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Canadian High Arctic Research Station moves forward

Posted on behalf of Hannah Hoag.

A much-anticipated Canadian Arctic research station has taken a major step towards completion. But some researchers in the country are far from happy about CHARS — the Canadian High Arctic Research Station.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced yesterday that his government would allot Can$142.4 million (US$143.6 million) over the next six years for the facility’s construction, equipment and start-up costs. Another Can$46.2 million will cover the first six years of the station’s science and technology programme, the exact details of which are still undetermined.

The promise of a new Canadian Arctic research station dates back to 2007. In 2010 it was announced that the new station would be built in the hamlet of Cambridge Bay, located near the middle of the Northwest Passage (see ‘Canada picks site for Arctic research station’). With construction crews to break ground next year, the facility is scheduled to open in 2017.

But its geographical location restricts CHARS from picking up the research and monitoring of ozone and ozone-related chemicals, which was once done by the now defunded Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Station, located 1,300 kilometres further north, on Ellesmere Island. And it will it not calm all the researchers who staged a ‘Death of Evidence’ protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, this July to protest cuts to government science labs.

“Many of us are perplexed by the investment in CHARS at a time when funding for successful existing northern research stations is in decline or being cut off,” says Gwenn Flowers, a glaciologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. “Last year, Kluane Lake Research Station celebrated 50 years of science and exploration as well as the completion of a renovation funded by the federal government. Next year it will receive no federal funding to operate.”

John England, a geoscientist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who has also called for Canada to establish an integrated polar policy to help guide research and development in the north, says, “Who’s going to go up to CHARS eight years from now if you undermine the current population of Arctic researchers?”

Others highlight that an impressive amount of money has been dedicated to building a world-class research facility, which should serve as a hub for a network of Arctic research stations across Canada. And the launch of CHARS may give smaller Arctic research stations that otherwise face funding shortages a second chance.

CHARS may make recent cuts heal sooner, says David Hik, an ecologist at the University of Alberta. “I am hoping that CHARS helps to make things more than a little bit better, by restoring all or part of funding cuts to some other research stations.”


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