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The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada > News & Events > Communications Magazine > Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring 2010 > The Institute of Ocean Sciences Canada’s Scientists Keeping Us Safe
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The Institute of Ocean Sciences Canada’s Scientists Keeping Us Safe

Andreas Rosenberger

Andreas Rosenberger designed the Internet accelerometer software.

PIPSC members

PIPSC members listen to President Corbett’s presentation on current issues.

Donna Medgyesi

Donna Medgyesi is part of the small group of computer systems specialists who work in tandem with the scientists.

Xiangyjun Liao

In his lab, Xiangyjun Liao explains his work analyzing polar chemicals (liquid chromatography).

Honn Kao

Honn Kao, research scientist in seismology.

Neighbouring the Victoria Airport, in Sidney, British Columbia, resides the internationally renowned Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) which is shared by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)and Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Simply stated, the division of responsibility between these two departments can be described as everything below the sea bottom is NRCan and everything above it is DFO. Part of the Canadian Coast Guard Pacific Fleet and the Marine Communications and Traffic Services are also housed at this facility.

Polar bear

The polar bear surveying the Arctic’s dangerously receding coastline.

At IOS, some 260 DFO and NRCan employees work on understanding the marine environment, its chemistry, tides and currents as well as the seafloor geology, habitats and hazards. They keep a vigilant eye on the Earth’s tremors, which can cause tsunamis, and monitor the changes in the Arctic. Hosts Carmel Lowe, Director, Geological Survey of Canada, Pacific and Robin Brown, Manager of the Ocean Sciences Division, explained the work performed in this federal government facility where PIPSC members contribute their knowledge and expertise to help ensure Canadians are protected from life-threatening disasters. Knowledge and the results of research conducted in these laboratories are shared with scientists world-wide. When the Earth shakes in one part of the world, there are ripple effects long after the quake.

The deadly earthquake which shook Haiti in early January is a recent reminder of the importance of constantly monitoring the Earth’s movements. Scientists are constantly monitoring and analyzing them; seeking a better understanding of earthquake processes that will lead to improvements in our building codes so that our structures are better able to withstand shaking. The Pacific Coast is particularly at risk, since more than 90% of earthquakes occur along tectonic plate boundaries. A glassed-in computer centre at IOS records the Earth’s tremors and displays them on graphs depicting current seismicity. Scientists monitor the tremors and keep provincial authorities informed since they help determine whether or not emergency services need to be dispatched to the affected area.

Nearby to the computers, a small device called an Internet accelerometer picks up stronger tremors and the magnitude of the shaking will immediately appear on a computer screen. This small and easily transportable device can be used in a strategic place (even a pile of rocks) to monitor tremors. The last major crustal earthquake to hit Vancouver Island occurred June 23, 1946, with a magnitude of 7.3. Due to the sparse settlement at the time of the occurrence, property damage was light and only one death was recorded. Through the study of First Nations’ oral history, Japanese harbour records and sedimentary layers deposited near the coast, it has been estimated that a very large earthquake occurred on January 25, 1700. This type of major subduction earthquake occurs approximately every 500 years off western Canada.

A picture of a polar bear sits on the landing leading to the DFO laboratories. Traced in different colours at its feet is the receding limit of the arctic ice pack measured between 1979 and 2007. Scientists are trying to understand the high latitude oceans where climate change is proving to be fastest and the impact the largest. This is an important part of the work performed by some of the scientists in this facility. The work is of great importance as receding sea ice can have enormous effects on climate and other issues such as the fishing industry, ocean warming, species invasion and ocean acidification.

The visit ended with President Corbett addressing members at IOS, providing them with a synopsis of the Institute’s priorities and indicating that he is working towards making the government more interested in promoting science and getting science advice from their scientists. This is critical to the recognition of the importance of federal public science.

At IOS, like in all other government facilities across the country, PIPSC members work For the Public Good!

Honn Kao, a research scientist in seismology explains “We’re all in this business to stop people from being killed. Our numbers are always a product of people’s blood and tears. Every time a major disaster occurs, researchers are motivated to learn more.”