Neptune project gets $41.7M boost in government funds

Underwater research into deep-sea tsunamis and ocean life off Vancouver Island got a big funding boost Wednesday, in a move researchers say provides financial stability for at least another five years.

The provincial and federal governments announced $41.7 million for the University of Victoria’s not-for-profit Ocean Networks Canada Observatory.

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The observatory includes the underwater NEPTUNE and VENUS laboratories, which gather data from the ocean floor off Vancouver Island and send real-time information to scientists around the world.

Kate Moran, Ocean Networks president, called it a “major step forward” for the observatory’s various research projects.

“It’s a fabulous fund that allows us to move forward enabling the research we do,” she said.

“As you can well imagine, putting sensitive oceanographic instruments connected to a 10,000-volt, high-bandwidth telecommunications cable off shore, is kind of tricky. There's a lot of maintenance required just to operate the facility. So [the funding] is really keeping it running and providing the facility for provincial, national and international scientists to do their research.”

The money provides financial stability for the next five years, Moran said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Ottawa, where the funding was announced.

The ocean observatory system includes the 800-kilometre NEPTUNE and the 50-km VENUS networks. Both have ocean-floor instruments located along the lengths of their networks, which provide real-time data that researchers can use to study ocean and climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis, marine life and pollution.

UVic is also installing a small cabled observatory system in the Arctic to sea ice and the marine environment, using technology similar to NEPTUNE and VENUS.

The funding helps maintain the systems used for the research, Moran said.

“It’s basically allowing us to operate with what we have now,” she said. “It’s a pretty significant award that we can leverage to get other grants.”

The federal contribution, $32.8 million, comes from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Major Science Initiatives Fund. The B.C. government contributed $8.9 million.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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