July 9, 2019

As boaters we all have a very unique connection to the water and all the opportunities it presents. And for most taking care of our lakes and waterways is very important, both for our own use and future generations. It is because of our shared concern that we highlight a valuable research effort that is now underway to better learn about the water quality and characteristics of Georgian Bay in Ontario and inland lakes throughout the Northern Canada.

On July 3 Boating Industry Canada attended the inaugural launch of what is believed to be the first freshwater scientific autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) in Canada devoted to collecting data on water quality, flow rates and topography.

The AUV was unveiled by Georgian Bay Forever’s Executive Director David Sweetnam and Brian Branfireun, Professor of Echohydrology, biogeochemistry and wetland ecosystem science at the University of Western Ontario. The unveiling also included the results of an online naming competition for the AUV, which henceforth will be known as Georgie McBayFace. Georgie will now spend time working with Georgian Bay Forever in the spring and early summer and the Universities of Western Ontario and Waterloo in the summer and early fall. Georgie will likely take a vacation in the winter!

The story of how Georgie was purchased for use in Ontario is a unique one that is a testament to collaborative efforts between academic institutions, environmental charities and the joint efforts of environmental scientists and conservationists.

The University of Waterloo and Western have been studying lakes throughout northern Ontario and into the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The research focuses on characterizing the thousands of small lakes that exist across these provinces, many of which we know nothing about, but are being utilized by native communities. The goal is to study these lakes to gain a detailed snapshot of their chemistry and physical features. As a result of this study the Universities had applied for a grant to purchase an AUV that would allow them to substantially increase their research abilities.

After receiving the grant, they held out for a time awaiting a stronger Canadian dollar. But when the time came to purchase, the funding was only able to cover the purchase of the UAV but not all the instrumentation required. However, right before making the purchase Brian came across Georgian Bay Forever’s current fundraising efforts to acquire the same UAV and instrumentation. The two made some immediate connections, and a as result of some fast maneuvering by Georgian Bay Forever an agreement was made to jointly purchase the AUV. By working together, they were able to go beyond the basic model, and in Brian’s words were able to get the ‘Cadillac’ with all the instrumentation and sensors required to do testing in Georgian Bay and throughout Canada.

Georgie will now begin to work collecting data through its impressive abilities to operate and collect data autonomously. Georgie will undertake predesigned missions that the AUV carries out on its own. Georgie can operate for up to 10hrs, dive to a depth of 100m and is equipped with complete side scan sonar and forward object avoidance sensors. Georgie reports on things such as Ph levels, flow rates and topography.

The results of the studies will be shared with governments, scientists, coastal managers and academic partners to aid in making decisions, creating policy and carry out research aimed at mitigating threats to water quality and aquatic ecosystems. All of which will ensure future generations are able to enjoy the same activities on the water that we today enjoy in Canada’s lakes and beyond.

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