CBC Windsor
University of Windsor communications officer Steve Fields will spend eight days as a working member of the crew aboard a scientific research vessel in the Arctic
Steve Fields will spend eight days as a working member of the crew aboard a scientific research vessel in the Arctic.

Fields of View

Windsor research writer bound for the Canadian Arctic

Seasonal average temperatures are expected to be in the neighbourhood of about 2 to -2 degrees. Sure it gets colder than that in my home town of Windsor, Ontario from time to time - just not in mid-September.

A little background on how I got to this point: I'm a research communications officer here at the University of Windsor. Aaron Fisk is a friend and colleague at the university's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. He's a trophic ecologist, which means he studies food webs and ecosystems. He's also responsible for the Arctic portion of the Ocean Tracking Network, a $168 million research initiative aimed at better understanding how climate change is affecting marine species around the world.

Dr. Fisk invited me to accompany Nigel Hussey, a post-doctoral fellow who works in his lab, on a trip north to help set up the acoustic telemetry technology they'll be using in and around Baffin Island and to help catch and tag some of the aquatic species they're tracking.

Essentially, I'll have the honour of being a working member of the crew. We'll set sail from Clyde River and make a 110-kilometer journey northwest to the Scott Inlet, which comes in off the Davis Strait on the northeast shore of Baffin Island. Our job will be to set the moorings that form the acoustic "gate" that's used to track the movements of such species as halibut and the ray-like Arctic skate. Those moorings are long, narrow devices that are spaced in a row about a kilometre apart on the ocean floor. Fish are caught and implanted with an acoustic "tag" that sends out a signal that the moorings "listen" for. Every time the tagged fish passes through that acoustic gate, researchers have a record of the trip.

We're also hoping to catch about 20 Greenland sharks and we'll outfit a few of them with satellite tags. Those tags remain in the fish for several months, recording all manner of data like water temperatures, depths, and the distances they have travelled. After several months, the tag pops off the fish, floats to the surface and uploads all the data it's collected to a satellite, where researchers at various OTN locations around the world can access and analyze it.

How cool is that?

Fisk and Dr. Hussey have both warned that this is going to be hard work, which I'm not adverse to. I did, after all, spend 11 years working in an auto plant. But prior to setting out, I do have a few concerns. Have five years at a desk job made me a little soft? Will I get seasick? Will I become claustrophobic? What if the weather turns bad and we get snowed in? What if this turns into one of those doomed Franklin expedition things? Who do we eat first?

What I do know is this: for the past five years I've been writing about other researchers' field work experiences. Now I get the rare opportunity to experience first-hand what it'll really be like to work like one.

And I'm going to find out really fast if I'm up for it.

The furthest north I've ever been in Canada is Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. That was in the summer, and the coldest it got was about 25 degrees.

The largest fish I've ever caught was a small mouth bass I reeled in on a tiny lake in southern Ontario. It was about 21 centimeters long.

Yet here I find myself preparing for a 15-hour air journey to Clyde River, Nunavut - about five degrees above the Arctic Circle - where I will board the MV Nuliajuk, a 64-foot research vessel and head out for an eight-day adventure, hopefully catching all manner of aquatic beasts including Greenland sharks, lethargic bottom-feeding dwellers that can grow to 6.5 metres, weigh 1,000 kilograms and potentially live to a 100-years-old.