Last-minute cash infusion to keep climate lab going in Canadian Arctic

The Ridge Lab of PEARL, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL). Located on Ellesmere Island at Eureka, Nunavut (80N, 86W), PEARL is managed by the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change (CANDAC). (Mareile Wolff/CANDAC)
A group Canadian scientists is breathing a sigh of relief after the federal government announced a last-minute infusion of badly needed cash to keep one of the world’s northernmost climate research stations in the High Arctic going for another 18 months.

The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut, about 1,110 kilometres south of the North Pole, was about to run out of funding when the federal government announced this week that it has found $1.6 million to keep the lab going.

The lab’s research focuses on three main areas: ozone depletion, air quality and climate change.

Rebecca Batchelor, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto, checks the alignment of the suntracker on the roof of the Ridge Lab of PEARL, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory. This suntracker follows the sun to direct light into the Fourier transform spectrometer (FTS) in the lab below, where absorption features in the solar spectrum are used to study the quantity and location of a range of trace gases in the atmosphere. (Ashley Harrett/CANDAC)

The funding will allow Canadian university scientists doing research at PEARL to carry out uninterrupted research operations and data collection until fall 2019, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, and the Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, said in a joint statement.

“Driven by our world-class researchers, Canada is a leader in atmospheric and climate science in the Arctic. By investing in the PEARL research network, we’ll ensure that the research done in Canada’s high Arctic continues to deepen our knowledge of the challenges before us.”

Speaking on the phone from Halifax, James Drummond, professor of atmospheric physics at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, said the announcement was “good news.”

For the last 4.5 years, the operation of the lab has been paid for under a funding program that was started by the previous Conservative government, called the Canadian Climate and Atmospheric Research Program (CCAR), Drummond said.

“We’re hoping that in 18 months the government will announce a new competition like the Canadian Climate and Atmospheric Research because PEARL is not the only project that is caught up in this ending of funding with no prospects for renewal – there are six other projects with the total between the seven projects of $7 million a year, and that’s all ending in one go in early 2018,” Drummond said. “It’s going to be a big downturn in environmental research area.”

Instruments travel to PEARL for satellite validation campaigns such as that held in support of Canada’s Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment (ACE) every polar sunrise from 2004 to this one in 2008, and beyond. Here the ground-based version of the ACE MAESTRO instrument is installed on a sun tracker under the supervision of Environment Canada’s Tom McElroy, MAESTRO PI with the able assistance of Clive Midwinter and Mareile Wolff, both from the University of Toronto. (Pierre Fogal/CANDAC)

Now that the funding for PEARL is secured, it’s important to make sure that the six other projects funded under CCAR also get their fair share of federal science dollars, Drummond said.

“PEARL is very easy to understand – the building and High Arctic research and so on – but the other areas of Arctic research and weather research, which are being undertaken under CCAR program, which are ultimately equally important to Canada and should be at least competed for a new round of funding,” Drummond said.

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Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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