Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scientists quitting Canada as climate funding dries up

Canwest News Service: Katrin Meissner is determined to be on the forefront of understanding the climate change affecting everything from permafrost to bird migrations. The celebrated young scientist at the University of Victoria had planned to build her career in Canada. But Meissner is packing up her young family and heading for Australia.

The University of New South Wales made her an offer she couldn't refuse - a position as a senior lecturer, research opportunities and guaranteed daycare for her one-year-old son, which was the perk that sealed the deal. ``I didn't really want to leave,'' says Meissner, who is walking away from a coveted tenure-track position in Victoria. But she says the opportunities in Australia seem much more promising. ''Long-term it looks quite scary in Canada, '' says Meissner.

It is a refrain heard across Canada as funding dries up at the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS), a prime source of funding for university-based projects underway from the Arctic to B.C. mountaintops. Projects involving hundreds of scientists have entered their final phase and will shut down by March 2010. ``They're dead as of next spring,'' says atmospheric physicist Richard Peltier of University of Toronto, noting that there is no new federal money in sight for new projects or to build on existing ones.

``It's a shame to see it go down the tubes,'' says Richard Lawford, at the University of Manitoba, who manages the four-year-old Drought Research Initiative funded by the foundation. The project is aimed at preparing for the country's next water crisis. The last drought, from 1999 to 2004, cost an estimated $6 billion and 41,000 jobs. Lawford says the team is keen to build on the project in a bid to ensure there is enough water for farmers and cities. But with CFCAS running out of cash, so is the project.

Young scientists and technical staff will be hardest hit. ``That's were the real pain comes in,'' says Lawford, who fears many highly educated young scientists working on the drought project will head to the U.S. where science is expected to undergo a renaissance under President Barack Obama….

The HMS Alert in the ice of Robeson Channel during the British Arctic Expedition. Photographic plate from Voyage to the Polar Sea by Sir George Strong Nares (published in 1878)

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