Feb. 28, 2020Print | PDF
“We call it ‘Dory,’” said Homa Kheyrollah Pour, referring to the new underwater drone she and her research team have nicknamed after the forgetful fish in Finding Nemo.
Unlike its namesake, this “Dory” is anything but absentminded. An underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), Dory’s real name is the Deep Trekker DTG3. It can travel up to 200 metres below the surface to collect critical information about aquatic ecosystems.
With the support of the Ontario Research Fund, Kheyrollah Pour’s research group at Wilfrid Laurier University acquired the ROV to study the effects of climate change on Arctic lake ice.
An assistant professor in Laurier’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and the Canada Research Chair in Remote Sensing of Environmental Change, Kheyrollah Pour and her team recently returned from their first research expedition with the ROV to Délı̨nę, within the Tsá Tué International Biosphere Reserve in the Northwest Territories. Through its Centre for Cold Regions and Water Science, Laurier has a longstanding research partnership with the Government of the Northwest Territories.
“Lake ice is shrinking as global temperatures climb and the duration of ice cover is decreasing,” said Kheyrollah Pour. “We are using the ROV to understand what’s happening under the ice during these shorter and more variable winters by sampling water and sediment from Great Bear Lake.”
The ROV can collect samples at various depths and has a high-resolution camera to capture detailed imagery, including an advanced sonar system. Before their trip to Great Bear Lake, Kheyrollah Pour and her colleagues Alex MacLean, a lab technician, and Jeremy Harbinson, a Master of Science candidate, took the ROV for a practice swim in the pool at Laurier’s Waterloo campus Athletic Complex.
“The pool time is paramount to getting comfortable with the controls so I will feel more confident controlling the device under the ice, where I won’t be able to see it,” said Harbinson, who was the primary operator of the ROV. “This is my first experience with a device like this, so it’s a pretty exciting opportunity.”
When sourcing equipment for the trip, it was important to Kheyrollah Pour to support a local company like Deep Trekker, a Kitchener-based manufacturer of underwater remotely operated vehicles. Similarly, she views her northern research as a collaboration with the communities in which she works and an opportunity to support their local economies.
“We are working with local Indigenous community members who help us safely complete our fieldwork over the ice and understand what’s happening in their region,” said Kheyrollah Pour. “The community is open to working with us, to co-creating this science together, and to promoting community-based, community-led research and monitoring. We can share our knowledge with them and we can learn from them the amazing traditional knowledge that they have.”
Such collaborations are especially important in Northern Canada, a region that is warming at nearly three times the average global rate.
“The applications of this research are enormous,” said MacLean, citing wildlife concerns and the need for ice roads to ship goods to remote communities. “All the changes in a warming climate have already had drastic impacts.”