Canadian Hydrographic Conference

by Steve Maclean, President, Canadian Space Agency

Check Against Delivery

Niagara Falls, Ontario, May 15, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests, thank you for that generous reception.

The idea of a water route through the North, one that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, has been a dream for at least 500 years.

Even in the middle of the 16th century, those with vision, determination and an eye on the bottom line recognized that a northern passage would mean a lot less sailing time for ships travelling between Europe and Asia.

Of course, even the most committed among them would be aware of the obstacles that awaited them, like cold, ice and uncharted waters.

Despite those challenges, a number of dedicated explorers were clearly willing to put their ships where their dreams were.

We know that among the first to seek a "Northwest Passage"—in the 1570s—was Britain's Martin Frobisher.

But while his efforts were noble, the results of his expedition were mixed.

After three difficult years, his small fleet had made it no further than the inlet that now bears his name.

In the years to come, many others would follow, and just as many would fail, often with tragic consequences.

Until finally, in 1903, Norwegian Roald Amundsen guided his 21-metre fishing boat the entire length of the passage.

As we know, and as he expected, it was not an easy journey.

Nor was it quick.

Before he could complete his task, Amundsen had to wait, often months at a time, for the ice to melt.

Amundsen may have shown us the way—at the very least, he showed us that there was a way—but, surprisingly perhaps, in the 100-plus years since his epic journey, the Northwest Passage has seen relatively little vessel traffic.

It's hardly surprising.

For much of that time, the Northwest Passage has remained as Amundsen and earlier explorers found it—cold, daunting, and for most of the year, locked in ice.

But now climate change is bringing about what Frobisher, Amundsen and all of those early navigators could not have imagined.

It is turning the Northwest Passage into a coveted and increasingly accessible shipping route.

Today, governments and corporations around the world are eager to take advantage of the incredible benefits offered by a northern sea route available throughout the year.

They've done the math.

Even with the construction of the Panama Canal, the Northwest Passage is still about 7,000 kilometres shorter for ships travelling from London to Tokyo.

For many, the Passage saves two weeks of travel time.

But as the Government of Canada knows—and as those attending this conference know—any increase in access is likely to lead to a similar increase in challenges.

As the North becomes more accessible, the perennial issues of sovereignty, stewardship, security and environmental sustainability will once again take centre stage.

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking to delegates at the International Polar Year Conference in Montreal.

I sensed among the delegates a strong feeling that they were meeting at a pivotal time for the health of our planet.

And I shared with them my opinion that nowhere is this sense of urgency more apparent than in Canada's North.

I'm sure that most of the people attending this conference would agree.

And like the delegates at the IPY conference, I'm sure you're just as anxious to do something about it.

I have no doubt that you will.

Over the next few days, you'll be discussing, debating and addressing many if not all of those familiar issues.

Of course, one of the key factors you'll be considering is time.

How much time remains before the ice melts, how much time before more ships begin arriving, how much time to respond to all of the challenges that come with this new reality?

According to most experts, not long.

One Environment Canada researcher recently reported that the ice in Canada's Arctic has shrunk by 32 per cent since the 1960s.

Each year, she added, the ice in Canada's Arctic shrinks by 70,000 square kilometers, an area equivalent to Lake Superior.

If melting continues at that rate—and there's every reason to believe the pace will accelerate—summer ice in the Arctic could be a thing of the past by the end of this century.

Another Environment Canada researcher noted that in the time since Amundsen completed his voyage, the effects of climate change have led to a temperature increase of 1.2 degrees in Canada's northern archipelago.

That's twice the average increase in the rest of the world.

Other scientists are even more pessimistic. Or, depending on your view, more optimistic.

In 2004, the chief scientist aboard Canada's Amundsen research icebreaker said climate change could make a northern route almost ice-free within 50 years.

Two years later, a University of British Columbia professor went even further, predicting that the Northwest Passage would be clear of ice during the summer months in just 25 years.

Now this all comes with a caveat.

Many in the know, including those whose views differ on the actual rate of melting, agree that even if the passage is free from ice during the summer, large chunks of ice drifting down from the Arctic will continue to make shipping hazardous.

