Nova Scotia

Arctic research lab to be mothballed as federal grant expires, Dal physicist says

Dalhousie University physicist James Drummond says funding is a roadblock to research in the High Arctic, which is critical to understanding how climate change will play out around the globe.

Dalhousie University researcher laments lack of consistent funding from federal government

This isn't the first time the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory has been threatened with closure. (Paul Loewen)

The Nova Scotia-based physicist who runs a research station almost as far north in Canada as you can get says he is preparing to mothball the facility as the expiration date for a major source of federal funding draws near.

Dalhousie University's James Drummond is the principal investigator at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, approximately 1,100 kilometres from the North Pole.

The facility is one of only a handful of research labs in the High Arctic. "It is rather like being on another planet, without having to go through the space travel bit," Drummond said.

The laboratory, which has been operating continuously since 2005, cannot continue to function without a $1-million annual grant from the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program, Drummond said.

The CCAR program is a five-year initiative that was launched as part of the federal government's 2011 budget. The funding was not renewed in Budget 2017.

Atmospheric scientists at the PEARL facility study the ozone, pollution in the atmosphere and climate change. (Paul Loewen/CANDAC)


Of the seven projects that received CCAR money, six will stop being funded in March 2018 and funding for the seventh will expire in March 2019.

Drummond said he will "begin the process of mothballing the facility" in the next few months.

That means not renewing staff contracts and formulating a plan to preserve the lab "so that if at any point in the future we wanted to resume the research, we could do so," he said.

Critical research, scientist says

Atmospheric scientists at the PEARL facility study the ozone, pollution in the atmosphere and climate change as it relates to the Arctic, and beyond. "The Arctic is changing at a much faster rate than the rest of the planet," Drummond said, and that's having an impact on global weather patterns.

Investment in this kind of science is essential "if we want to be ahead of the curve in understanding climate change," he said.

We need to be able to anticipate what will happen, Drummond said, instead of just reacting to what has already happened.

The PEARL research station on Ellesmere Island has been operating continuously since 2005. (CANDAC/Paul Loewen)

Previous close calls

This isn't the first time the facility has been threatened with closure, Drummond said.

Five years ago they were "within 20 days" of implementing the shutdown plan when the federal government launched the CCAR program and saved the day. Now that program has run its course.

Drummond said he wants the federal government to renew the CCAR program in the short-term, and ultimately commit to providing climate initiatives like his with regular funding so that researchers can think long-term.

"In the Arctic you have to plan ahead. A long way ahead," he said.

For example, the earliest he could bring a new piece of equipment to the PEARL lab would be September 2018, "because there's no way of getting it there except by a boat, and there's only one boat a year, and the boat this year has left."

The PEARL facility is one of only a handful of research labs in the High Arctic. (Ashley Harrett/CANDAC)

No plans for renewal

Lucy Lai, public affairs officer for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada — the agency that administers the program — said she is unaware of any plans to renew the CCAR program.

"We continue to focus on our existing suite of programs," Lai said in an email to the CBC, "many of which support climate science research."

With files from the CBC's Information Morning