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UNB’s leadership in ocean surveying takes students on Coast Guard icebreaker in the Arctic

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Jan 26, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton

University of New Brunswick (UNB) Master’s candidate Graham Christie (D-TME'21, BScE'22) spent a month in the Arctic last year on the CCGS Amundsen. As part of his placement, he operated the Canadian Coast Guard vessels sonars and supported other scientists mapping the ocean floor.

One of the first two students from the department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering (GGE) to complete the newly offered Cat-A courses in ocean mapping, Christie said it was a truly amazing experience.

“The feeling of the ship breaking ice and the sound of three meters of it being cracked apart as the thousands of tons of steel from the ship rams through is quite the thing to hear,” he said. “There’s nothing else like it.”

Thanks to UNB’s GGE expertise and leadership in ocean mapping, students like Christie are not only able to join Arctic expeditions such as these, but they’re also the most qualified candidates to be on board such vessels, working the sonar equipment.

On the cruise Christie joined, they collected and cleaned 14,000 square kilometers of new multibeam data, an area roughly equivalent to three times the size of Prince Edward Island. Part of the UNB ocean mapping program teaches its students how to recognize noise in collected data to clean it out and get to the real data. It’s an important skillset research scientists rely on from sonar technicians, including the Amundsen.

“People who come out of the undergraduate program with the hydrographic studies option are, in my opinion, among the most qualified in the world to run any kind of sonar on any ship anywhere.” Christie affirmed. “As one of two initial graduates from the Cat-A program, it has already led me to some pretty exciting places and brought opportunities that would not be possible otherwise.”

These opportunities for students include being able to join the crew of vessels in the Bay of Fundy and on the West Coast, and notably, the partnership with Amundsen Science on the Coast Guard icebreaker.

Christie also related how he worked as a research assistant for Dr. Ian Church and, as a result, supported the application process which resulted in the Cat-A designation for the UNB GGE department.

The pair first partnered together after attending the Canadian Hydrographic Conference in Feb. 2020. That summer, instead of going out to the West Coast – Christie is from Courtney, BC, on Vancouver Island – and working for a land surveying company, Christie stayed at UNB. Thanks to an undergraduate research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Christie was able to work with Church, including supporting the pedagogical research that created the courses he would take himself.

“As a student in the program looking to become a certified hydrographer, I could not think of a better way to gain the experience I need to get out in the field,” said Christie. “I feel confident that I have the skills to succeed in any position in hydrography, building on the foundation of knowledge I have gained at UNB as I move forward into professional life.”

Learn more about the specialized ocean mapping courses at the GGE department or how UNB is training the next generation of ocean surveyors.