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Cold cash for cold science

Permafrost_pattern.jpgPosted on behalf of Hannah Hoag

The recent funding wrap-up from the international polar year (IPY) has left many Canadian researchers scratching their heads, trying to find a way to continue their arctic science projects. A new grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada may help close that research-funding gap.

In its announcement yesterday, NSERC opened a competition to fund large-scale research with a focus—for this round of funding—on northern earth systems. The Discovery Frontiers initiative will heft Can$4 million over five years on the successful research team to study the physical, chemical, biological and social factors that affect the North and its inhabitants—and to come up with solutions. Fresh water, sea level, permafrost, weather patterns, biodiversity or climate change adaptation could be part of the successful pitch. The northern community will help define the projects and their goals.


The funding comes to Canadian researchers at a time when many other Arctic specific projects are ending, including the Northern Research Chairs (2012) and the Northern Research Internships Program for undergraduate and graduates (March 2011).

Only large-scale projects with multidisciplinary teams will be considered, and the grant will benefit researchers beyond Canada’s borders, as the research team must include international experts and collaboration.

But the programme has a distinct approach from past funding programmes, says David Hik, an ecologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and the president of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). “It is shifting resources from individual support to networks. Maybe the day and age of research done by individual PIs and grad students is passing into the sunset, but there still needs to be room for that kind of stuff too,” he says.

In addition, says Hik, it may take some digging to find out what other international funding is available. The IASC has been encouraging funding agencies in different countries to put their resources into a common call and do a common assessment of the proposals, such as the EUROPOLAR ERA-NET Consortium for projects to be taken on within the PolarCLIMATE programme, he says.

In Canada, the competition will be fierce—and fast. Only one $4 million grant will be awarded, and letters of intent must be submitted by 10 December, 2010.

Image: Mila Zinkova

Correction: The deadline for letters of intent for the NSERC grant is not 2 December as stated in an earlier version of this post but 10 December.

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