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Environment Canada explains planned cuts to ozone measurement

Environment Canada is admitting that a large chunk of its ozone-monitoring program is being cut, but insists that its capacity to measure the earth's protective layer of gas won't be hurt.

The department has two separate technologies that measure ozone, but budget cuts will mean that the two separate networks won't be maintained, explained Karen Dodds, assistant deputy minister of the science and technology branch.

Rather, the networks will be "consolidated and streamlined" in an effort to make sure the best technology is focused in the most appropriate area, Dodds said.

"What we are doing is looking at what is the best mix," she told Canadian Press in an interview.

In the past, when ozone research was young, Canadian experts explored and developed the merits of both technologies. But now, the ins and outs of measuring ozone are well known and there is no longer a need to have two sets of measurement technology, she said.

"Both of these methodologies are past their development stage. They're well validated globally. We don't need to do further refinement of those measurements."

The same principle applies to monitoring acid rain in Eastern Canada. Emissions causing acid rain have dropped to negligible levels and have been stable for more than a decade, she said.

"We don't really need the same level of monitoring," she said.

Instead, she will take whatever extra resources she can salvage from the trimming exercise and devote them to oilsands monitoring. Environment Canada is committed to creating a world-class system to monitor the environmental impact of the oilsands on air and water in the region and Dodds says she needs resources to fulfil that commitment.

Environmentalists and Environment Minister Peter Kent have been at loggerheads for weeks about the effect of the pending elimination of 300 positions at the department. It's only the first round of cuts for the department, with more to come in next year's budget.

Critics say Kent is shirking his international responsibilities by cutting ozone measurement and also handicapping an area of science that is crucial for Canadians' health, especially in the North.

They also fear the cuts will mean the closure of the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Centre, which Canada hosts on behalf of the globe.

"If we cut one of these programs, the whole world loses," said Megan Leslie, the NDP environment critic. "It says to me that this government does not care about the environment."

But Kent flatly denies both accusations, saying his detractors are spreading misinformation.

"We are not cutting any ozone-monitoring services or closing the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre," Kent told the House of Commons this week.

In the interview, Dodds — who oversees ozone research — explained that the data centre will still be hosted by Environment Canada, but that its operations may be folded into other work that the department does.

"It looks fairly likely that we will continue to host it within Environment Canada, but host it in a way that is more synergistic in terms of people that have the kind of expertise to support a data centre," she said.

Ozone-measurement sites in the North will be maintained, she said, in particular the site at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, that is crucial for meeting Canada's international obligations.

The department is in the process of chopping 300 positions from its workforce of 6,700 and has told 776 employees that their jobs may change or disappear. The department is now trying to figure out how to implement its plan.

Dodds oversees between 1,400 and 1,500 scientists and technicians. Although she won't say how many positions she needs to eliminate, union documents show that 170 people received "workforce adjustment" letters warning them their jobs were in jeopardy.

But environmental scientist Thomas Duck says the department's claims that the quality of its science won't be harmed are "laughable."

Duck, from Dalhousie University in Halifax, says two separate ozone-measuring methodologies are needed because each method measures something different.

The "Brewer" methodology measures the total amount of ozone, but doesn't work in the Arctic during winter. And the weather-balloon approach called ozone sondes measures ozone just once a week and doesn't measure ozone on the ground, he explained.

"They do very different things, they take very different measurements," Duck said. "Both of them are absolutely necessary."

While scientists have indeed been talking about protecting the ozone layer for decades, climate change is now increasing the risk and changing the science, Duck said.

"This was the very first year that we've ever seen an ozone hole in the Arctic. This is a huge issue right now."

Similarly, Duck has trouble swallowing Environment Canada's plan to keep the World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre open, while bringing its operations in-house.

"This is a database that people contribute to worldwide. It's a full-time job to operate a database like that. It's a lot of data," he said. "It's the record of ozone-depletion around the world since we started measuring. This is important stuff."

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