Funding shortage killing Northern science: Hebert
Polar shelf money slashed from $5.8 million to about $1 million

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 09/98) - So sad is Canada's funding of Arctic research, it's near death, says a university professor.

Because of the launch of the polar continental shelf project in 1958, it looked like Canada would establish a substantial presence in Northern science, but today, "Canada's polar science is in a shambles," Paul Hebert, chair and professor, Department of Zoology, University of Guelph said.

"Canada now spends about 20 cents per capita in support of Northern science research," Hebert said.

The polar continental shelf project will get $1 million in funding next year, down from $6.8 million in 1990, he said.

The U.S. spends 15 times what Canada does. And Australia, New Zealand and many northern European countries, all with lower per capital GNP than Canada, spend almost as much as the U.S. does, he said.

"The funding cutbacks are having a superb impact if the goal is the destruction of Canadian polar science," he said.

"Canadian scientists now have no source of funds which targets Northern studies."

Hebert made the comments most recently at the Meet the North Build a Vision conference in Edmonton. In September, he spoke at the Prospects North conference in Yellowknife.

Hebert said the Resolute science station saw less than half the research teams of a decade ago. The Igloolik station has had two teams in two years. Tuktoyaktuk remained shut this past summer because of no researchers.

Hebert pointed to the recent team of researchers aboard a Canadian icebreaker -- Des Groseilliers -- which parked in the Arctic for a year to study ice.

The effort garnered media coverage but what was not highlighted was the fact that the $40-million project, known as SHEBA, which stands for surface heat budget of the Arctic, was 95 per cent paid for by the U.S., he said.

Next summer, said Hebert, Nordic nations have chartered Canada's largest icebreaker the Louis St. Laurent, so their researchers can work in the North. A few Canadian scientists will be along as "tour guides."

Hebert describes Canada's roles as one of polar ice taxi operator.

And the U.S. National Science Foundation is building a $40-million Polar Cap observatory in Resolute, he said.

"Wheelchairs may soon be the major mode of tundra exploration. Virtually no young scientists are being trained. For 20 years, my lab has been the only university team working on the animal life in the million or so lakes in the Arctic."

Arctic science should be funded because the North is the bellwether for global warming and the global sink for toxic pollutants. The arctic offers insights into the planet's challenges, he adds.

As well as outlining the funding crisis, Hebert offered solutions to the situation.

He suggests Canada needs a polar science policy and budget and a serious educational effort to direct students' perspectives northward -- to more integrate the North into the country's consciousness.

Hebert believes the corporate sector could help by investing in new educational materials focusing on Canada's North.