The University of Manitoba's multi-year, multi-million dollar climate change study has been put on ice for a year -- because of climate change itself.
David Barber, the university's renowned Arctic researcher, and chief scientist of the BaySys project, said 40 scientists on the Canadian icebreaker CCGS Amundsen made the decision to postpone the $17 million project until next year after two weeks onboard because they realized the ship was needed elsewhere due to the continued extreme ice conditions in southern waters around Newfoundland and Labrador.
The icebreaker, formerly known as the Sir John Franklin, is a scientific research ship, but it can be redirected by the Canadian Coast Guard if its icebreaking capabilities are needed.
"It's the second most powerful icebreaker in the country and we had trouble getting through the sea ice," Barber, the Canada Research Chair in Arctic Systems Science at the university, said on Monday.
"There's a lot of people who rely on it. They were helping fishing boats, supply ships bringing fuel oil to communities, oil tankers. We ended up doing a lot of this during the two and a half weeks in total we were there.
"I realized it would be dangerous for us to leave the area because it would put people at risk so we cancelled the study... this large scale climate change study was cancelled because of climate change."
Just last week, while Barber and the scientists were still on the Amundsen, the ice breaker was tasked with rescuing fishers on four fishing vessels from La Scie Harbour that were stuck in sea ice off Newfoundland's Baie Verte Peninsula.
But, within sight of the boats, the Amundsen was called off from helping after it was discovered the ice was two metres thick - too strong for it to get through.
Some of the fishers were finally rescued by helicopter - after one of the vessels sunk - while the rest made it back to port on their own.
Barber said the scientists had already left on the Amundsen almost a week earlier than planned when the Coast Guard warned them the sea ice was moving and could cause them problems getting to Hudson Bay where the research study was to take place if they didn't leave earlier.
But Barber said once out on the water the scientists realized this wasn't the usual sea ice, which would be relatively easy for the icebreaker to plow through, but thicker ice from further north which had broken off because of climate change.
Barber said it would also have been difficult and potentially dangerous for the scientists to try to do five weeks of scientific work in the three-week window left to them.
"For me it was easy to see the ice conditions weren't just difficult, these were unprecedented ice conditions," he said.
The research project is looking at what effects having more fresh water from rivers flowing into Hudson Bay due to climate change is having on the salt water marine environment.
But just because the main scientific project was postponed, it doesn't mean the trip was wasted.
"We had our scientific equipment so we did a detailed scientific analysis of the ice conditions," Barber said.
"This will be very useful scientifically, but it is just a small piece of it. It's a consolation prize for us."