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Canadian Arctic research station to close part-time – Updated

Posted on behalf of Hannah Hoag.

Photo Credit: CANDAC/James Drummond

Funding troubles have forced Canada’s northernmost non-military research station to cease full-time operations.

The Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) located on Ellesmere Island near Eureka, Nunavut, will cut back its programmes at the end of April and will not operate during the polar winter. Instruments installed at the laboratory have been measuring levels of ozone and other chemicals that influence ozone levels for more than 15 years, and they helped to identify the ozone hole over the Arctic in spring 2011. Researchers recently used data sets of measurements made at PEARL to better understand the reason for the large-scale ozone depletion (paper in press).

The facility allows researchers to gather atmospheric information about air quality, ozone, and climate change, in a remote, uninhabited location in the High Arctic. The measurements have been used to detect changes in carbon emissions in the Arctic and to validate satellite measurements.

Only a handful of High Arctic environmental research laboratories exist worldwide. In a statement PEARL’s principle investigator, James Drummond, an atmospheric scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said that closing PEARL will create a “’black hole’ over Northern Canada where measurements should be.”

Environment Canada, the country’s environmental agency, operates a meteorological station in Eureka, roughly 15 kilometres from PEARL. Late last year, Nature reported on the decision by Environment Canada to reduce the size of its environmental-monitoring programme.

Although both PEARL and the meteorological station measure ozone, PEARL does it on a continuous basis and simultaneously collects information about other ozone-related chemicals, including chlorine dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. “We have some chance of understanding why it is changing, not just that it is changing,” says Drummond.

The university and government researchers who operate the facility were unable to secure the CAD$1.5 million (US$1.5 million) it needed to run the station for the full year. The annual budget for the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change had previously been cobbled together from grants paid out by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the International Polar Year and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. (The last of these provided PEARL with more than CAD$5.8 million over five years, but its funding has dried up.)

“Many of the programmes at NSERC are so targeted that if you don’t fit into the slot, you can’t get funding, and their Arctic programme is very small,” says Drummond.

At the end of April, the group will begin to remove the smaller, more expensive pieces of equipment and leave in place the pieces that will be too expensive to move. “We’ll deactivate the communications equipment and cut power to the two satellite laboratories,” says Drummond. In the past, PEARL has provided communications and technical support to other research programmes operating in the area, including those studying space medicine and planetary analogues.

In 2007, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to build a new Canadian High Arctic Research Station. The new station is supposed to open its doors in 2017 in the community of Cambridge Bay, 1,300 kilometres south of Eureka, but according to some reports, it is already behind schedule. Most Arctic researchers are pleased with plans to go ahead with the new station, but they say it cannot replace PEARL.

Updated at 18:02 GMT


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