(Margaret Munro/Winnipeg Free Press, 24 March 2012) -- Atmospheric scientist Pierre Fogal headed north in February to help check on Earth's protective ozone layer high in the Arctic stratosphere. But he spent much of his time on his knees dealing with burst water pipes and frozen sewer lines at Canada's beleaguered Arctic research station. Then this week, the electrical system malfunctioned, says Fogal, site manager for PEARL, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island. The station, now limping along at half power and a chilly 10 C inside, is one of the world's premier observatories for tracking the health of the Arctic atmosphere. The station houses millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment used to monitor the ozone layer, greenhouse gases and pollution swirling around the polar vortex.
But it has been a bad year. Unusually frigid weather has taken a big toll on the station's plumbing and power system, and the chilly financial wind blowing out of Ottawa has left PEARL in dire financial straits. Federal grants that have kept the station running continuously since 2005 have run out, forcing the science team that runs PEARL to shut it down, at least temporarily. With no money for salaries, the station's three operators were let go in December. And on April 5, the two researchers now at the station collecting one last batch of atmospheric data will turn off the lights. The public -- after learning of PEARL'S financial woes last month -- has donated $12,000 to help keep the station going. The federal government has not, however, opened its chequebook, to the dismay of leading scientists.
"I think it is absolutely outrageous both on environmental and financial grounds," Richard Peltier, of the University of Toronto, says of the federal government's inability to come up with the $1.5 million a year to keep PEARL operating year round. "For goodness sake, they put upwards of $10 million of instrumentation into the laboratory up there," says Peltier, an atmospheric physicist, who in February was awarded the Herzberg Gold Medal, Canada's top science prize. "To shut it down after not many years of operation makes no sense at all," says Peltier. In what Peltier describes as a "catastrophe for the country," the government has refused to provide new funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, one of the main funders of PEARL and many other university-based programs. CFCAS has awarded $119 million for research on climate, atmospheric and oceanographic sciences to university researchers across Canada since 2000. ...
Peltier and his colleagues say the funding drought has not only stalled research and jeopardized the Arctic lab, but it is prompting highly trained and valuable scientists and technical staff to leave Canada. "We're bleeding people," says Peltier. The most notable is Ted Shepherd, a celebrated atmospheric researcher at the University of Toronto, who has taken a new job at Britain's University of Reading. ... "In Canada, I think a lot of these cuts are for political reasons," says Shepherd. "It's not really budgetary at the end of the day, it's a choice." "It's a huge loss for Canada," atmospheric physicist Kimberly Strong, at the University of Toronto, says of Shepherd's departure.
Posted by Amanda Graham – 24 March 2012; 6:37:35 PM – Permalink
Tagged: News, Research infrastructure