WINNIPEG -- First breaking ground in 2015, the Churchill Marine Observatory (CMO) is nearing completion.

The $44 million facility will be run by the University of Manitoba and is partnered with many other research and government organizations.

"We will be taking over control from the contractors this summer and early fall and will be able to do experiments starting this winter," said David Barber, the scientific director of the CMO

The research that will be done at the facility could affect future arctic shipping lanes and give a better understanding of how the Hudson's Bay affects Manitoba's weather.


The marine observatory is home to a state-of-the-art ocean sea ice mesocosm (OSIM) that is the first of its kind in the world.

"It's like swimming pools that you can fill up with seawater from the ocean and freshwater from the Churchill River, and you can do controlled experiments on contaminants that could be liberated into the Arctic Oceans in the future." said Barber.

The OSIM at the observatory is the only one in the world that can be filled with real seawater.

"This will be the only facility of its kind where seawater can be pumped in," said Barber. "That means you can start looking at the base of the food chain like the virus and bacteria and go all of the way up to the zooplankton and algae.

Scientists will use the OSIM to look at how marine pollutants that ships carry, like oil, affect the arctic environment.

"If we had an oil tanker in the North Atlantic and it spilled its oil, how would we detect it, how would we clean it up, what would be the impact on the marine systems," Barber said.


The Churchill Marine Observatory also features an environmental observing system, a string of high-tech moorings located on the ocean floor.

"They go from the Churchill Estuary out to the North Atlantic," said Barber. "This provides us with an observing system to understand the natural conditions of the ocean sea ice atmosphere."

Scientists can then bring the data back and use the OSIM to recreate and study the different kinds of sea ice conditions that occur naturally in that shipping lane.

The observatory also has a pier which will house its coastal research vessel, the William Kennedy.

The ship was acquired last year and allows researchers to study the coastal waters from Hudson's Bay all the way out to Baffin Island.

"The program is also designed around extreme weather because it changes the sea ice in Hudson's Bay, which affects the climate locally and regionally," added Barber. "The climate in southern Manitoba is heavily constrained by whether there is ice in the bay or not."

Churchill was chosen as the location for the observatory, not only because of the weather. The town is one of the only spots where you can dock a ship in the arctic.

The rail system lets researchers bring large equipment like boats and snowmobiles to the observatory.

Barber said around 50 scientists will visit the facility a year and that the observatory will continue to grow in the future.

"Future development will have to do to the internationalization of what we are doing here in Churchill and connecting it to other places in the circumpolar arctic."