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Youth study floor of Great Slave Lake aboard research vessel

The research vessel rests at the government docks on Oct. 22. Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

Five youths hopped aboard the maiden voyage of a research vessel to study the deepest waters in North America last month.

Pulling ashore in Yellowknife's government docks on Oct. 22, the youth and crew completed a five day journey that saw them participate in the research and maintenance of the vessel. They were all high schooled aged youth from around Yellowknife and Lutsel Kʼe, each of whom took a direct role and an open mind to the project.

This research vessel turned some heads as it was moored at the government docks Oct. 22.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

“Youth bring this open mind and ask all these amazing questions. It makes the professional realize we need to keep that open mind when we do what we do,” said Adrian Schimnowski, CEO and operations director of the Arctic Research Foundation, which helped organize the project. “Youth inspire us to think differently and outside the normal realm of what we're used to.”

Tracy Williams, NWT lead of Nature United. Ali McConnell, project director of Northern Youth Leadership and
Adrian Schimnowski, CEO and operations director of the Arctic Research Foundation, aboard the vessel on its final day.
Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

The crew was conducting a hydro-graphic study, using sonar to survey the lake bed and note changes in the rocks and sediment at the bottom. Their probe revealed evidence of water seeping from the floor of the lake-bed, or possibly underground permafrost melting.

“Really, the lake is unexplored. (There's) very little charting,” Schimnowski said. The study analyzed the moonscape at the lake-bottom, which features a huge, gaping canyon that ranges from 20 metres to hundreds of metres deep in a short distance.

“The more we look into what's here, we can build ... youth programs, sustainable research programs, and work with the communities around the lake,” he said.

The youth were thrown into this hands-on research environment with the professionals managing the ship. They had an opportunity “to viscerally be a part of that,” according to Tracy Williams, who's the "NWT lead" for Nature United, which bills itself as the world's largest conservation organization.

While aboard, the young sailors woke up at 5:30 a.m., eating breakfast with the crew before the sun rose and discussing the plans for the day.

Seeing that process in action spread the excitement to the crew, who found the youth “incredibly respectful,” Williams said. It was essentially job-shadowing: Crew members would walk youth through depth and temperature measurements, allowing students first-hand science experience.

“It brings it more alive than just reading it in a textbook, or sitting in a classroom watching a film of someone else doing the work,” Williams said. “We all benefited from seeing that.”

Ali McConnell, project director of Northern Youth Leadership, said each of the youth found a unique aspect aboard the ship. The crew tailored their experiences to their interests. The captain explained every button on the bridge when one student asked; another student pushed themselves to work in the engineering room with the hum of the ship's diesel engines.

“They all definitely got on (and said), 'this is bigger than I thought. This is way more opportunities than I thought.'”

The voyage inspire some students to share their aspirations with the organizers, inspired to take up new ideas that previously seemed inaccessible.

As they walked off the gang plank, a few told her they were inspired to work on ships. One interested student was telling her mom about the bridge, she explained, when she learned that her family worked on boats for years, and “it was in her blood,” she said.