Arctic research lab forced to close

Arctic research lab forced to close
PEARL has been collecting data on ozone, climate and atmospheric change since 2005.Photo: Dr. James Drummond.

Canada’s northernmost research facility, which detected the largest-ever ozone layer hole last winter, is shutting down due to lack of funding.

The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) will cease conducting full-time, year-round operations as of April 30. Based in Eureka, Nunavut on Ellesmere Island in Canada’s High Arctic 1,100 km from the North Pole, PEARL had been doing year-round measuring of Arctic atmospheric conditions, even during the polar winter, since 2005. Data collected from PEARL provides information on air quality, climate change and changes in the ozone layer.

But CANDAC, the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change that operates the station, was unable to acquire the $1.5 million required to continue the program, largely due to the federal government’s decision to discontinue funding to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, which paid for 75 per cent of the station’s costs, along with the International Polar Year program’s coming to an end this year.

“CANDAC deeply regrets this situation, but in the absence of funding or even funding opportunities, these draconian steps are forced upon us,” the organization of researchers said in a statement.

The network said it would pursue funding for short-term research campaigns, but will be unable to operate the facility on a continuous basis, particularly during weeks of prolonged darkness, unless new funding opportunities present themselves.

“The PEARL observatory is one of only a very few located in the High Arctic. The loss of this station means that we will have a ‘black hole’ over Northern Canada where the measurements should be,” said PEARL principal investigator Dr. James Drummond.

“Canada makes sovereignty claims over this region of the Arctic and should be in the forefront of Arctic research. If it is a case of ‘use it or lose it,’ then we are definitely losing it. The rest of the world is watching how much Canada really cares about the Arctic. The answer is, not much.”

A new Canadian High Arctic Research Station is set to be constructed in Cambridge Bay – 1,300 km south of PEARL – and is scheduled to be operational by 2017. But many scientists say that will be too low, too late.

“There are only three nations who possess land in the High Arctic and the Arctic Ocean: Russia has no presence on its islands; Canada will then have no presence; leaving Norway, alone,” said Professor Alan Manson with atmospheric studies at the University of Saskatchewan. “The government’s proposed Arctic Station is barely on the southern edge of the Arctic. Eureka-Ellesmere at 80N is the High Arctic for a third of the Planet Earth’s northern biosphere.”

CANDAC said most researchers working for PEARL will probably have left the country or changed fields by 2017.

PEARL was the only Canadian station in a number of international networks investigating carbon, aerosols, trace pollutants and the cycle of atmospheric water.

University of Toronto researcher Dr. Kimberley Strong, a scientist with PEARL, said those international collaborations will cease to exist, and discoveries like the one made last year regarding record low ozone depletion in the Arctic will be unlikely.

“That discovery was made against the backdrop of 15 years of measurements; such long-time series are essential both for deriving trends and identifying outliers,” she said. “The closure of PEARL will end this measurement capability at a time when we need to know how effective the Montreal Protocol and its amendments will be at ensuring ozone recovery, and when the links between climate change and ozone recovery remain uncertain.”

Four million square kilometres of Canada’s land mass are located in the High Arctic, making Canada unique globally as the nation with the largest fraction of High Arctic land.

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