The passage may be open, they say, but that doesn't guarantee it will always be smooth sailing.

John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, agrees with that assessment.

He recently acknowledged that because of what's happening in the North, more personnel and resources will eventually be required to protect the Northwest Passage.

But, he was quick to add, the Government does not believe foreign ships will be rushing to use the route.

He cited the same concerns expressed by scientists and researchers, that northern shipping routes are still very dangerous, and that free-floating ice remains a constant hazard.

Still, few people today doubt that a year-round passage through the Arctic will be inevitable.

Even now, corporations are designing and buildings ships capable of navigating the Northwest Passage, even with the existing hazards.

You know the challenge that awaits you when you leave here.

You'll be expected to update, revise and improve your knowledge of northern waterways.

You'll probably have to revisit many of the navigation corridors you've already charted in the past, if only to ensure safe passage to Arctic coastal communities.

And you'll be expected to help identify and expand new and existing navigation corridors.

To accomplish all that, you'll need information.

Lots of it. All up-to-date, accurate and relevant.

You heard that from Roger Cameron, the president of this conference, even before you arrived here.

In his invitation to delegates, he said, and I quote:

"I hope this conference...results in specific applications for technology with methodologies that will improve our capacity for data collection in support of Arctic hydrography."

Mr. Cameron is spot on.

If you're to successfully complete the task that awaits you in Canada's North, improving your capacity for data collection and analysis of that data is absolutely critical.

As it turns out, data collection and dissemination is an area in which the Canadian Space Agency excels, probably because we've been doing it for a long time—ever since the early 1960s, when NASA invited Canada to design and build a satellite to monitor the ionosphere.

Alouette-1 did just that for 10 very productive years.

At the time, we had no history in space.

We had no space program and very few resources to start one.

Yet, when NASA invited us to join them in space, we were quick to say yes.

The reasons were as clear then as they are today.

Canada is a large country. In terms of land mass, only Russia is larger.

We also border three oceans—the Pacific, the Atlantic and, of course, the Arctic.

As a result, we have an extraordinarily long, and in many places, isolated coastline. At 162,000 kilometers long, Canada possesses fully one-quarter of the global Arctic.

Even today, vast areas of Canada are hard to reach and sparsely populated.

And despite the warming of our climate, our northern climate remains a challenge.

And, of course, Canada's North is enormous.

Our three northern territories alone make up 40 per cent of Canada's total landmass.

Fifty years ago, it was all but impossible for Canada to observe, monitor and communicate effectively over such a large expanse.

Increased monitoring by aircraft helped, but it was both costly and time-consuming.

We suspected then…what we know for sure today: only space technology and research could provide an effective and lasting solution.

Today, the Canadian Space Agency is committed to using space technology and research to benefit all Canadians.

For the most part our focus, like yours, is on the North.

In fact, I would estimate that a large part of our resources are now committed to Canada's Polar Regions.

That means—through our unique ability to measure, monitor, record and analyze space data—we're ideally positioned to help you collect and use the data you need to overcome the challenges awaiting you in the North.

We can do that in a number of ways: some tried and true, some new and innovative, a few in the experimental stage, others still on the drawing board.

One venture with a distinctly northern focus is the Automatic Identification System, or AIS.

Many of you will know that AIS was originally designed as a collision avoidance system. Ships of a certain size were required to use AIS transponders to broadcast their identity, location and heading.

But there were limitations: only other ships and land-based receivers within a 50 nautical mile range were capable of receiving that information.

That is until we discovered the technical ability to capture these signals from space.

Initially designed to perform detailed surveillance of all Canadian maritime zones, an AIS payload is scheduled to be launched aboard the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite, or M3MSat.

M3MSat and its AIS payload represent a major breakthrough in our ability to monitor marine traffic, incredibly important in light of what's happening in the North.

M3MSat will perform detailed surveillance of Canada's maritime zones, including the Arctic, every 90 minutes, and globally every three hours.

By collecting those AIS signals from space, we dramatically increase our ability to gather and disseminate that information.

For government departments, like National Defence, this new technology provides an unprecedented global view of the world's shipping traffic.

The AIS mission will also help the Coast Guard meet its responsibilities to identify and monitor maritime traffic approaching or operating in Canadian waters.

