Last September, Dr. Tim Webster and his colleagues at NSCC’s Applied Geomatics Research Group set out to map the mysterious ‘white ribbon’ area of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick’s coastal zone.
The team surveyed nine sites in total, using a recently acquired topo-bathymetric Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) system – the only one owned by an academic institution in Canada.
“The white ribbon is an area of the nearshore that has been traditionally difficult to map, so it shows up as white on most maps,” explains Dr. Webster, a research scientist with AGRG.
“This is because technology for mapping the land doesn’t work over water and boat-based technology for mapping the seafloor works best and is safest in the deep water. But topo-bathymetric lidar makes it possible to do that, giving us information about these sensitive ecosystems we’ve never had before.”
Dr. Webster and the team recently shared that information with industry, government and other stakeholders, data that could fundamentally change how we develop, use and protect these vulnerable coastal zones. Take the Tabusintac Bay of Northern New Brunswick, where the outer sand bar constantly shifts and the channel constantly changes, posing risks for fishermen exiting the harbour.
“With lidar technology,” says Dr. Webster, “we can now update navigation charts and keep fishermen safe by showing them the best channels to use.”
Meanwhile, the team mapped out the eelgrass in the entire bay with 80 per cent accuracy, supporting ongoing conservation efforts and local industry. “The Department of Fisheries and Oceans uses eelgrass as an indicator of ecosystem health. They now have a base to monitor whether it’s expanding or shrinking, and that can help indicate if and how there may be any impact from aquaculture in the area.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Maritimes Region has also engaged NSCC to use lidar for surveys of coastal zones with high oil tanker traffic to ensure Canada meets its obligations under the World Class Tanker Safety Program.
“Tim Webster and his AGRG research team are keen to test the limits of lidar sensor technology,” says Scott Coffen-Smout with the Oceans and Coastal Management Division. “We hope that their innovation serves us well in the oil spill response planning process.”
Dr. Webster and his colleagues will continue their mapping efforts this summer on a shellfish aquaculture project in the Northumberland Strait and are expecting to cover additional survey areas for spill response planning. The team also expects to expand its use of lidar for eelgrass mapping along the Atlantic coastline and evaluate the technology in the lower Bay of Fundy where the water is clearer.
“The maps we’re creating with this technology could help with rural economic development across Nova Scotia, especially for determining the best place for potential aquaculture sites that considers all aspects of the environment. That’s my goal, and I am working with industry and government partners to see about the possibility of surveying even more areas.”
He adds, “What’s truly amazing is that we’re seeing images of our coastline that no one has ever seen before.”