Arctic research cooling down

Scientific research in the Arctic involves more than just ice, but funding cuts and high prices for research missions have scientists feeling a chill.

“Ultimately, for monitoring, you need stable funding that is not going to dry up on the whim of some politician.”- Derek Mueller, assistant professor, Carleton University.

The history and closure of the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL)

WHAT PEARL DOES: Run by the Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change, an informal network of university and government researchers, PEARL has been gathering data on air quality, atmospheric chemistry, ozone and climate change in the Arctic since 2005. It is an ideal place for measuring what’s happening to the earth’s atmosphere since no nearby human activity can skew observations. It contributes data to many national and international programs and networks that monitor climate change. Last winter, it made key measurements used to detect and analyze the largest ozone hole ever discovered over the Arctic.


WHERE PEARL IS LOCATED: PEARL is located on Ellesmere Island, 15 kilometres away from Environment Canada’s weather station in Eureka, Nunavut. The lab is also Canada’s biggest and most northerly civilian research station in the Arctic – at only 1,100 kilometres south of the North Pole – making it an important centre for high-latitude, high-altitude research.


WHY PEARL IS CLOSING: In 1992, the Meteorological Service of Canada built PEARL as a federal facility specifically for the study of stratospheric ozone. Then in 2004, the federal government was ready to shut it down, saying it could no longer afford to keep it up and running. But the Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change stepped in to save the lab, gathering funds from a number of sources to buy new instruments and cover the annual costs of running it and its research.

But now money is running dry and the network hasn’t been able to secure the yearly $1.5-million funding required to run PEARL.  With its most recent budget, the federal government cut funding to the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, a granting agency that had covered three-quarters of the station’s costs. Recently, the Network of Centres of Excellence grant program also turned down PEARL’s $35-million, five-year proposal.


WHAT THE CLOSURE MEANS: Ending year-round operations means the station can no longer monitor and take measurements during the polar night — the prolonged darkness of the Arctic winter — and contribute the data it’s been collecting for international measurements of atmospheric composition. As a result, the end of PEARL will not only affect Canadian science programs, but global ones as well. The closure will also destroy plans for the installation of a polar telescope and magnetic observatory at the site. Researchers are also worried many young scientists will either stay in Canada and be unemployed, or head to the U.S. where President Barack Obama has committed more than $500 million to climate and atmospheric research.


WHAT’S NEW: The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences has seen an unprecedented outpouring of public support to save PEARL. Over 80 individuals have collectively donated $10,000 to save the research facility.

Dawn Conway, executive director of the foundation, says he’s never seen such an overwhelming level of engagement from individual citizens.

“Canadians are deeply concerned with the loss of this essential Arctic research station and are reaching into their own pockets to help out,” he says.

Professor James Drummond, principal investigator at PEARL, says he’s amazed and humbled by the number of ordinary Canadians who have contacted him to express support and donate money.

“It has given us fresh energy as we continue to look for a solution to the funding problem,” he says. “Canadians clearly view PEARL as a concrete example of our interests in the Arctic and are prepared to support it with both words and deeds.”

The history and closure of the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL)


WHAT’S NEXT: Unless researchers gather enough funding, PEARL will end its year-round operation on April 30. At that time, communications gear and sensitive monitoring equipment will be removed and the building will remain available only for intermittent, short-term, grant-funded projects. For now, the network says it’s trying to find enough money to run short-term research campaigns in the station for part of the year. In 2017, the federal government is expected to build a new research station in the Arctic in Cambridge Bay, about 1,300 kilometres south of PEARL. It is also plans to expand the Polar Continental Shelf facility at Resolute, Nunavut, to assist Arctic researchers.


 Photos Permission of The Canadian Museum of Nature and Derek Mueller

Produced by Kate Boone and Jordan Fallis

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