Closure of polar lab a blow to Canada's scientific reputation
Shutting down the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab (PEARL) will make the world's climate models less precise
The announcement this week
that the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab (PEARL) in Canada's High Arctic will be closed has once again lowered this country's environmental reputation on the world scene. This is ironic because, also this week, Canada's highest scientific prize, The Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal, was awarded to a scientist
who studies climate change.
It's clear that our scientific community appreciates the importance of studying the Earth's changing climate, but the government does not.
PEARL is a unique monitoring station situated at Eureka, 82 degrees north latitude, about 1,100 km from the Pole.
It is one of only three stations in the world that keep track of activities in the atmosphere around the Pole; the other two are operated by Russia and Denmark. Just last year, the international network found a record loss of ozone
over the Arctic.
One of the scientists who relies on data from PEARL is Dr. Richard Peltier from the University of Toronto, winner of this year's Herzberg Award. As you will hear this week on Quirks & Quarks
, Dr. Peltier develops models of the Earth's systems to not only understand changes in the past, but to try to provide indicators of what's to come.
But any model is only as good as the real data that backs it up.
In other words, models have to be checked against reality to make sure they reflect the way nature works; otherwise, they are just elaborate guesswork. That validation has to come from instruments out in the field, such as PEARL, that track the atmosphere year-round.
When PEARL closes, one third of the data from the High Arctic will be gone, making the climate models less precise.
This is all coming at a time when changes in the Arctic are happening more quickly than anywhere else on the planet. And changes up North mean changes for the rest of the country as well.
The huge mass of cold air around the top of the planet affects the jet stream, which guides weather systems, which affect rainfall distribution, which affects growing seasons, crop productivity, droughts and floods — the list goes on because everything in the environment is connected to everything else.
Closing our scientific outposts is essentially blinding not only our own scientists, but others around the world, too, because climate science knows no boundaries.
The cost of running PEARL is about $1.5 million per year. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider the government has spent about $1.5 billion on submarines (external - login to view) that still don't work a decade after we bought them, it's not a lot of money. Especially when you consider the returns.
Canada has some of the top scientists in the world. They were part of the IPCC team that won the Nobel Prize for climate science in 2007. They are our eyes on the planet — eyes that need to be wide open in order to make important decisions about how we use energy, water and food in the future.
Turning a blind eye
to their view is dangerous denial.
It's akin to the captain of the Titanic, after the ship hit the iceberg, saying, “We're not looking at the hole in the hull; let's focus on what's for dinner.”
Bob McDonald: Closure of polar lab a blow to Canada's scientific reputation - Technology & Science - CBC News
Last edited by mentalfloss; Mar 1st, 2012 at 10:55 AM..