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Eureka Sound off Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic.

NASA/Michael Studinger/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Climate researchers press Trudeau to renew Canadian Arctic research program

The Canadian government should renew funding for a soon-to-end Arctic climate and atmospheric research program, a group of more than 250 international climate scientists is arguing in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“There is a crisis looming for Canadian climate and atmospheric research that will be felt far beyond Canada’s borders,” the letter states. Extending funding for the 6-year-old Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program, which is set to end this year, would help maintain the country’s scientific and political leadership in the field, the authors say.

CCAR, launched in 2012, provides CA$7 million per year for seven research networks studying the physical processes underlying climate and atmospheric behavior. Among other activities, the networks monitor and model tiny particles known as aerosols, biogeochemical trace elements in the Arctic Ocean, and atmospheric temperatures in the high Arctic.

So far, the Trudeau government has been mostly silent on CCAR’s future, frustrating scientists concerned about the program’s fate. It has given one part of the program a temporary reprieve; In November 2017, the government announced CA$1.6 million in funding for the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, located on the remote Ellesmere Island in Canada, to keep it running until 2019.

CCAR is an important program not just for Canadian researchers, but for those around the world, says Benjamin Santer, a climate scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, who signed the letter. “I have a rich history of collaboration with scientists in Canada. Anything that jeopardizes … that work is a concern to me,” he says. (Santer spoke in a personal capacity, not representing his employer.)

CCAR is one of the only sources of public funding for this kind of science in Canada, says Dan Weaver, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Toronto in Canada and a member of the scientific campaign group Evidence for Democracy. Given the Trudeau government’s public commitments to climate action, the pending end of the program comes as something of a surprise. “To lose this under this government is unexpected, and will be very damaging,” Weaver says. “If we don’t act, we’re going to start losing people, facilities, and data sets.”

Santer says international climate researchers are looking to Canada to provide leadership as climate science is sidelined in the United States. “The scientific understanding of the nature and causes of climate change are under concerted attack [in the United States], and our work is being dismissed as a hoax and conspiracy,” he says. “So we look to other countries like Canada for leadership—both political leadership, which Trudeau has said he will provide in this leadership vacuum, and scientific leadership.”

Canada recently opened a new Arctic research lab, the Canadian High Arctic Research Station, in Cambridge Bay. But it is not equipped for atmospheric research, Weaver says, and despite its name is not located far enough north to replicate the work of the CCAR networks.

Any announcement of new CCAR funding will likely have to wait until the federal government releases its next budget in March. Canadian researchers have been lobbying hard for an increase in basic research funding, and say they have had a positive reception from government ministers.

Matt Jeneroux, a member of Parliament and the Shadow Minister for Science of the opposition Conservative Party, reacted to today’s letter with a statement affirming his party’s support for continuing CCAR. The Conservative administration of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper “created this fund in the 2011 budget,” he noted. “This government has had over two years in power, and plenty of advanced warning, to come up with a solution when CCAR sunsets this year.” The Trudeau government’s silence on the issue, he added,  “is disappointing from a government that claims to put a high value on both science and climate change.”