As a matter of fact, the Coast Guard is very much a part of the overall AIS mission, in that it is responsible for the construction and operation of the shore-based component of the national AIS network.

It will install AIS stations at specific locations to track vessels within 40 to 50 nautical miles of the shore.

One more thing: because it's a microsatellite, M3MSat will develop Canada's capacity in this area, vital to our goal of positioning the Canadian space industry as a leader in the development of smaller, lower-cost satellites.

All this being said, however, I think you'll find the use of the AIS payload in a pilot project especially interesting.

The project, which we've undertaken with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO, uses buoys equipped with an AIS receiver/transmitter to measure the temperature of the ice in the most northerly regions of the Arctic.

Called AtoNs—for Aids to Navigation—these buoys are placed directly in the ice.

From there, they send the information they collect to an AIS receiver/transmitter on satellites like M3MSat or RADARSAT Constellation.

The AIS, in turn, sends that information directly to scientists on the ground.

If successful, and we're confident it will be, this project could provide up-to-the-minute information about ice conditions in the Far North.

It could also eliminate the need for researchers to travel to these remote locations to measure ice temperatures.

That method is expensive, time-consuming and not always without risk.

Also, it limited the number of opportunities we had to actually measure the ice temperature.

Now, rather than rely on readings taken every month or more, AtoNs could provide a continuous stream of data.

Last March, Fisheries and Oceans placed the first two buoys in the ice near Resolute Bay for us.

We expect that they'll transmit information for up to 100 days.

If the feasibility study goes as planned, we hope to position hundreds of AtoNs throughout the Arctic in the coming years.

The value of partnerships, like the one with Fisheries and Oceans that led to the AtoNs project, or the M3MSat mission with National Defence, cannot be overstated.

Everyone benefits, not just the participants.

What I find so intriguing about these partnerships is how easily they can come about.

We meet with different government departments, be it National Defence, DFO, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada or a host of others.

We ask them what they're doing, and if there's some way that the CSA can help them do it better or perhaps more simply.

We talk. We listen. And because we do, we learn.

Simple, yes, but it works. Time and again.

One of the many CSA initiatives you could describe as a veteran of Canada's Space Program is RADARSAT-1.

Conceived in the late 1980s—when a year-round Northwest Passage was still just a gleam in many eyes—RADARSAT-1 was launched in November of 1995.

But don't let its grey hairs fool you—RADARSAT-1 remains a formidable tool in our quest to do understand what's happening in Canada's North.

Originally designed to monitor our huge expanse of land and sea, as well as the movements of ice and naval vessels, RADARSAT-1 continues to provide regular and reliable surveillance of the entire Arctic region.

RADARSAT-1's unique monitoring skills—it shrugs off the challenges of cloud, fog or darkness—allowing us to accurately measure changes in ocean waters, waves and winds.

RADARSAT-1 also helps track sea ice distribution, identify various types of ice, and produce daily ice charts.

That information is especially useful for offshore oil exploration, ocean research operations, and locating potentially productive fishing regions.

Those monitoring skills that can so effectively track the movement of ships also enables RADARSAT-1 to determine the location and extent of marine oil spills, providing vital assistance in control and clean-up operations.

That was painfully apparent two years ago when a drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico.

Images generated by RADARSAT-1, as well as RADARSAT-2, were invaluable in helping government agencies undertake disaster relief and clean-up operations.

Like the AtoNs project, RADARSAT-1 came about as the result of a partnership.

A much larger partnership than the one we have with Fisheries and Oceans.

And now RADARSAT-1 has more than 600 global clients, commercial and government users in some 60 countries worldwide.

RADARSAT-2 has now joined RADARSAT-1 in space and I'm pleased to say that it has not been intimidated by its older sibling's success.

If anything, the satellite has only secured the Canada's reputation as a global leader in space observation and imagery.

Launched in 2007, RADARSAT-2 is still one of the world's most advanced Earth observation radar image providers.

In terms of managing natural resources and monitoring the environment in the 21st century, it is literally indispensable, to the North, to Canada and to the world.

Data generated by RADARSAT-2 have helped us dramatically improve the classification of vegetation cover, soil moisture, snow cover and wetness measurement.

