Member Profile: Robert Kung – Geographic Information Systems Specialist for Natural Resources Canada

Many careers at Natural Resources Canada are not well understood in terms of their contribution to the community. Take Robert Kung, a member of UCTE Local 20088, who has been a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist for Natural Resources Canada for 28 years.

Robert is of a four-generation seafaring family and does exciting work with unusual variety. His grandfather, Peter, immigrated to Canada from Imperial China in 1901, and worked as a cook on the coastal steamers of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the predecessor of BC Ferries in the early 20th century. His father, John, followed in his footsteps and was also a cook for the same company for fifty years. Robert is now a marine technologist with NRCan who assists with marine research using Canadian Coast Guard vessels. His son, Alex, worked as a deckhand for the Coast Guard for three years, and now works for BC Ferries. “The sea runs in our blood.”

Based in Sidney, BC, Robert works in a subdivision of Natural Resources Canada, out of the Pacific Geoscience Centre wing at the Institute of Ocean Sciences. His main focus is the processing, storage and dissemination of marine data.

“I am the custodian and expert in enterprise GIS database administration, providing data access to the staff of Natural Resources Canada’s Lands and Minerals Sector for Geographic Information System (GIS) processing and workflows. I maintain the GIS infrastructure in our Sidney office. I am the one who tracks and delivers data to other government agencies and external clients,” he says.

His specialty is in the areas of marine data acquisition and processing, including multibeam echo sounder bathymetry, which measures seafloor depth, multibeam backscatter intensity, which measures seafloor texture, and seismic profiling of areas below the seabed, which identifies geologic structures beneath the seafloor. Part of his job involves going to sea for several weeks a year on the Canadian Coast Guard vessels CCGS Vector and CCGS Tully to participate in marine scientific expeditions. He collects data to further scientific research, provides navigational information to the bridge, so the ship knows where to go, and operates seismic profiling sonars such as the Knudsen CHIRP 3.5 kHz which gathers the profiles underneath the seafloor.

Over his career of twenty-eight years, Robert has been involved in a wide range of marine research projects. Many of these projects have involved seabed hazard mapping, geologic seafloor mapping and bathymetric depth mapping based on high resolution multibeam echo sounder (sonar) data.

“Our marine group at NRCan on the west coast has strong links for scientific research and data-sharing  with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Hydrographic Service,” he adds.

Robert spends most of his time in front of computers processing data, responding to data delivery requests and maintaining the local NRCan marine database. However, when he is at sea, he operates underwater sonars, runs the onboard GIS and produces target-specific maps. He records navigational locations for seabed sampling events, such as core samples (tubes) and grab samples (scoops), and provides navigational routes for the ship’s bridge to follow.

Robert has been supporting marine science in our Sidney office since he started his career in 1994 and has participated in public outreach programs like the 2010 Salish Sea Geotour, which brought knowledge of local marine research to communities around the Salish Sea. With the reduction in staff in recent years, it is sometimes difficult for him to cover all tasks both in the office and on board the ships. Several people have retired recently, as will Robert in less than two years. Unfortunately, no one is available at this time to replace him. The valuable work he does leads to advances in the study of Canada’s oceans; unfortunately, the current labour shortage in Canada, as in many other environments, may well slow the pace and progress of discovery in this country.

In 2016, Robert was part of a joint expedition with the US Geologic Survey to study and map the Fairweather-Queen Charlotte Fault Zone, which runs from the Fairweather mountain range in Alaska south to northern Vancouver Island, where it intersects the Cascadia Fault Zone. “We found several gas seeps and underwater mud volcanoes on this expedition,” he said.

Brother Kung recently published a regional data compilation of bathymetry and topography which combines seamlessly the ocean-to-land transition and encompasses the entire west coast of Canada.

“This work is the result of a career spent compiling data and hundreds of multibeam sonar surveys provided by CHS and other agencies.”

This publication is publicly available on the federal geospatial portal:

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Robert has always been a fan of geography, science, maps, ships and the sea. This passion has allowed him to contribute to advances in the field. “Working with first-class and in some cases world-renowned scientists is an honour. I am considered an expert in my own field,” he says. UCTE is honoured to have an expert of Robert Kung’s calibre.


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