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Massey Medal

2007 Winner - Eddy Carmack

Climate oceanographer Eddy Carmack of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Sidney, B.C., was awarded the Massey Medal for his contributions to the field of geography. (Photo: Deddeda Stemler)

Beyond the sea
Eddy Carmack has a special affinity for American ecologist Edward Ricketts, who was fictionalized in John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. Studying marine life along the Pacific coast aboard small fishing vessels, Ricketts became known as the father of “fishboat science.”

Carmack, a climate oceanographer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Sidney, B.C., also subscribes to fishboat science, “which is synonymous,” he says, “with ‘on the cheap.’” In his spare time, he explores the Koeye River and estuary on British Columbia’s central coast from the deck of his converted 1947 troller. His goal, he says, is simply to document this unspoiled ecosystem “before it is too late.”

It’s a measure of his passion for lakes, rivers and oceans that Carmack devotes holidays to monitoring the Koeye. In his day job at the Institute of Ocean Sciences, he is an internationally respected expert on the Arctic Ocean. Over the past four decades, he has participated in more than 60 field studies in Western Canada, Siberia, Antarctica and the Arctic, including the first scientific crossing of the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole.

For his leading role in ocean science, Carmack has been awarded the 2007 Massey Medal for outstanding achievement in Canadian geography. Established by Governor General Vincent Massey in 1959, the award is administered by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

A creative thinker, Carmack has a knack for making science accessible. As a volunteer on Students on Ice expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica, he has introduced teenagers to the complexities of ocean currents by having them drop beer bottles into the water to see where they end up (see “Message in a bottle,” Canadian Geographic, July/Aug 2006). “He got the students switched on to ocean currents,” says Geoff Green, executive director of Students on Ice. “He was explaining climate change to students way before it became the big issue that it is today.”

For International Polar Year, Carmack is embarking on the most ambitious study yet of Canada’s oceans. Scientists aboard two icebreakers will document the oceans’ physical properties, such as currents, and life forms ranging from bacteria to whales. They will travel a 12,000-kilometre course, from Victoria through the Northwest Passage to Halifax. Their goal is to develop a large-scale picture of the ecosystems in the Arctic and subarctic seas. Geographic research usually implies things terrestrial, explains Carmack.

“What we’re exploring is a part of Canada that is very poorly explored. It’s almost like the last wilderness area of the world ocean.”

— Monique Roy-Sole

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