Foundation that discovered Franklin ship sets sights on exploring Canada’s Hudson Bay

"The Hudson Bay is like a black hole in terms of scientific knowledge."

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The Arctic Research Foundation’s newest vessel, the William Kennedy, leaves port in Prince Edward Island en route for Hudson Bay. The foundation says the converted offshore crab fishing vessel is the only ship dedicated to scientific research in the Hudson Bay. (The Arctic Research Foundation via Nunatsiaq News)

A new scientific research vessel will be prowling the waters of Canada’s Hudson Bay this summer.

It’s the William Kennedy, a converted offshore crab fishing vessel that’s been retrofitted to handle Arctic weather and ice conditions. The vessel is operated by the Arctic Research Foundation — the same outfit that discovered the HMS Terror — and the University of Manitoba.

“Despite being Canada’s largest ocean watershed, the Hudson Bay is like a black hole in terms of scientific knowledge with large gaps in oceanographic and near shore studies,” said Adrian Schimnowski, CEO and operations director at Arctic Research Foundation, in a news release.

The Arctic Research Foundation is co-founded by the Canadian philanthropist Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of Research in Motion. It works with partners to assist with Arctic research.

The foundation says the William Kennedy is the only vessel currently dedicated to scientific research in the Hudson Bay.

One research project to take place aboard the vessel this summer will centre on Southampton Island, in northwest Hudson Bay, with the aim of better understanding how local ecosystems are changing as the climate warms.

“The critical importance of marine ecosystems to local, territorial and federal governments as well as industry make it of the utmost importance to be able to predict vulnerabilities to climate-influenced pressures,” said C.J. Mundy, an associate professor for the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, and the principal investigator of the Southampton Island Marine Ecosystem Project.

The vessel will also host researchers with GENICE, a Genome Canada project in association with the University of Calgary, University of Manitoba, McGill University and the National Research Council Canada. They will be investigating whether oil-eating bacteria could be used to help clean up oil spills in icy waters.

The William Kennedy is leaving its port today in Summerside, P.E.I. en route to the Hudson Bay. The ship has a shallow draft of just 12 feet, allowing it to perform research in shallower waters than most vessels. The 66-foot vessel has an interior drylab and wetlab and can accommodate up to 14 people beyond the crew.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the university with which the Arctic Research Foundation is partnered in operating the William Kennedy. It is the University of Manitoba. This story has been updated to correct that name.