Inuit students dive into Arctic expedition for science

Two Inuit Carleton University students are diving into a unique Arctic expedition, hoping to give people a clearer view of Canada's northern waters and disappearing sea ice.

Carleton University students join Sedna expedition to investigate marine life, disappearing ice

Kristen Ungungai-Kownak and Alexia Galloway-Alainga are joining the Sedna expedition. (Deborah MacAskill/CBC)

Two Inuit Carleton University students are diving into a unique Arctic expedition, hoping to give people a clearer view of Canada's northern waters and disappearing sea ice.

Kristen Ungungai-Kownak and Alexia Galloway-Alainga, both from Iqaluit, became friends at the Ottawa university and are joining the Sedna expedition, named for the Inuit goddess of the sea.

The expedition conducts outreach programs in Arctic communities with the aid of buildable underwater robots, and offers up-close encounters with marine life for children.

Galloway-Alainga said there's still a lot of fear around the dangers of the water in Arctic communities and another expedition goal is to help people deal with those fears.

"Most of my motivation in being part of Sedna is that yes, our waters can be scary, but there are ways around that," she said.

Her own great-grandfather was involved in a boat accident and died in the water.

Myths part of Inuk culture

Ungungai-Kownak said an Inuit myth about a creature called the Qallupilluk is particularly powerful.

"This story was to deter children from ice hopping and being around water in dangerous conditions," she said.

"It is told that if you are near the water and open ice, Qallupilluk will come up and grab you and adopt you as their own child."

They both got their first open-water diving experience earlier this week in Brockville, Ont., on the St. Lawrence River.​

Kristen Ungungai-Kownak and Alexia Galloway-Alainga get some diving practice near Brockville before heading out. (Deborah MacAskill/CBC)

Galloway-Alainga said for her the program is about showing that no challenge is insurmountable.

"I always try to get myself out there and try new things, even if it scares me," she said.

 "I think [it's an example for] other young women."

A team of 10 women aim to have an all-female group snorkel the entire 3,000 kilometres of the Northwest Passage in 2020 at the earliest as part of the expedition.

The goal for the snorkel relay is to cover some 3,000 kilometres in 100 days, and to draw attention to disappearing sea ice. 

Two Inuit students from Carleton are joining a scuba expedition in the Arctic, but first they have to overcome some childhood fears of going under the water. 7:17

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning