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Research

We conduct science on the coastal margin of the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Our long-term ecological research is driven by a profound sense of place, and integrates across disciplines.

The ultimate drivers are global in scale—the Atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean—that we track locally in our study area.

Our specific research axes then are set by the geography of the coastal margin. We study how the Coastal Oceans are intimately tied to the land through Nearshore Marine Ecosystems, and how the land is intimately tied to the ocean through Coastal Watersheds.

Atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean

We recognize that atmospheric and Pacific Ocean conditions from beyond our geographical scope influence the coastal margin. Our research stations monitor key indicators of our changing climate through meteorological stations, oceanographic moorings, and an expanding array of sensors across the landscape and seascape.

Research Axes

Coastal Oceans

The Hakai Institute’s two field stations have a front row seat to dynamic conditions in the coastal oceans. We fill geographical gaps where consistent, long-term data were previously unavailable by sampling year-round the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the coastal ocean.

Nearshore Marine Ecosystems

The nearshore comprises the dynamic coastal environment where the ocean meets the land. The British Columbia coast is rich with a mosaic of nearshore habitats from kelp forests to seagrass meadows to rocky shores. This axis includes our participation in the Smithsonian Institution’s Marine Global Ecological Observatory (MarineGEO).

Coastal Watersheds

The land intimately connects with the ocean through coastal watersheds. We analyze and model the flux of terrestrial materials from land to sea—the origins, pathways, processes, and food web consequences—in the context of long-term environmental change.

Crosscutting Themes

Research axes are not silos. Their intersection points reflect collaborative areas that cut across traditional academic boundaries. These “crosscutting themes” are unifying approaches and philosophies that are integrated across Hakai research initiatives.

Biogeochemistry and Coastal Carbon Dynamics

While charismatic species capture the imagination of the public, anonymous processes, like biogeochemistry, are often the true drivers of a functioning ecosystem. We have a particular interest in the dynamics of how carbon flows through coastal watersheds, as well as the emerging issue of ocean acidification.

Microbial Ecology and Genomics

What viruses, microbes, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and meiofauna lack in size, they often make up for in numbers. Collectively, these tiny denizens inhabit every almost everywhere on Earth, and affect all sorts of natural processes. We now have powerful genomic tools that allow us to study microbes in situ, where it was previously impossible to do so. We are unlocking the secrets of how these microbes affect coastal ecosystems.

Salmon

Salmon are one of the most important species with connections across the entire BC coast. Traces of salmon are found throughout coastal ecosystems, intrinsically linking the land and the oceans. Despite considerable interest, we still have a lot to learn about BC salmon—factors that determine juvenile survival during migration, susceptibility to disease, as well as how the six salmon species will respond to climate change stressors.

Deep Time

Everything we do at Hakai is framed with a historical perspective—especially the 15,000 years since the end of the last Ice Age. Coastal ecosystems are among the most productive on Earth, providing myriad benefits that people have relied upon economically, socially, and culturally for millennia. The oldest human footprints ever found in North America, over 13,000 years old, were discovered on the shores of Calvert Island. We therefore frame our research in the context of long-term change, taking advantage of the history etched in the landscapes we work on.

Geospatial/Ecosystem Mapping

Every ecosystem we study at the Hakai Institute entails inventory and mapping. While we do not neglect traditional mapping techniques, we take pride in our use of technology, which includes satellite imagery, LiDAR, orthophotography, multi-beam SONAR, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Sensor Networks

With our partner Hakai Energy Solutions, we design, build, and deploy telemetry systems and sensor networks to collect continuous data in real time. On land, we monitor weather, stream flow, water chemistry, and other variables in coastal watersheds. In the ocean, we have begun to deploy autonomous systems that monitor oceanographic variables using surface and subsurface moorings, cabled observatories, and ocean gliders.

Big Data and Modeling

Our research generates a massive volume of data spread across many disciplines. It is a non-trivial challenge to process data into information, to knowledge, and finally to wisdom about the ecosystems we study. Insights are limited by our capacity to integrate and digest information to develop effective models. These models allow us to extrapolate insights geographically to our wider coastline, and temporally to future climate scenarios.