Ozone watch faces Tory axe

Measuring program started 45 years ago
Margaret Munro
Ottawa Citizen
Date published: 
Fri, 2011-09-16

Environment Canada is planning to axe a monitoring network that is key to assessing Earth's protective ozone layer, according to a report in a leading science journal.

The British journal Nature says scientists and research institutes around the world have been informally told the Canadian network will be shut down as early as this winter, putting an end to continuous ozone measurements that go back 45 years.

"People are gobsmacked by this decision," Thomas Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University, said in an interview with Postmedia News.

He and his international colleagues say they've been told the network and a related data archive will be closed down as part of the Harper government's deep cuts at Environment Canada, where hundreds of jobs are being are eliminated.

The scientists say the "drastic" cuts to the ozone program threaten not only international monitoring programs, but Canada's reputation.

"Arctic ozone research by any nation depends crucially on Canada's involvement," says Markus Rex, at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany.

"Withdrawal of Canada will do major harm to international efforts in Arctic ozone research and such a bold step jeopardizes Canada's reputation as a reliable partner in international programs," Rex told Postmedia News.

Environment Canada would not comment on the Nature report, or the fate of the ozone network and data archive. Nor would it say how much money will be saved by shutting them down.

"Programs are presently being reviewed," Mark Johnson, an Environment Canada media officer, said by e-mail. "At this time, we are not in a position to identify which specific programs will be subject to adjustments or reallocated funding."

The Canadian ozone network, described in Nature as "a linchpin of Arctic ozone observation," consists of 17 monitoring stations from Sable Island, N.S., to Alert in the High Arctic.

Scientific balloons are launched from 11 of the stations at least once a week.

The Canadian network provides about a third of the Arctic measurements of the ozone layer, which, this spring, developed a "hole" over the Northern Hemisphere.

Along with shutting down the ozone network, the scientists have also been told Environment Canada will no longer maintain the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre, an archive of data stored in Toronto that is used by researchers around the world.

"It appears that the management at Environment Canada was not fully aware of the consequences of its decisions," says Swiss scientist Johannes Staehelin, who chairs the World Meteorological Organization's ozone science advisory group.

The scientists say they are shocked by the planned cuts given the mounting concern about the ozone layer, which protects the planet from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. "Arctic ozone losses continue to get worse despite the regulation of ozonedepleting substances," says Rex, who has been collaborating with Environment Canada scientists to try to understand what is going on.

He says the Canadian cuts also threaten to erode the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement that obliges Arctic countries to monitor the ozone layer and maintain scientific ozone research.

Closing down Canada's ozone stations and the Toronto data archive "would clearly be seen as eroding the regulations of the Montreal protocol," Rex says. "Once such an erosion process starts, other countries can follow and may start to question other parts of the regulations under the Protocol."

"We're losing our capabilities to monitor the environment," says Duck, "and at the same time we're losing our capabilities to respond to problems, or even to recognize that they are there before it's too late."


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