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Innovative Canadian Research is Redefining the Future of the Oceans

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Sponsored by:

Dr. Tim Webster

Research Scientist, NSCC

Don Bureau

President, NSCC

Generations of Nova Scotians have made understanding the ocean their life’s work. Today, the high-tech scientific evolution of that work is reshaping our climate future.

On Dartmouth Cove, just across the water from the historic piers of Halifax, a pair of unassuming buildings house an ongoing revolution in ocean technology. This is where you’ll find Nova Scotia Community College’s research and innovation centre—SEATAC, and it’s pushing ever forward our understanding of the oceans that cover nearly 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface. In an era of climate crisis, where the oceans play an integral role, the innovation happening here informs our strategies for climate change prevention, mitigation, and resilience.


As Canada takes on a global leadership role in climate science, the generational ocean wisdom of the Maritimes is central to our ascendance. And Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) is where that wisdom gathers and multiplies. “Nova Scotia is known as Canada’s Ocean Playground because of our close relationship with the sea,” says NSCC President Don Bureaux. “As we face this critical turning point for climate change, NSCC has an important role to play. By supporting ocean tech innovators focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the ocean clean, we can help ensure Nova Scotians can respectfully live, work, and play by the ocean for generations to come.”

Nova Scotia is known as Canada’s Ocean Playground because of our close relationship with the sea.

The ocean innovation at NSCC is driven by a diverse array of research projects and collaborations, both at SEATAC and in other initiatives like the Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG), which has been studying flood risk, coastal erosion, and ocean pollution for over two decades. One coastal mapping project out of the AGRG, led by research scientist and AGRG leader Timothy Webster, was recognized with the inaugural Public Impact Award at the 2022 Discovery Awards for its quantifiable and immediate benefit to the people of Nova Scotia.

The gaps in our maps

“The coastal zone is a challenging place to map because techniques that work on the land for mapping typically don’t work through the water, and technologies for mapping in the deep ocean become expensive and dangerous in shallow areas,” explains Webster. “The result is something called the white ribbon, where you have decent maps in deeper water and detailed maps of the land, but then, in the coastal areas, there’s this gap.”

In the domain of flood-risk prediction and climate projection especially, the white ribbon presents a growing problem. Webster’s team has a unique high-tech solution. “We use a special system called a topo-bathymetric LiDAR that has a near-infrared laser that’s good for mapping both land and water,” says Webster. “It has a green laser that will actually see through the water, map the seabed, come back up, and tell us the depth. This has allowed us to do flood-risk mapping that’s very precise.”

A new era of ocean innovation

The practical success of projects like this, combined with a renewed interest in ocean tech from both the public and private sectors, has prompted a renaissance at NSCC, one which it’s growing to accommodate with a new campus currently under construction on Cape Breton Island. “The Sydney Waterfront Campus is scheduled to open in 2024 and will offer new marine-focused programming for students looking to build careers in the ocean economy,” says Bureaux. “The 305,000-square-foot campus is on track to be 100 per cent heated and cooled through geothermal heating by drawing water from Sydney Harbour. What’s more, it’s being built to withstand forecasted sea level rise for the next century.”

Canada’s relationship with the ocean may be undergoing a sea change, but one thing is certain: the next generation of skilled professionals educated in Nova Scotia will be as intimately tied to the water as were their forebears. And, given the unprecedented growth of the ocean technology sector, there will be no shortage of opportunities for them to practise those skills for the betterment of all.

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