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Cuts at Environment Canada put treaties in jeopardy

Posted on behalf of Hannah Hoag.

A group of American scientists fear that recent job cuts at Environment Canada are curtailing research into the ozone layer and atmospheric pollution — and are also keeping Canada from meeting its international monitoring commitments.

The scientists, who work at US universities and NASA, published their commentary in the current issue of Eos. By losing these “gold standard” monitoring programmes, “the world stands to lose an enormous amount of data necessary for our understanding of the environment,” they said in a press release.  “It is unthinkable that data collection is beginning to shut down,” said co-author Anne Thompson, a meteorologist at the Pennsylvania State University in State College.

In August, Environment Canada gave notice to hundreds of its employees that they would be laid off or moved to other positions within the department. When the cuts went into effect, ozone soundings ceased at several Canadian stations as Environment Canada reduced its overall ozone science and monitoring programme. These balloon-borne soundings were part of an international effort to track chemical ozone loss as air masses traversed the Arctic. They were essential to quantifying the discovery of the Arctic ozone hole (Nature 478, 469–475).

By mid-October, the website for the Canadian Operational Aerosol Lidar Network (CORALNet) went dark, according to the commentary authors. They say that CORALNet’s instruments are no longer monitoring soot and other atmospheric particulates emitted by forest fires and the use of fossil fuels. The authors wonder whether Canada is maintaining its monitoring commitments to international agreements, including two that seek to protect the ozone layer, the US–Canada Air Quality Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Environment Canada has faced deep cuts to its budget in recent years, including US$222 million in 2011–12. The upcoming 2012–13 budget is expected to reveal Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s position on scientific research and environmental monitoring. The Conservative majority government — the first since 2003 — will be in the position to push through a budget without approval from the opposition. Although a date has yet to be set, some newspapers are speculating that the budget could be released in late March.

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