NEWS: Around the Arctic September 24, 2011 - 4:40 am

Federal government blowing hot air over ozone-monitoring cuts: critics

Open letter cites blunders by Environment Canada management


Postmedia News

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Peter Kent’s department was slammed Friday for offering a polluted explanation about the science behind its efforts to cut monitoring of the ozone layer, which protects life from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

In an open letter, Thomas Duck, an associate professor at the department of physics and atmospheric science at Dalhousie University, highlighted numerous blunders by Environment Canada management in its assessment of an international ozone monitoring network.

Duck suggested the explanation from Kent and his assistant deputy minister, Karen Dodds, about trying to combine two technologies — ozonesondes and Brewer spectrophotometers — to save money, demonstrates some confusion at management levels about the scientific nature of ozone monitoring.

“Cancelling ozonesondes, as Ms. Dodds has suggested, will do away with our ability to monitor low-level ozone pollution transport, and will take away an important check on pollution forecast models,” wrote Duck. “The loss of Arctic ozonesondes would make a crippling reduction in ozone measurements during winter.”

He explained that the two technologies already complement each other with different types of measurements. The ozonesondes consist of equipment carried into the atmosphere by a weather balloon that measures ozone pollution from the ground up to an altitude of 10 km, as well as measuring the protective ozone layer up to 30 km in the atmosphere, he wrote.

The Brewers measure ozone by monitoring the sun, which he explained, cannot be done under cloudy skies or during winter when there is no sunlight.

In an interview, Duck said the continued monitoring is essential since humans are still releasing some ozone-depleting substances into the atmosphere, now accumulating with other substances released prior to an international agreement signed in 1987 to phase them out of products, including spray cans and refrigerators. The World Meteorological Organization reported in April a record thinning of the protective ozone layer over the Arctic.

Duck also stressed that the government would understand the potential harm of its new approach if it consulted its own scientists.

“Ms. Dodds concedes that this is a science issue,” Duck said. “So, why are we not able to hear from [Environment Canada] scientists? The silence is deafening.”

Kent told the House of Commons Friday that the government would “continue to protect the environment in the most cost-effect way possible,” prompting ridicule from NDP environment critic Megan Leslie, who accused him of “disregarding science and common sense.”

But Kent said the environment remains a key priority for the government, even at times of fiscal restraint.

“As we are doing across all of government, we will be taking a close look at all of our spending over the next year and the results of our deficit reduction action plan will be announced in the budget next spring.”

The government has already announced hundreds of job cuts at Environment Canada that do not include further reductions required for eliminating the federal government’s multi-billion dollar deficit.

Duck added that the government has hindered efforts of independent researchers to develop alternative methods of ozone monitoring through a decision to end federal funding for an arm’s-length research foundation for climate and atmospheric science in universities.