Archives For Science

PEARL Arctic Research Station

The federal government has renewed funding for the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Canada’s high Arctic, one year after the research station in Eureka, Nunavut was shut down.

The government awarded $5-million to PEARL over five years through its granting agency, the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

“It was a big sigh of relief because if we didn’t get the money, my next job would have been dismantling the lab and that would not be a happy job,” said lead PEARL researcher James Drummond in a telephone interview from Germany.

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You heard it on CBC radio’s As It Happens

The federal government has renewed funding for the PEARL Arctic research station, one year after it shut down. I broke this story today with CBC radio’s As It Happens.

Here’s the story based on the As It Happens interview (the audio is at the top left):


a screen capture of the Science Pages cyber security document

Science Pages: Cyber security

Whether it’s government systems, industry secrets or your credit card information, cyber threats have never been greater. And with more of our everyday lives facilitated by networked computers, neither have the vulnerabilities.

But with growing threats at home and internationally making the news more and more frequently, how is Canada responding to the cyber threatscape?

The March 2013 edition of Science Pages was prepared to brief Members of Parliament, Senators and public officials in Ottawa about the state of cyber security in Canada, today’s threats and those on the horizon and the importance of balancing security with personal privacy rights.

I co-wrote this edition with Simon Liem and Carlton Davis for the Partnership Group for Science and Engineering (PAGSE) and the Science Media Centre of Canada.

Read Science Pages – Cyber Security:

“The current heatwave – in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent – is unprecedented in our records. Clearly, the climate system is responding to the background warming trend. Everything that happens in the climate system now is taking place on a planet which is a degree hotter than it used to be.”

David Jones, Manager of climate monitoring and prediction at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology

Giant pile of corn meal at Greenfield Ethanol

Photo essay: Grain drain? Corn ethanol and a tour of Canada’s biggest producer

With the effects of climate change becoming more pronounced and more dangerous each year, the push for greener fuels is growing around the world.  Developers of plant-based fuels called biofuels are doing their best to be the ones to replace gasoline, but not all biofuels are as green as they seem. Some can take nearly as much fossil fuel to produce as they are supposed to replace.

Corn ethanol is what is called a first generation biofuel because it is produced from a food grain. This fact has placed it at the centre of the food vs. fuel debate that pits the nutritional needs of people around the world against the need to move away from oil as a fuel source, while exposing corn prices to volatile market forces that have many doubting the viability of corn as a long-term solution.

In Canada, one player stands above the rest: Greenfield Ethanol.  Forget the Box visited the Greenfield Ethanol plant in Varennes on Montreal’s south shore and takes you on a visual tour of the world of biofuels, from corn to ethanol.

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Germany's Klimahaus museum

They say seeing is believing, but at Germany’s imaginative and revealing climate change museum, they believe experience is even better.  That’s the driving force behind the immersive installations offered by the Klimahaus (Climate House) and its main exhibit, “The Journey,” that transports visitors around the world along one line of longitude, eight degrees east.

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An earthquake in China, Haiti, or Chile, though tragic, seems far from home and difficult to imagine, even given the flood of multimedia that came from each of these disaster areas earlier this year.  On June 24, it all became frighteningly clear for residents of Quebec and Ontario.

“I was in the kitchen.  I was having a late breakfast,” says Albin Dzurnak, resident of Ottawa who experienced his first-ever seismic event in June when a magnitude 5.0 earthquake hit the region, with an epicentre near the Ontario-Quebec border about 60 km north of Ottawa.

“It was kind of strange, things were shaking, so I figured, well, this is not normal so it must be an earthquake,” says Dzurnak.

While media reports often focus on the magnitude figure of an earthquake to communicate its strength, the shaking is the first thing one feels.  And this is also central for engineers.  “From the engineering point of view, the magnitude of the earthquake is not the controlling parameter and becomes almost irrelevant information,” says Carlos Ventura, professor of civil engineering at the University of British Columbia.

“What is important is how far from the epicentre or from the rupture zone a building is located and the severity of the shaking at that location,” says Ventura.  “For example, the level of shaking experienced by the [8.8 magnitude] earthquake in Santiago, Chile [this year] is very similar to that experienced [there] in 1985, which was 7.8-magnitude.

Earthquake magnitude is a measure of the energy released by the seismic event, but the amount of shaking this creates in a given location depends on many factors, says Professor John Clague, Canada Research Chair in Natural Hazards Research at Simon Fraser University.

Shake map and location map for Ontario-Quebec earthquake

The ShakeMap and location map for the June 24, 2010, 5.2-magnitude, central Canada earthquake (depth: 16 km)

The severity of shaking depends on the distance from the epicentre, its depth, and other factors. Around the recent earthquake, “The crust is not as highly faulted and broken up, it’s less heterogeneous,” says Clague. “You’re right in the middle of a plate, the North America plate.”

“You’re not in an area where the crust is overly thickened, where it’s [not] particularly hot, and that allows seismic waves to propagate with less attenuation, less loss of energy over larger distances,” says Clague, which is why the central Canada quake was felt as far as New York City. “On the west coast, an earthquake like [that] would not be terribly remarkable.”

Most people have heard of the Richter scale for measuring the size of an earthquake, but in fact, the popularized scale, which originally applied mainly to California’s seismic landscape, has long been supplanted by the more accurate moment magnitude scale.

“If you’re to think of a fault as being the slipping of two surfaces, one against the other, the moment magnitude is the product of the area of the whole fault, times how far it slips, times how strong the rock was that it broke,” says professor and seismologist Olivia Jensen of McGill University. “The stronger the rock was that it broke, the stronger the earthquake.”

“For big events the numbers would be pretty much the same as Richter numbers,” says Jensen.

Summing up his feelings on his first earthquake experience with tongue slightly in cheek, Dzurnak says,  “I was happy about the earthquake and I wish there were more of those so that people are reminded that, ‘hey this is Mother Nature talking to you,’ and you have to deal with it.  You either deal with it or you die, that’s how it works.”

Sound: Listen to Professor John Clague to find out how a train can end up beside its track instead of on it and how man-made reservoirs and oil exploration can make earthquakes more likely: