High Arctic research station saved by new funding

Canada's northernmost research lab won't have to shut down after all and will be able to resume year-round operations, with the help of a new grant from the federal government.

Eureka's PEARL gets $5M over 5 years

The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory is located at Eureka, Nunavut, on Ellesmere Island, at a latitude of 80 degrees north. (CANDAC)

Canada's northernmost research lab won't have to shut down after all and will be able to resume year-round operations, with the help of a new grant from the federal government.

The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut, will receive $5 million over five years, Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear announced Friday.

"That's going to enable us to keep the station running in a good campaign mode for the whole period," said Jim Drummond, principal investigator for PEARL, in an interview on CBC Radio's As It Happens Friday.

The High Arctic research station, located at a latitude of 80 degrees north, was among seven projects that will receive as much as $5 million each and a total of $32 million under the new Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program.

"The Canadian taxpayers have put a lot of money into that facility and without this funding it would be sitting empty," said Western University geography professor Gordon McBean. "They’ve built up a strong research program so far and they should continue. So I’m quite pleased."

PEARL, which has been tracking ozone depletion, air quality and climate change in the High Arctic since 2005, and contributes data to several international environmental monitoring projects, is run by an informal network of university researchers called the Canadian Network for Detection of Atmospheric Change.

The network announced early in 2012 that the station would be forced to cease year-round operations at the end of April that year after being unable to secure the $1.5-million annual funding it needed to stay open all year.

The station had been funded primarily by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, a granting agent funded by the federal government from 2000 to 2010. In the 2011 budget, no money was allocated to CFCAS. Instead, $35 million over five years was budgeted for the CCAR program, but it had not yet started accepting applications for funding. The network had applied for other grants, but had been turned down for all of them.

Drummond said PEARL did manage to get some minimal funding to keep the station running part-time over the past year.

The recent partial shutdown means there are some gaps in the data, he told As It Happens host Carol Off, "but we think they are manageable."

The research network has also fallen behind on the maintenance of the station and its equipment, Drummond added, but is trying to catch up before the fall. That way, the station will be able to take valuable measurements during the upcoming polar night — months of almost total darkness when very few scientific measurements are made in other parts of the Arctic.

Key international role

The possible closure of PEARL caused alarm within the scientific community because it is one of the northernmost research stations in the world and one of very few that contribute Arctic data to networks of research stations that collect similar data around the world.

Drummond said that the Arctic environment is changing rapidly compared to other parts of the world and not having the data from PEARL "would mean we'd have some difficulty in trying to understand not just the Arctic, but also the rest of the planet."

The federal government is building a new High Arctic research station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, but it will not be operational until 2017 and is located 1,300 kilometres south of Pearl – a difference in latitude that Drummond likened to that between Toronto and Atlanta, Ga.

The other projects receiving new funding from CCAR include the:

  • Network on Climate and Aerosols: Addressing Key Uncertainties in Remote Canadian Environments.
  • Canadian Arctic GEOTRACES Program: Biogeochemical and Tracer Study of a Rapidly Changing Arctic Ocean.
  • Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution Network.
  • Ventilation, Interactions and Transports Across the Labrador Sea.
  • Canadian Network for Regional Climate and Weather Processes.
  • Changing Cold Regions Network.