The same is true in the classification of ice type and ice edge detection.

Recently, we improved our ability to retrieve wind information in open-sea and coastal regions using RADARSAT-2 data, further supporting marine forecasts and monitoring in the Arctic coastal areas.

RADARSAT-2 also showed us that it's right at home at both ends of the planet.

In August of last year, imagery provided by RADARSAT-2 enabled scientists to chart previously unmapped glaciers in Antarctica.

As a result, researchers discovered unique terrain features indicating the direction and velocity of ice in Antarctica.

We believe this will provide invaluable insight into where and at what pace the ice is melting, and what effect this might have on sea levels.

The RADARSAT Constellation, or RCM, represents the evolution of the entire RADARSAT Program.

RCM is nearing the end of its design phase and will provide Canadian and international users complete coverage of Canada's land and oceans as well as daily observational access to most of the world.

During its projected lifespan, RCM would carry out a number of key tasks, some added since the original mission was first designed.

For example, the initial plan was to focus on maritime security requirements.

Now, however, land security, particularly in the Arctic, will also be dramatically enhanced.

Because the RCM would make up to four passes per day in Canada's far North, and several passes per day over the Northwest Passage, we've introduced a range of applications.

These are based on the increased collection of data and the creation of composite images that highlight changes over time.

These applications are particularly useful for monitoring changes such as land use evolution, coastal change, urban subsidence and even human impact on local environments.

The RCM would also build on the extensive archive of images generated by RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 to allow us to document environmental changes and human habitation over a much longer period of time, providing valuable geophysical information, not only about Canada and the North, but the entire world.

Images supplied by this satellite Constellation would also:

  • support the management and development of natural resources;
  • enhance weather monitoring and navigation safety;
  • aid the enforcement of fishing and environmental regulations; and,
  • support disaster management, humanitarian and relief efforts.

Another hard-working Canadian satellite is SCISAT, a scientific satellite launched in 2003 to further our understanding of the ozone layer.

I know everyone in this room knows that no country is more vulnerable than Canada to the effects of ozone depletion in the Arctic region.

But the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment, or ACE, aboard SCISAT has performed so well that the mission has moved well beyond that original mandate.

In addition to providing excellent data related to ozone depletion, SCISAT is now generating equally valuable data on climate change, air quality and pollution.

Oh, yes, and while SCISAT's contributions were scheduled to last just two years, next year it will complete its first decade as an active mission.

Without a doubt, two of the most pressing challenges we all encounter in Canada's North are communications and weather.

We're addressing both through a project called Polar Communication and Weather Mission, or as it's more commonly referred to, PCW.

Made up of two satellites, PCW would provide continuous 24/7 broadband communications services throughout all of the Arctic and improve climate change monitoring and weather forecasting.

At the moment, the telecommunication needs of remote areas in Canada's North are served mainly by geostationary communications satellites.

To their credit, these satellites offer a variety of communications and entertainment services to Canadians in all parts of the country.

However, due to their orbit geometry, geostationary communications satellites cannot cover all areas.

Also, their ability to provide mobile services to ships and planes is limited in the High Arctic.

That means some of Canada's northern regions do not have access to secure, reliable and high capacity telecommunications solutions.

Similar challenges exist in our ability to predict weather in the High North.

While polar orbiting satellites provide spatial resolution over high latitudes, they are forced to do so along a narrow swath.

As a result, they are unable to cover the whole circumpolar area at one time.

Not only does this make forecasting weather in the Arctic difficult, but it adversely affects the accuracy of weather forecasting throughout Canada, North America and globally.

As we know only too well in Canada, the Arctic has a significant effect on global weather.

We expect PCW to improve matters dramatically in both communications and weather forecasts.

Collectively, these missions, and others like them, are helping us gain a much better understanding of our planet.

What they're also doing, particularly in Canada, is bringing infrastructure to the North.

In reality, those satellites are as much a part of that infrastructure as any bridge or road.

I hope, in the challenging times ahead, you'll call on the Canadian Space Agency for help, and use that Northern infrastructure to help chart our future success.

The fact is Canada needs you to succeed.

Thank you.