Capturing changes in Arctic seaweed over time
Savoie fell in love with seaweed after taking a class on the marine plant during her undergraduate studies at the University of New Brunswick and went on to complete a PhD in seaweed taxonomy. “I just love the ocean,” she says. “I love scuba diving and I love studying something that’s relatively under appreciated or understudied.”
While pursuing her research in the Arctic, Savoie has been collaborating with a group from Laval University on a project called ArcticKelp, which is being funded by ArcticNet. While Savoie is interested in all seaweeds and their diversity, the Laval group is particularly interested in kelp, large brown algae that are important, productive and conspicuous parts of the marine ecosystem.
Without prior knowledge of where the seaweed is located, the researchers have been “exploring” by going out on the water, dropping GoPro cameras, then pulling them up to see what is below. If there are signs of seaweed, they will then dive down and collect samples.
With water temperatures ranging from zero to four degrees Celsius, divers wear dry suits to protect themselves against the cold. Because seaweed needs light, the dives are typically only to a depth of about 30 metres. Savoie will then press the seaweed samples to bring back to the museum in Ottawa for further study.
Working with ArcticKelp, Savoie has also been studying seaweed biomass by placing a quadrat (a metal square about 20 by 20 inches) on the seafloor. Everything in the square is then collected and weighed to allow researchers to track changes over the years. “It is important to know both the number of species and the biomass because these are things that can change with climate change,” says Savoie. “New species might come in, and some species might grow more or less. We are trying to find a way to capture that change.”