Ocean mapping student Sarah Porter has something on her resume that not many others do – she has mapped one of the most unexplored areas of the ocean floor – the Northwest Passage.
“I am in my fourth and final year of the ocean mapping diploma and bachelor of technology program at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University,” said Ms. Porter. “I was on a work term with the Centre for Applied Ocean Technology (CTec) when my supervisor, Kirk Regular offered me the opportunity to partner with the Canadian Hydrographic Service to survey through the Northwest Passage using their new shallow water Multibeam system, Norbit.”
It was an opportunity that Ms. Porter could not pass up and she joined the RRS Ernest Shackleton – the escort vessel for the Crystal Serenity’s second voyage through the Northwest Passage – in St. John’s on August 8 for a 28-day adventure.
“My job was to mobilize the Norbit system on a small boat called the Narwhal,” said Ms. Porter. “As we sailed through the Northwest Passage, I completed my work from the smaller zodiac-like boat during stops in Pond Inlet, Bellot Srait, and Cambridge Bay.”
The last Nautical Chart production for the Northwest Passage is dated 1957. Heading into the expedition, Ms. Porter knew that drastic changes to the seafloor were possible since that time – something that was validated during her surveying.
“As a student, I was so fortunate to have been trusted with such an incredible project,” said Ms. Porter. “To take a system, get familiar with it and its software, take it to the North and to survey areas that are unknown, with no charts, was an incredible experience,” said Ms. Porter.
During her journey, Ms. Porter collected very unique data which she hopes will be published to help others during future sails through the Northwest Passage.
“I hope the information I’ve gathered will someday benefit any kind of boating activity happening in the North,” said Ms. Porter. “Not many have had the opportunity to transverse the Northwest Passage and collect the kind of information gathered during this survey.”
On a personal level, the experience has helped Ms. Porter with a different type of navigation – the one that leads to her future career path.
“I would love to be able to continue to survey areas that are newly available for boating activity,” she said. “I love the ocean and I really enjoy discovering the unknown underneath and I thinks it’s crucial to know what our seafloor is all about.”
Outside of the mapping work, the work term experience taught Ms. Porter some valuable lessons about working in Northern environments.
“Working in the North can be very difficult due to limited resources including communication,” said Ms. Porter. “It is also important that you are well prepared for any situation and ensure that you have extras of everything.”
She’s was also quite impressed with her summer office space.
“I saw polar bears, walrus, seals, a variety of birds and a narwhal which really made for an interesting summer work experience,” said Ms. Poster. “I also got to learn about the Inuit culture and meet a number of locals were friendly and welcoming, and very helpful with our project.”