When federal cuts kill thousands of living things; Across Canada, scientists are aghast at cuts

Ottawa Citizen Mon May 14 2012

By Margaret Munro 

Federal cuts are a life-and-death issue for Lynne Sigler.

As curator of one of Canada’s largest collections of fungi, Sigler has 11,500 strains of living organisms under her care, from the fungi killing North American bats with white nose syndrome to soil microbes that help rare orchids thrive.

The microfungus collection and herbarium at the University of Alberta has been nurturing fungi for more than 50 years. And since 1990 it has been considered a “unique” national resource worthy of federal money.

No more. Funding for the collection, and dozens of other “major” and “unique” science facilities and resources across Canada, has been hit by federal cuts in what is being described as a “disaster” for Canadian science.

“It’s very dismaying,” Sigler says of a moratorium the federal government has slapped on the program that pays for the technician and supplies that help keep the fungus collection alive. Continue reading

Scientists urge Harper to rescind cuts to basic research

Vancouver Sun Jun 6 2012

By Margaret Munro  Postmedia News

Opposition to federal science cuts is getting louder, with top researchers and academics urging the Harper government to rescind curbs on basic research and its plan to close a unique experimental lakes facility.

An open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the environment and fisheries ministers was released Tues-day, denouncing the decision to stop funding the Experimental Lakes Area, a celebrated federal research facility in northwestern Ontario which was instrumental in banning phosphorus in deter-gents and stopping acid rain.

Meanwhile, Steve Perry, the dean of science at the University of Ottawa, has fired off a letter to Harper and several cabinet ministers decrying recent cuts to discovery-based science programs. Continue reading

Canada losing its Arctic PEARL

The Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island as it emerged out of months of winter darkness in early March. The station, one of the world’s premier observatories for tracking the health of Arctic atmosphere, but has run out of money because of cuts to climate science programs. Photo credit Pierre Fogal

Sat Mar 24 2012  Vancouver Sun

By Margaret Munro

Atmospheric scientist Pierre Fogal headed north in February to help check on Earth’s protective ozone layer high in the Arctic stratosphere.

But he spent much of his time on his knees dealing with burst water pipes and frozen sewer lines at Canada’s beleaguered Arctic research station.

Then this week, the electrical system malfunctioned, says Fogal, site manager for PEARL, the Polar Environmental Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the northern tip of Ellesmere Island.

The station, now limping along at half power and a chilly 10 C inside, is one of the world’s premier observatories for tracking the health of the Arctic atmosphere. The station houses millions of dollars worth of scientific equipment used to monitor the ozone layer, greenhouse gases and pollution swirling around the polar vortex. Continue reading

Orbital junk threatens future space projects

A titanium motor casing from a Delta 2 third stage reentered the atmosphere over the Middle East in January 2001 landing about 240 km from the in Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.
Credit NASA

Vancouver Sun Mon Jan 2 2012

By Margaret Munro
Postmedia News

The alerts from U.S. Strategic Command now arrive every couple of weeks – warnings that space junk is hurtling toward one of Canada’s multi-million-dollar satellites.

The mathematical whizzes at the Canadian Space Agency assess the odds of their space-craft being hit by the debris, much of it from missile tests, rocket launches and mid-orbit collisions. More often than not, they sit tight.

But five times this year the space agency has fired up the thrusters on Canada’s $500-million Radarsat satellites to move them out of harm’s way.

“The numbers of near-misses are going up, rather alarmingly,” said David Kendall, the CSA’s director general of space science and technology. Continue reading

Plenty of plastics in Canada’s Arctic birds

Mar 6 2011

By Margaret Munro
Postmedia News

When biologist Jennifer Provencher headed to the Arctic, she signed on to help assess how seabird diets are changing as temperatures climb in the North.

She never expected to find plastics on the menu. But she and her colleagues at the Canadian Wildlife Service are pulling remarkable amounts of trash from birds in some of the remotest spots on Earth.

Fulmars are strong flyers that skim the surface swallowing tasty tidbits, and 84 per cent of the ones the researchers examined from two Arctic colonies had plastics in their guts. Continue reading

Japanese quake a warning to Canada: Prepare for the inevitable

Fri Mar 9 2012

By Margaret Munro

VANCOUVER – Anacla, a First Nations village on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is moving up, heading for higher, safer ground.

A new “big house” has been built 50 metres up from the pounding surf of Pachena Bay. And there are plans to replace the 49 houses on the beach, which could be swallowed by the sea with just minutes’ notice.

It has happened before, says Tom Happynook, a hereditary chief with the Huu-ay-Aht First Nations, recalling how the village in the bay vanished in 1700, when a quake kicked up giant waves off Canada’s West Coast.

“The village was completely wiped out,” says Happynook.

Scientists say the strain is building again beneath the sea floor as enormous tectonic plates push against each other about 100 kilometres offshore. Continue reading

Melt ponds fueling massive underice Arctic algal blooms

Small melt ponds are forming over vast expanses of the Arctic allowing fueling phytoplankton blooms beneath the metre-thick ice. Photo by Gert van Dijken, Stanford University.

Margaret Munro, Postmedia News

June 25, 2012

The most intense phytoplankton bloom recorded on Earth occurred under the Arctic ice last summer — a finding that has stunned seasoned polar scientists.

“The ice was over a metre thick,” says Kevin Arrigo at Stanford University, leader of the international team that reported Thursday finding the massive bright green algal bloom beneath the ice.

It turns out that first-year polar ice — long considered impenetrable to sunlight — can create ideal conditions for growing phytoplankton, the single-celled plants crucial to the Arctic food chain.

“It’s like the perfect environment,” says Arrigo. Continue reading