U.S. atmospheric scientists raise alarm over Environment Canada cuts
"It is unthinkable"
U.S. scientists are raising the alarm about Environment Canada saying cuts in the department could go far beyond ozone monitoring.
Programs tracking pollution wafting into Canada from Asia, Europe and the U.S. are also being hit, they say.
And it’s an “open question” if Canada will be able to fulfil its obligations under several international agreements if more cuts go ahead, five leading atmospheric scientists write in the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, which has 61,000 members in 148 countries.
The scientists say ozone measurements have been cut back at several Canadian stations since August. And Canada’s CORALNet program, part of an international effort tracking air pollution from Asia and Europe, has vanished.
“Canada is a bellwether for environmental change, not only for Arctic ozone depletion but for pollutants that stream to North America from other continents,’’ says co-author Anne Thompson, a meteorologist at Penn State and president of AGU’s atmospheric sciences section.
“It is unthinkable that data collection is beginning to shut down in this vast country, in some cases at stations that started decades ago,’’ Thompson said in a release issued with the newsletter.
Environment Minister Peter Kent has been on the hot seat for months over the fate of his department’s ozone monitoring program, but the department has yet to clarify how deep the staff and program cuts will be.
The department was asked Monday to comment on the report in the current AGU newsletter. It had no response.
The scientists say it is “ironic that the threatened cuts to the Canadian ozone program should arise now, because Canadian observations were essential to the quantification of last year’s Arctic ozone hole.” The hole, which formed last March, was the first time ozone depletion in the Arctic was comparable to the holes commonly seen over Antarctica.
The scientists also note that Environment Canada has long tracked “pollution from growing Asian sources” and crossing back and forth between Canada and the United States.
As part of an international program it has run the Canadian Operational Aerosol Lidar Network (CORALNet), which the scientists describe as an “early warning system” of long-range transport of atmospheric pollution into Canada.
In October 2011, and “because of the Environment Canada budget cuts,” the CORALNet website was “discontinued.”
“Now it is gone, and the lidar data are no longer being taken,” the scientists say.
They also suggest programs to monitor toxic chemicals as part of the Great Lakes Water Quality agreement could be threatened by the budget cuts. And they say “the international community may no longer be able to rely on the exceptional efforts and past leadership role provided by Canada for Arctic research.”
Co-author Jennifer Logan, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University, says the loss won’t be just international.
“Canada stands to lose an entire community of highly respected scientists who are experts on ozone and climate if further proposed budget cuts go through,” she says.