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Arctic Research Foundation partners with UM and RRC to revolutionize public access to big Arctic data

What will big data reveal about Canada’s next frontier—the Canadian Arctic?

October 5, 2020 — 

A new partnership between the University of Manitoba (UM), Red River College (RRC), and the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) is setting out to unlock the big data secrets previously hidden in Canada’s Arctic.

Ralph Dueck and Reynard Dela Torre from RRC’s applied computer education department and Carson Leung in computer science in the UM Faculty of Science have teamed up with the ARF on a joint project that is the first of its kind: it will allow easy access to a quantity of “Arctic-sized” data that will put that data into the hands of northern communities, government, universities, research institutes and the public. 

ARF is a Canadian non-profit organization creating new scientific infrastructure in the Canadian Arctic. It partners with governments, universities and research institutions to provide access to its Arctic program initiatives and is working to build relationships with Arctic Indigenous peoples to advance understanding of the region through traditional knowledge. ARF has collected a huge volume of “big data” from cutting-edge research vessels and mobile labs including hydrographic and bathymetric assessments, soil and salinity samples, changing ice conditions, animal stock assessments and data collected through the Naurvik plant production pod.  

This collaborative project will gather these disparate data and make them accessible in an Arctic Research Database, unifying research teams in Canada’s North and enabling minimally-invasive research practices. Through research and development across UM and RRC, the project team will centralize and catalogue these data from across the Arctic through leading-edge methods in data labelling and database design, making them publicly accessible through a universally readable, easily searchable database with a highly usable interface.  

“This research collaboration joins the unique strengths of UM and RRC, to tackle challenging questions related to climate change and its impacts on human, animal and environmental conditions in the Arctic,” says Dr. Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international) and Distinguished Professor at UM. “Making the research data accessible is a critical aspect of knowledge translation that enables creative approaches to solution-finding.”

“Projects like these are integral to giving our students the hands-on experience they need to problem-solve and come up with solutions to real-world issues,” says Dr. Christine Watson, Vice President Academic, RRC. “Of course, this year the challenge is even greater due to the pandemic. While students aren’t able to work together and brainstorm in person, we have absolute trust that these student interns will produce exceptional results.”

This project will provide students with work-integrated learning opportunities through support from Mitacs a federally and provincially funded not-for-profit research network that supports collaborative research and talent development.  College and UM graduate student interns will team up to design a back-end database, develop a User Experience (UX) central user interface and integrate the two for enhanced user experience, following UX integration best practices.  

“Mitacs is pleased to make and support the vital connections between the Arctic Research Foundation and top talent within Manitoba’s colleges and universities. Connecting this important organization with highly qualified research personnel, while providing public access to Arctic data is a win-win-win for Canada. We are grateful to the Government of Canada and the Government of Manitoba, through Research Manitoba, for providing support for Mitacs internship programs,” says John Hepburn, CEO and scientific director, Mitacs. 

The resulting Arctic Research Database will enable insight on everything from the mapping of shipping routes to the development of natural resource projects to the growth of food sustainability programs and improvement of local economies. The project is expected to have powerful and long-lasting impacts on the economic, research and innovation ecosystems in the Arctic.  

“Too much Arctic research is ‘siloed,’” explains ARF vice president Tom Henheffer. “It’s time to bring it all together so communities, governments, and research institutions can effectively share data and better coordinate work. We’re excited to create this database and expect it will be a huge step-forward in improving Arctic research, environmental stewardship, and economic development, and in creating a greater public understanding of the North.” 

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