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Neptune Canada, Vancouver Island Technology Park, Victoria, British Columbia

Our oceans. Our Fate. Our choice. Ready to get her hands back into real science and earth observation, worldrenowned ocean engineer, Dr. Kate Moran, joined Neptune Canada as Director in 2011, after two years in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, DC, advising the Obama administration on the oceans, the Arctic and Global Warming. Dr. Moran’s research focuses on marine geotechnics and its application to the study of paleoclimate, tectonics and ocean floor stability. Moran has led several major oceanographic expeditions, including the first drilling expedition to the Arctic Ocean in 2004. Dr. Moran shares some difficult truths on climate change, our oceans and the fate of humankind. Can you explain why experts attribute climate change to humans’ activity on earth? The measurements on our planet clearly demonstrate the entire planet is warming. As paleontological science shows, ice ages and warming trends have come and gone, but these are not random events. The trends are a result of slight changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun, affecting the way solar energy hits the earth. The phenomenon is measurable and predictable. The warming trend we are experiencing now is not due to the earth’s orbit. What we are seeing is an extreme event resulting from carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere at a pace eight times faster than ever before.

How is the warming trend affecting North America? Many ways, but one of the most obvious is a large reduction in perennial white sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The ice acts as a thermostat for the planet, reflecting sunlight particularly in the summer. Likely, summertime sea ice may disappear entirely within the next 15 - 18 years. The ice is an important piece of the climate system. Its loss may be a tipping point with far-reaching impacts.

Can you explain some of the impacts of the ice loss? The oceans are taking over the Arctic ice’s job. As ice melts, sunlight going into the oceans is accelerating. It is easily observed, and there is no question it is occurring. Warmer water actually expands. This warm water expansion combined with the entry of fresh water, formerly captured in glaciers, into ocean waters is helping coastline levels rise by 3 millimetres/yr. Fifty percent of the world’s population live within 50 miles of coastal areas. As coastlines become waterlogged or submerged, how we live will have to change.

Talking Neptune Canada Neptune Canada was designed by scientists for scientists to address some of the key challenges and questions in the oceans. Traditionally, ocean scientists have relied on infrequent ship cruises or space-based satellites to carry out their research. Neptune Canada is the world’s first regional-scale underwater observatory network plugged directly into the internet. Research at the centre and data collection covers changes in deep water temperatures, tsunami wave modeling, plate tectonics and ocean volcanoes, marine life movement, acoustics and species, gas hydrate activity, and much more. Located off the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in the Vancouver Island Technology Park, the network 14

PH levels are also changing because the ocean has been absorbing 1/3 of the carbon dioxide created through the burning of fossil fuels. Ocean life forms rely on a certain environment. Small animals that grow shells and are an integral part of the food web may not be able to survive. We are observing some this already at scallop fisheries.

What can we do now? Even if we changed everything we are doing right now, the warming trend is locked in. We are left with three choices: we can mitigate, we can cope or we can suffer. Mitigation begins by accepting climate change and our responsibility for causing it as truth. This is sometimes difficult. Even as scientists attempt to alert the population, they are up against a very well-funded industry campaign that trades truth for economic gain; data is wrong, misrepresented and/or manipulated. Climate change is not something we want to be true, so it is very easy to believe that which puts our mind at ease. We need to turn things around and see things differently. We start when we admit that yes, humans have caused this. Fortunately, humans have a unique ability to think, respond and make change. Change will happen when the costs of ignoring the situation and the catastrophic outcomes of extreme weather, tsunamis, moving cities or loss of lives outweigh the economics of complacency. It is exciting - albeit scary - times. Our human ability is being challenged to determine what the world can and will look like. We have the capacity, the ingenuity and the unrelenting drive. Now we need to accept, move on and get to it.

extends across the Juan de Fuca Plate, gathering live data from an array of instruments deployed in a broad spectrum of undersea environments. Data is transmitted via high-speed fibre optics from the sea floor to a data archival system at the University of Victoria, providing live and archived data. With continuous data, interactive laboratories and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) positioned in multiple sites spanning a full range of marine environments, NEPTUNE lets researchers study processes previously beyond the capabilities of traditional oceanography. Via the web, people can view ocean floor views direct from Neptune’s underwater cameras while ocean scientists can run deep-water experiment from labs and universities anywhere in the world. www.neptunecanada.ca

Canada NOW 2012  

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