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Research writer heads north for Arctic adventure

Stephen Fields spends most of his working life writing about other researchers’ experiences. Now he has the chance for a scientific adventure of his own, as he sets sail aboard a research vessel for an Arctic voyage off the north shore of Baffin Island.

A communications officer in the University of Windsor’s Department of Public Affairs and Communications, Fields’ job is to promote great research stories. This Thursday, he’ll depart for Clyde River, a tiny Inuit hamlet in Nunavut situated on the shores of the Davis Strait. On September 22, he’ll board the 64-foot government research vessel MV Nuliajuk, and become a working member of the crew for about eight days.

Stephen Fields

Stephen Fields.

“I’ve never done anything like this on my life, so I’m certain it’s going to be an amazing learning experience,” he said. “This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many people, so I’m really grateful for the chance.”

Fields will be working alongside Nigel Hussey, a post-doctoral fellow who works in the lab of Aaron Fisk, a professor at the university’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. Fisk is responsible for the Arctic portion of the Ocean Tracking Network, a $168 million global research initiative that uses state-of-the-art acoustic and satellite systems to track the migratory patterns of a wide variety of aquatic species around the planet. One of the network’s goals is to better understand how climate change is affecting aquatic ecosystems and the animals that inhabit them.

Hussey and Fields will be setting out acoustic moorings in Scott Inlet, just northwest of Clyde River. Those moorings sit on the ocean floor, spaced about a kilometer apart, and “listen” for acoustic tags that are implanted in fish. After setting the moorings, they’ll be catching the fish the research team is interested in tracking and implanting them with tags.

They also hope to catch and tag at least 20 Greenland sharks, a large bottom-feeding dweller that can grow up to 6.5 metres, weigh 1,000 kilograms and potentially live to a 100-years-old. Several of those will be outfitted with satellite tags which record such data as water temperatures, depths and distances, which is all uploaded to a satellite and made available for the research team.

A former journalist with about eight years’ experience in daily newspapers, Fields will be blogging regularly from the vessel and will be periodically available for live interviews from the ship via satellite phone. Upon his return, he plans to write a feature article about the trip.

Read his first blog.

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