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Hill dispatches: Hot air and ozone monitoring

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There was much back and forth Wednesday in Question Period on the Canadian Environment Department's plans to cut ozone monitoring. Peter Kent, the Minister of the Environment, argued that the monitoring will continue, but will merely be carried out more efficiently. He did not say how that would be done.

The fact is that Canadian, British, Swiss and German scientists had earlier been told, "informally", that a network of 17 direct observation stations, throughout Canada, will be closed. There will be no more so-called "in situ" measurements -- that is measurements from ground stations. In the future, all measurements will be conducted by satellite.

"Canada has been a linchpin of Arctic ozone observation," scientist Neil Harris, head of the European Ozone Research Coordinating Unit, told Nature Magazine. "It has contributed very substantial data to research that allows us to be diagnostic about what's happening in the Arctic stratosphere. If we were to lose one-third of our monitoring capability in the Arctic the overall loss in scientific value will be much greater."

Scientists worldwide say that satellite observations cannot fully replace measurements from the ground. The two work in tandem. Researchers need the ground measurements to verify those done by satellite.

Scientists in a number of countries have also been told that Canada will no longer host the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre, in Toronto. The Centre includes an archive of information gathered over many years and used by scientists internationally.

Reacting to this fairly distressing development, one German scientist commented to Nature Magazine: "It appears that the management at Environment Canada was not fully aware of the consequences of its decision."

As the government of Canada's most massive cutting exercise in more than 15 years gets underway, we can expect much more of this kind of news.

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