Ten ambitious scholars have the opportunity to participate in the Nippon Foundation-Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean Centre of Excellence in Observational Oceanography. Credit: Riley Smith/Courtesy OFI
  • by Alison Kentish (dominica)
  • Inter Press Service

In the same spirit of immersion, imagine being able to conduct research at two unique ecological observatories: Hakai Institute’s Quadra Island with labs for genomics, ancient DNA, and physical and chemical observatory, and the Institute’s remote Calvert Island observatory—an off-grid site and the only settlement on the island, which is located between Vancouver and Alaska. There, you can conduct research in oceanography, ecosystems mapping, nearshore habitats, watersheds, and biodiversity.

What sounds like a researcher’s most ambitious dream is the reality for scholars of the Nippon Foundation-Partnership forObservation of the Global Ocean Centre of Excellence in Observational Oceanography. Once spearheaded by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, the next phase of the programme is being hosted by the Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI), which is led by Dalhousie University, in partnership with the Faculty of Open Learning and Career Development at Dalhousie University. Partnerships with the Marine Institute of Memorial University and the Hakai Institute make for dynamic learning and hands-on experience.

“By providing 10 scholars a year the opportunity to develop and fine-tune their interdisciplinary skills, all relevant to observation of the global ocean, the Centre of Excellence is equipping the next generation of leaders and mentors,” says Tracey Woodhouse, OFI’s Training and Early Career Development Program Manager.

With a significant number of applicants received, priority consideration is being given to candidates from developing and emerging nations who hold positions at research, academic, or governmental institutes in their home country, and who anticipate returning there after the completion of the program.

“They learn about the climate-ocean nexus, how to communicate with diverse groups, including policymakers, data management practices, coding, and modelling, all while networking with researchers at the forefront of ocean and climate work.”

Since its start in 2008, there have been 10 cohorts of scholars, producing over 100 scholars. Woodhouse says the scholars join a larger network of alumni and have inspired the next generation of ocean observers. Founder and President of the Tula Foundation’s Hakai Institute, Eric Peterson, says the values of the Centre of Excellence seamlessly align with those of the partners.

“Our Hakai Institute is an integrated program of coastal science and community programs on our Pacific coastal margin. We say that we study everything from “icefields to oceans,” mainly through the lens of climate change. Together with many partners, we conduct long-term observational science and experimentation ranging from analyzing water masses upwelling across the continental shelf to glacial loss and coastal instability,” he told IPS.

“We provide the fellows with exposure to the Pacific Coast, hands-on field research, and greater exposure to Indigenous perspectives on science, resource management, and education,” he told IPS.

Peterson says the programme’s diversity ensures that no region is left out of ocean science research.

“Our other program, which has been in place for over 20 years, is a public health and nursing education program (TulaSalud) in the rural Indigenous regions of Guatemala. We welcome initiatives that build links between our ecological work in Canada and our longstanding work in global health, in the spirit of what is now called OneHealth. The Centre of Excellence, with its emphasis on educating future leaders from the global south, is therefore a very good fit for us,” he said.

Officials of the Marine Institute campus of Memorial University agree. Vice President Dr. Paul Brett told IPS that the programme is “creating space” for early-career researchers to expand their work in ocean observation within the wider context of ocean research.

“This program sees scholars come together worldwide and with varied academic experiences. The diversity in perspectives will be beneficial in many elements of the group’s shared learning and in the independent research projects they will engage in throughout the program. It is anticipated that participation in the independent research work, coupled with curricular elements of science communication and presentation skills, will equip students to engage in critical conversations concerning ocean research in Canada and their home country.”

Brett says the Marine Institute will host the scholars for about six months and they will be part of a programme ‘tailored to the fundamentals of observational oceanography’.

“Topics include applied oceanography, ocean observation, and remote sensing. The curriculum will be delivered through classroom theory, practical hands-on shops, labs, and time spent on the water from MI’s Holyrood facility, The Launch,” he said.

With the Hakai Institute’s assistance, the scholars will benefit from investment in geospatial science. According to Peterson, this includes satellites, aircraft, drones, and bathymetry.

“Most of the work we do from our ecological observatories is fortified by detailed mapping, modelling, etc. This ranges from mapping of ocean dynamics, planktons, kelps, and seagrass, intertidal invertebrates, snow and ice cover, geomorphological change to our coastline, and even identification of ancient human settlements has a geospatial component,” he said.

OFI has confirmed International Ocean Institute Canada and DeepSense as additional curriculum delivery partners and the Institute intends to forge new partnerships as the programme progresses.

The Centre of Excellence will be hosted by OFI for at least three years, with the possibility of an extension. Institute officials say that through this partnership, the scholars are given the tools, facilities, mentorship, and opportunities to make their mark on ocean research.

“Graduates from the Nippon Foundation-Partnership for Observation of the Global Ocean Centre of Excellence go on to complete higher-level degrees; guide ocean stewardship in their home countries; teach, mentor, and inspire the next generation; lead innovative ocean research; inform policy; and more. There’s no limit to the number of doors the Centre of Excellence can open for the scholars,” said Woodhouse.

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