UNB Research

Blue water, green futures: OFI Seed Fund supports four UNB projects in 2021

Author: UNB Research

Posted on Dec 17, 2021

Category: Research , Innovation & Commercialization

Researchers at the University of New Brunswick have received funding for four projects from the Ocean Frontier Institute’s (OFI) Seed Fund program. This funding will enable novel research opportunities that advance UNB’s emphasis on, and leadership in, scholarship that supports the blue economy and a healthier future for our oceans.

The projects funded will create new knowledge and innovations in four areas: salmon population growth; oceanic ecology and sustainability; subsea mapping and artificial intelligence; and materials engineering for better, more ecologically sound seagoing vessels.

Food for thought: Understanding the marine diet of Atlantic salmon

Project: Linking declining Atlantic salmon populations with multidecadal changes in their marine foraging ecology.

Emily Weigum, a PhD candidate in the department of biology in Fredericton, is building up UNB’s growing salmon research expertise.

She’s received an OFI Seed Fund grant for an innovative study that will use cutting-edge techniques to better understand changes in Atlantic salmon marine diet, a crucial but currently little-known component of the species’ continued survival and population growth.

Using both stable isotope and compound-specific isotope analysis, Weigum will be working with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to access their archive of fish scales, which includes multiple Atlantic salmon samples collected annually since 1968. From this dual analysis, Weigum will be able to infer the trophic position of salmon – that is, where they are situated in the food web – over the past half-century, deepening our understanding of Atlantic salmon population changes including a dramatic decline since the 1980s.

Core knowledge: Creating an arctic polynya indicator database

Project: Development of an effective blueprint to interpret the paleoceanographic signal provided by sedimentary tracers around Nain, Nunatsiavut

Dr. Audrey Limoges, an associate professor of earth sciences in Fredericton, is looking further north, toward arctic polynyas. Polynyas, which are areas of open water surrounded by sea ice, are crucial components of the ocean microbiome, which makes up the basis of the food chain and the ocean’s ability to function as a carbon sink.

However, despite their vital importance for both environmental sustainability and food safety, and their ability to be used as model systems for changing oceanic conditions, little has been done to comprehensively document their traits and response to atmospheric and climate changes.

With the OFI Seed Funding, Dr. Limoges will work on developing a comprehensive database compiling information on a set of key scientific measures called paleoceanographic tracers. These tracers include microfossils, lipid biomarkers and geochemical signatures, and the database will list those measures as preserved in seafloor sediment from within and outside polynyas located in coastal Nain (Nunatsiavut).

This database will serve as a blueprint for creating new, ecologically sound interpretations of the sea-ice and productivity signals recorded in long sediment cores, which provide data on several millennia of climate variability.

On the air, across the ocean: Improving subsea mapping through an Internet-of-Things lens

Project: Implementing Edge Computing in Ocean Mapping Data Collection

Dr. Ian Church, associate professor of geodesy and geomatics engineering and director of UNB’s Ocean Mapping Group, is working with Dr. Andrew Gerber, professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. Suprio Ray, associate professor of computer science, to help launch the next big leap in ocean mapping.

Leveraging UNB’s extensive experience and global leadership in subsea maps, as well as its strengths in advanced computing and geospatial data analytics, Dr. Church will lead a project to adapt how multibeam sonar data is collected, processed and delivered from autonomous surface vessels (ASV).

With the new approach, the performance and power-intensive computation required would be distributed between low-power edge devices onboard the ASVs, and high-capacity computing in the cloud or on a nearby crewed ship. With the OFI seed funding, the team will develop a proof-of-concept communications system between the ASV, ship and cloud, which will then be integrated into a larger, open-source system for making use of digital ocean data.

Less harm, less fouling: Using innovative materials and processes to create greener, more effective hull coatings

Project: High-entropy alloy feedstock development for anti-fouling thin coating for marine application.

Dr. Gobinda Saha, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Nanocomposites and Mechanics Lab at UNB, and Dr. Clodualdo Aranas, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Alloy Design and Materials Testing Research Laboratory at UNB, will apply their OFI Seed Funding toward revolutionizing current paint-based antifouling coatings used to slow or prevent the growth of marine animals on the hull of a ship.

By utilizing high-entropy alloys (a special type of metal created by mixing together large proportions of three or more elements) and high-pressure cold spray additive manufacturing practices (a new method of creating coatings from microscopic particles of metal), the research team will develop lab-scale solutions that bring together centres of expertise at UNB. From there, the research team will explore the potential to scale up and provide commercial applications for the marine industry.

These new coatings, in addition to leveraging ground-breaking technologies, are also likely to yield solutions for oceangoing vessels that will create safer interactions between the vessels and the oceanic ecosystem, promoting a greener and healthier future for this critical environment.

A transnational hub for ocean research, the Ocean Frontier Institute brings together experts from both sides of the North Atlantic to explore the vast potential of the world’s ocean. OFI is a partnership led by Dalhousie University, Memorial University of Newfoundland and the University of Prince Edward Island.

The OFI Seed Fund supports ocean-related projects that offer high potential for innovation success but need small amounts of funding to help them move forward and grow. The OFI Seed Fund is supported by partners Innovacorp, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and Mitacs. The projects led by Dr. Ian Church and Dr. Gobinda Saha were also funded in partnership with the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.