U.S. scientists sound alarm about Canadian cuts to ozone-layer monitoring

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Remember the hole in the ozone layer?

We were all obsessed with it in the 1990s, worried about what the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in spray cans, fridges and air conditioners were doing to the ozone layer in the atmosphere that protects us from dangerous levels of ultraviolet rays. We fretted as we tracked the ozone holes above the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

While we moved on to obsessing about climate change the ozone problem hasn't gone away, despite a reduction in the use of CFCs and other ozone-depleting chemicals.

Atmospheric scientists still watch it closely and for the Arctic, they rely on a Canadian-operated monitoring program. But a leading group of American researchers says federal budget cuts are jeopardizing their ability to monitor air quality and ozone depletion.

According to CBC News, five scientists from major U.S. universities and NASA published a paper in EOS, the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union, that monitoring has already stopped at five Canadian locations and the website that distributed the data has shut down.

"Canada is a bellwether for environmental change, not only for Arctic ozone depletion but also for pollutants that stream to North America from other continents," Anne Thompson, a professor of meteorology at Penn State University, said in a release. "It's unthinkable that data collection is beginning to shut down in this vast country."

Canada is a world leader in monitoring the ozone layer, they said.

Since 1966, scientists have conducted regular tests from 10 Canadian stations. They've also been tracking airborne pollution from Europe and Asia since the early 1980s. But five of those monitoring stations have closed.

CBC noted Environment Canada, which funds the work, warned last fall that budget cuts could affect 700 scientific and research positions, and last month it sent out notices to 60 scientists and researchers that they would lose their jobs.

The EOS article's authors warn the cuts affect Canadian contributions to four major international agreements regarding atmospheric monitoring, along with Arctic research.

"Canada stands to lose an entire community of highly-respected scientists who are experts on ozone and climate if further proposed cuts go through," Jennifer Logan, an atmospheric chemist at Harvard University, said in the CBC item.

Prof. Thomas Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University, who sounded the alarm about the impact of budget cuts last year, said he hopes growing international concern about Canada's scientific obligations might force the government to reconsider.

"To have such leading scientists weigh in with their concerns about cuts to Environment Canada shows just how serious the situation is," Duck told CBC.

(Reuters photo)