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Date: October 27, 2009

Ocean Observatory Data Heads For Saskatchewan

The Pacific Ocean is about to flow into the Canadian Prairies.

No, it’s not a new global warming scenario. It’s a newly inked agreement that will see a duplicate set of all the scientific data being collected by the world-leading VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada ocean observatories sent to an advanced data storage system at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).

Led by the University of Victoria (UVic), VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada are transforming the way we study the oceans. Using innovative engineering, data communication and sensor technologies, they’re gathering continuous real-time data and images from the ocean depths and relaying them to a data management and archive system at UVic.

Every year for the next 25 years, the two observatories will amass more than 70 terabytes of scientific data—the equivalent of almost six million fat phonebooks—on biological, physical, chemical and geological processes in the Pacific Ocean.

This vast data library is too valuable and irreplaceable a resource to be stored in only one place, says Benoît Pirenne, associate director for information technology with NEPTUNE Canada. Under the new agreement, data from the two observatories will be continuously copied and stored at both sites—in Victoria and Saskatoon.

“This arrangement ensures we have a backup copy far from the earthquake-prone West Coast, and gives researchers and the public an alternate way to access the data,” he says. “This collaboration clearly demonstrates the clever use of national, regional and inter-institutional resources to achieve multiple research objectives.”

The data storage system at the U of S is a $3.2 million investment involving the university, the province of Saskatchewan, IBM and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. It is the newest addition to an inter-institutional pool of storage and computing facilities managed by WestGrid, an organization that provides high-performance computing (HPC) infrastructure to researchers across Canada as part of the national HPC platform, Compute Canada. U of S and UVic are both members of WestGrid.

“VENUS and NEPTUNE Canada’s large-scale data management needs are a prime example of the demand that exists in Canada’s research community for reliable and robust storage facilities. WestGrid is pleased to fulfill such a need and enable this cross-provincial collaboration between multiple research organizations and universities,” says Jill Kowalchuk, executive director of WestGrid.

“The University of Saskatchewan is a proud participant in the national grid, supporting the research of colleagues across the country,” says Rick Bunt, chief information officer at U of S. “That Saskatchewan is able to participate in ocean research despite being 1,600 km away from the ocean is a dramatic demonstration of technology’s ability to defeat distance.”

The ocean observatory data will be transmitted from Victoria to Saskatoon—at a rate as fast as one gigabit per second—on a dedicated network link provided by CANARIE, Canada’s advanced research and innovation network.

“Researchers need to know that once their data is collected, it’s stored in a safe and reliable way for years to come. CANARIE is proud to provide the advanced network that makes securing and preserving the quality of Canadian research possible across the country,” says Éric Bernier, CANARIE’s chief technology officer.

BCNET and SRnet, which provide high-performance networks to research and education institutions across BC and Saskatchewan, respectively, are contributing local network support.

The VENUS ocean observatory, completed in 2008, probes two distinct environments in the coastal seas of southern British Columbia. Its instruments and sensors support research on ocean warming, dead zones, animal behaviour, fish abundance, acoustic pollution, delta slope failures and forensics. For more information visit www.venus.uvic.ca.

NEPTUNE Canada is the world’s first regional cabled ocean observatory. Situated on the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate off British Columbia, it is a natural laboratory for studies on ocean change, plate tectonics, geochemistry of the ocean crust, deep sea ecosystems, and ocean engineering. Installation took place this summer; the first public data flow is expected later this fall. For more information visit www.neptunecanada.ca.

Media contacts:

Benoît Pirenne (NEPTUNE Canada) at 250-472-5353 or 250-589-6117 (cell) or bpirenne@uvic.ca
Valerie Shore (UVic Communications) at 250-721-7641 or vshore@uvic.ca
Jana Makar (WestGrid) at 403-210-5489 or jana.makar@cybera.ca
Rick Bunt (U of S) at 306-966-8408 or rick.bunt@usask.ca
Cheryl Rosebush, (CANARIE) at 613-943-5374 or 613-697-4605 (cell)

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

(image: fern)