Ocean Frontier Institute releases details on $16 million in new ocean research

The Atlantic-Canada based Ocean Frontier Institute (OFI) is putting millions of dollars into 6 innovative new ocean research projects.

This is in addition to 17 large research projects currently underway to examine approaches to help ensure sustainable management of the North Atlantic and Arctic Gateway.

OFI is a transnational research hub created to study the ocean’s most pressing issues, and to deliver those results and recommendations to inform government policy, community development, and industry needs. This powerful partnership links ocean experts from Dalhousie University, Memorial University, and the University of Prince Edward Island with world-leading national and international collaborators. It was founded in 2016 thanks to a $94-million grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund designed to position Canada to become a global leader in the search for safe and sustainable solutions for harnessing the world’s ocean resources.

“There is really nothing like the OFI anywhere else in the global ocean science landscape,” says Dr. Anya Waite, OFI’s Scientific Director and AVP of Research (Ocean) at Dal. “We enable teams from all over the world to work together and share perspectives and experience working toward one common goal. We break down silos and allow unprecedented collaboration. The more minds on these problems, the better.”

And it’s not just scientists who work together on the OFI-funded projects.

“These projects will operate at a new scale of connectivity that spans natural and social science, industry and government, and local to national to international, in order to create a truly transdisciplinary program. Each project links multiple Atlantic universities, builds partnerships with industry, government, and Canada’s Indigenous communities. These are the partnerships that Canada must embrace in order to achieve a sustainable future,” says Dr. Paul Snelgrove, OFI’s Associate Scientific Director.

This second phase of research, scheduled to run until 2023 fall under two themes:

  • The North Atlantic as a Climate Ocean —understanding the physical, chemical, and biological processes governing climate, productivity, and ecosystem processes in the North Atlantic and Canadian Arctic gateways. 
  • Coastal Communities and the Ocean —Addressing how changing ocean dynamics impact coastal communities, and how rapidly-evolving social and economic conditions impact the marine environment.

This is in addition to six pre-existing themes that range from ensuring sustainable fishing practices and big data to marine safety and ocean-atmospheric interactions.

“It’s said that we know more about space than we do about the ocean. Yet the ocean touches almost every part of our life. It controls our climate, and the more we understand how it is being impacted by global warming and rising sea levels,  the more we may be able to prepare for future changes and even mitigate the damage already done,” says Waite.

Each project has received between $1.2 and $4-million in funding. They are:


OneOceanHealth   $1,246,900

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Mark Fast (University of Prince Edward Island)

Dr. Stefanie Colombo (Dalhousie University)

This project aims to provide better understanding of the connection between ocean health, marine animal health, and human health.        


Offshore groundwater resources in a changing marine environment:

Continental shelf surrounding Prince Edward Island   $1,995,000

Principal Investigator: Dr. Vittorio Maselli (Dalhousie University, Earth and Environmental Sciences) 

Freshwater offshore aquifers located beneath the seafloor may represent a new and critical water resource for Prince Edward Island, and for similar island settings worldwide.


BEcoME - Benthic ecosystem mapping for sustainable ocean stewardship in a shifting ocean climate $2,000,000

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Craig Brown (Dalhousie University) 

Dr. Katleen Robert (Memorial University)

Surprisingly, only a small fraction of the seafloor has been mapped at the levels needed for us to understand ocean seafloor processes. This project aims to address data gaps in the Northwest Atlantic and help predict how threats like climate change will drive changes to vulnerable marine life on and near the seafloor.


Future Ocean and Coastal Infrastructures  $4,000,000

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Paul Foley (Memorial University, Environmental Policy Institute, Grenfell Campus)

Dr. Lorenzo Moro (Memorial University, Department of Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering)

Researchers are re-thinking the way we design, develop, and manage infrastructures, with an overarching aim to ensure the designs of the future are sustainable, safe and inclusive.


The NorthWest Atlantic Biological Carbon Pump $4,000,000

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Zoe Finkel (Dalhousie University)

Dr. Uta Passow (Memorial University)

Living organisms move large amounts of carbon dioxide deep into the ocean, and without this “biological carbon pump”, carbon dioxide concentrations would be nearly double the amount in the atmosphere today and Earth’s climate would be radically different. Currently, we lack measurements or models to reliably predict how these processes will change as the climate warms.


Sustainable Nunatsiavut Futures $4,005,194

Principal Investigators:

Dr. Anna Metaxas (Dalhousie University)

Dr. Amanda Bates (Memorial University)

Dr. Paul McCarney (Nunatsiavut Government) 

This project will look at rapidly changing environmental conditions in Northern Canada and the impacts on local communities who depend heavily on marine resources. The project will combine community-led knowledge and monitoring with traditional science to build local scientific capacity in marine research.

“We developed the themes and chose these projects through multiple consultations with university researchers and diverse government and industry partners nationally and internationally. These consultations identified the overall topics as pressing needs from a scientific and a societal perspective. Importantly, these projects will not only provide novel scientific insight but also information that decision makers and industry can use for real world applications,” says Snelgrove. 

The phase two projects differ from the first round of funding in adding some innovative new facets linked to society.

While they faced the same rigorous scientific review as the earlier projects they were encouraged to include a more robust public engagement strategy, Indigenous partnerships, and clearer ties to community. Once the researchers go out into the field, film crews from Ocean School will join them and follow their progress, incorporating their discoveries into learning modules they will share with middle-school students across Canada.

“Ocean School’s approaches are unique and they bring research to life for the next generation of potential ocean researchers and advocates. The youth of today are deeply concerned about the environment, and it’s important for everyone to see how ocean research can inform a sustainable future. If we can, together, learn more about what is happening in the ocean, we can figure out what we can do to reverse the decline of ocean health,” says Waite.

Research results from phase 1 are already rolling out, and expected to peak in 2022, with results from Round 2 expected by 2023.