a stop in Iqaluit before setting out on the Amundsen. There, participants visited Sylvia Grinnell territorial park with Alacie Joamie of the book, Walking with Aalasi: An Introduction to Edible and Medicinal Arctic Plants.
And, at the end of their trip through the Northwest Passage on the Amundsen, Schools on Board participants spent two days in Kugluktuk to talk to students at the high school there about their on-board experiences.
Back home, they’ll also give presentations to their schools about everything they did and saw — including 11 polar bears and countless icebergs.
For more information on how your school can join the program, go to http://www.arcticnet.ulaval.ca/sb/program/information.php.