Seaforce Geosurveys Inc.

Known worldwide for its high tidal range and strong currents, the Bay of Fundy on Canada’s east coast is a coveted resource for clean, renewable energy. The California-based Electric Power Research Institute selected the region as the best potential site in North America for tidal power generation, provided the energy it holds can be harnessed.

Seaforth Geosurveys Inc., based in Dartmouth, N.S., provides geophysical and engineering services for both private tidal turbine developers and for the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE); most recently, Seaforth’s work has supported the installation of pilot-project turbines in the complex, high-flow sites in Fundy’s Minas Passage. Here, peak surface tidal currents can exceed 10 knots per hour (about 18 km per hour) and the tides can rise 15 metres vertically.

To provide an invaluable learning experience for a recent graduate, and to expand their team of qualified field personnel, Seaforth Geosurveys hired Shannon McNeil as an intern. A graduate from the Nova Scotia Community College Oceans Technology Program, she also has a geography degree from St. John’s Memorial University. She joined Seaforth Geosurveys as a technical assistant through the Colleges and Institutes Canada’s internship program with funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program.

The work is not for the faint-at-heart. “The velocity and volume of water is extreme,” says Garry Casey, Seaforth Geosurvey’s general manager. If tidal power turbines prove durable enough to work in the Bay of Fundy, they will work anywhere in the world, he predicts.

McNeil monitored navigation systems in a two-week operation in which several vessels were precisely coordinated to remove a tidal turbine from the bay during unforgiving November weather. The daughter of a lobster fisherman, with many relatives in the fishing industry, she is comfortable at sea. Even so she says, “we had a lot of [poor] weather.”

Her work involves complex navigational and marine survey equipment, including sonar and optical imaging devices. McNeil is gaining numerous hands-on opportunities to learn new skills and technologies such as radio telemetry, says Casey, who later hired her on a permanent basis.

McNeil has worked on preliminary surveys of the bottom Lake Ontario for a wind-farm planned for Amherst Island near Kingston, Ont. And she will be involved in ocean-floor mapping and geotechnical analysis for a wind-farm off Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island south of Cape Cod.

Employees need to be ready to travel and be prepared to work long hours at sea for days on end, says Casey. Voyages, known as “cruises”, are often several weeks at sea with no time at port. This amount of time in close quarters can lead to tense situations, says Casey. “We need people who are willing to work hard and want to be part of the team,” he says.

Employees also needs to be versatile. “We want them to be champions of certain aspects of their jobs,” says Casey, “but self-motivated enough to learn other skills.”

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