Ocean researchers at Dalhousie University walked off with the lion's share of funding in the inaugural award from the $25-million Research Nova Scotia Trust.
Of the nine projects receiving a total of $6.5 million in funding — part of an announcement made Tuesday by Premier Stephen McNeil — six are from Dalhousie.
Sara Iverson of the Ocean Tracking Network got $2.9 million — the largest award — to add to the Halifax-based fleet of autonomous gliders that monitor ocean conditions.
Some of the gliders will be configured with hydrophones to distinguish between different whale species.
"We hope to build a real-time warning system where the gliders detect a right whale and relay that information in near-real-time to ships, who can [then] avoid collisions," Iverson told CBC News at the site of the funding event at Dalhousie's Ocean Sciences Building.
The research will also have commercial applications. Gliders will be used to track northern cod tagged with acoustic transmitters.
"We can look at their movement, migration, spawning grounds to tell us where we need to protect them and what we need to do before we start to responsibly fish them again," Iverson said.
Tracking earthquakes and foreign subs
Mladen Nedimovic is getting the second-largest award of $2.7 million to set up the first national seismic-monitoring network in Canada's three oceans.
When up and running in two years, Nedimovic and researchers from nine other universities in five provinces will deploy 130 ocean-bottom broadband seismometers.
"This will be the largest facility of its kind in the world," Nedimovic said Tuesday.
The seismometers will be built with Canadian technology. The primary focus is on monitoring areas that generate underwater earthquakes, but there are other applications.
A seismometer planned for deployment in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, for example, can also be used to track right whales, Nedimovic said. The technology can be used to assist offshore oil and gas exploration.
And the Department of Defence is interested in another application.
"These instruments, if deployed in the Arctic, could listen for submarines hopefully passing by — that's what we believe is possible," Nedimovic said.
More money coming
While Dalhousie was front and centre at Tuesday's announcement, the fund's trustee Colin Dodds said too much shouldn't be made of that.
"The aim is to look at clusters, so today is oceans. There will be more in the future with a different focus," said Dodds, a former president of Saint Mary's University.
McNeil said the first $6.5 million out of the door will leverage another $20 million in corporate and federal government spending, as well as support 170 jobs and provide training for more than 200 research graduates, interns, lab technicians and others in academia.
"It tells you how much research has been happening. The super cluster is building on what has been taking place," he said.
Iverson said some of her research money will be used to help train undergraduate students to remotely pilot the marine gliders that ride the ocean waves for up to a year.
"[It] is a really invaluable experience because gliders are … going to be a big deal going forward and their education will be really important," she said.