How Canada’s Arctic lab keeps a watchful eye on climate change

A global investigation into the unprecedented change to the climate, culture and politics of Canada’s last frontier.

The place is called PEARL – the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory – and its choice position overlooking Eureka on Ellesmere Island offers a window on the mechanics of climate change in the part of the planet where its effects are most immediate and acute.

“There are just so few stations in the high Arctic,” says Jim Drummond, a professor of atmospheric science at Dalhousie University and PEARL’s principal investigator. “We could put one further south and it would be useful, but not as useful.”

PEARL is now in recovery mode, still ramping back up to its former level of activity. Currently, researchers are focused on observing the polar sunrise, a critical period when the high Arctic emerges from months of darkness and scientists can study important but fleeting changes that shed light on climate.

Overall, researchers at PEARL study a broad range of atmospheric phenomena, from cloud physics to ozone depletion to the industrial pollutants that migrate to the region.

At 80 degrees north, the lab is close enough to the North Pole to provide a genuine snapshot of the high Arctic atmosphere, including four months every winter when there is no direct sunlight. Scientists are studying the Arctic winter, when the latest evidence suggests much of the warming occurs.

Most importantly for the rest of the world, PEARL is centred within a vast Canadian sector of the high Arctic that would otherwise go unmonitored if it wasn’t there. While stations in Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia are providing similarly important data, PEARL is recognized internationally as an essential link in the chain.

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