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North Saanich firm making a splash in ocean research

<p>Adrian Round, director of observatory operation for Ocean Networks Canada, shows off the Canadian Scientific Submersible Society’s ROPOS, a remotely operated underwater vehicle. ONC leases the vehicle to perform deep sea tasks. </p><p>(Steven Heywood/News staff file)</p> -

Adrian Round, director of observatory operation for Ocean Networks Canada, shows off the Canadian Scientific Submersible Society’s ROPOS, a remotely operated underwater vehicle. ONC leases the vehicle to perform deep sea tasks.

(Steven Heywood/News staff file)

— image credit:

Tim Collins

News staff

A North Saanich-based firm is making a splash in the Gulf of St.Lawrence with its state of the art $6-million robotic submersible, dubbed ROPOS by its creators.

The submersible has managed to live-stream video of high-definition images of the Gulf of St. Lawrence that have never before been seen. Massive schools of sand lance, right whales sharks and other marine life have been captured on film; images that will give scientists an insight into the ecology of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

But it's not only pictures and video that the ROPOS captures. It has the capacity to take samples at depth for further genetic and chemical analysis; an process that will allow for a full analysis of what is going on in the St. Lawrence ecosystem.

Keith Tamburri, the Assistant General Manager of the Canadian Submersible Facility (CSSF) was on site acting as the lead supervisor for the latest ROPOS venture.

"This vehicle was designed to give scientists the ability to turn the sea floor into a laboratory for their research and we're very proud to be a part of that effort. There's a very strong connection between ROPOS and ocean science. Its vitally important that we develop a better understanding of theoceans, so it's great to be a part of that," said Tamburri.

He explained that, after several years where support for their ventures was difficult, the change in government in Ottawa has corresponded with an upturn in government interest in CSSF's work.

"We have a tremendous amount of talent and knowledge back in North Saanich. Most of our team is from the Greater Victoria area, and what has struck me is that we're now getting young Canadian scientists coming into the field. I've been in this for 30 years and its good to know there are young, talented people who can take up the torch so to speak," he said.

Tamburri added that, with Canada's extensive coastline and the importance of environmental and other scientific knowledge to Canada and the world, the importance of Canada establishing and maintaining a leading role in undersea research and discovery can't be overstated.

"There is some truth in the observations that some have made that mankind knows more about the surface of the moon than we do about what lies at the bottom of the oceans," said Tamburri.

He added that the system making all of this discovery possible isn't some sudden innovation. ROPOS has been evolving for more than 25 years.

The original submersible, named the HYSUB 5000 was operated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans back in 1986.

In 1995, to better manage and operate the ROPOS vehicle, CSSF was established in North Saanich by a group of Canadian university scientists. Working relationships were established with a number of authorities on undersea research and robotics, including the University of Victoria.

In 2005, CSSF began a three-year, $2.33 million upgrade to all ROPOS systems and the new vehicle was put into use in 2005. Since that time, the new ROPOS has performed more than 785 dives on 54 expeditions.

Of course, the North Saanich firm is aware of the need for scientific research to stay abreast of the latest technology and, since 2005, ROPOS has continued to evolve. New hydraulics systems, thrusters and several upgrades in the HD video and still cameras as well as improved lighting for the vehicle have all increased its capacity to explore.

"The work we do can't be done by manned vehicles. ROPOS can go to depths of 5,000 metres and when it gets there it can show us what is there and allow scientists to conduct cutting edge research to help us understand what is happening in our oceans. Given the world's environmental concerns, this research's importance can't be overstated."

editor@peninsulanewsreview.com

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