The future battle for renewable energy and cleantech advocates may not exactly be with oil and gas executives, or apathetic politicians, but rather to fend off breaches in privacy and digital security. Continue reading Securing our Energy Internet
Back for a fifth year of operations, the Sea-ice Environmental Research Facility (SERF) at the University of Manitoba is conducting its latest batch of experiments to determine environmental impact on the salt water ice of the Arctic.
While many Manitobans are finding things to do and study indoors, Dr. Fei Wang, his fellow professors and their students brave the elements to examine the intricacies of sea ice, and to use the information gathered to help calibrate their instruments for use in the field. The facility is one of only two of its kind in North America.
“My colleague, Dr. David Barber who is the Canadian research chair in arctic climate change, has been chasing this idea for a while, primarily driven by his earlier experience working in New Hampshire at the U.S. facility,” said Dr. Wang. “In 2008 we put together to a proposal to an agency called the Canada Foundation for Innovation to build this sea-ice environmental facility. We were lucky to get the funding, started construction and the whole facility became operational in 2012, with this year marking our fifth anniversary.”
The facility varies each year depending on Mother Nature, the only part the SERF team can’t control at the outdoor facility. A set of questions to be addressed is established in September each year, as members of the Artic Science Partnership community are allowed to use the facility. Variable such as salinity, water chemistry and how much of the roof they use are all decided on before the first study takes place.
“In theory we can run from December to March,” said Dr. Wang. “But in reality we can only really run in January and February. In March, while it’s still cold, the intensity of the midday sun is enough to deform the ice. We have two months of time, with two three-week experiments. We take one week to prepare the facility then run the experiment for three weeks. In between the two, we melt the ice and start over.”
“We have two types of study. There’s the geophysical study, where we study the remote sensing techniques and study the surfaces features of the ice and study the brine dynamics of the ice, or ice thickness. We test these techniques so that we can remotely determine those parameters for use in the field, for northern communities or for military operations.”
“Then we have the geochemical side of the study, where we study the chemical parameters of the sea-ice. That could be greenhouse gases, like CO2 and methane. There can be contaminants, such as mercury. We also study the fundamental parameters, including the pH, measuring the acidity of the sea ice.”
“Frost flowers are such a unique kind of phenomenon. They look very interesting just physically, but we also study their causes and effect. For instance, we study them geophysically to determine their effect on remote sensing. From a contaminants and chemistry side of things, frost flowers are extremely saline, with up to ten times the salinity of sea water. The concentration also concentrates contaminants, which can result in a high concentration of mercury or other contaminants. It’s very difficult to do field studies, because they only form at certain times and only last for a few days. Getting to them in the Arctic can be very difficult, but forming them at SERF allows for close study, from the very beginning of growth to the end of its decay.”
“One of the indicative comments I’ve heard from locals up there was that in the past, when they would go on hunting or fishing trips they wouldn’t have to bring any drinking water,” said Dr. Wang. “All they would have to do if they got thirsty was crush a piece of ice and you can drink it. But you cannot do this anymore. The ice that you crush now tastes just like sea water. And that tells you that the multi-year ice is disappearing, and that the ice is melting in the summer and growing again in the winter. So these talks tell us that the change is happening, and it’s happening very fast.”
What is the nature of the society we as Canadians – and Manitobans, more specifically – want for ourselves and for those who come after us? Narrowing that question: what are our values?
The things we teach children in their formative years provide a good indication, particularly when we look at the province’s high school social studies curriculum.
Between Grades 9 and 12, students are taught what we hold to be the vital tenets of our values-based society. And we must think so, or we wouldn’t be teaching it to them.
We explain the history of our democracy; we communicate the importance of diversity and pluralism; and we reinforce a person’s right to an identity in the world they’ll be entering upon graduation.
We also provide instruction in environmental matters through the Grade 12 Global Issues: Citizenship and Sustainability track.
Sustainability, then, must be one of those vital tenets as well.
But living sustainably and merely talking about doing so, even in a formal setting, are two different things.
What are we doing about the former? Is classroom instruction enough to prepare students for work in existing green industries, or those we hope they themselves go on to create? And what about the places where they learn? Could we be doing more to develop those spaces in a sustainable manner? Does a scenario exist where doing exactly that would also make a meaningful indent in Manitoba’s energy consumption?
These were the sorts of questions posed, and the line of thinking discussed, at the third annual Sustainable Energy Conference held May 27 at Providence University College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne.
As presenter Bruce Duggan, director of the Providence-based Buller Centre for Business pointed out, there are more than 29 million square-metres of space presently purposed for commercial and institutional means, including schools, in Manitoba.
And, he explained, we’ve not done much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in those buildings over the past 15 years.
“If there’s any issue we need to figure out as a society, it’s rising greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. Setting an example within schools would surely be a useful undertaking, both practically and inspirationally.
“Think of all the educational buildings in Manitoba – everything from the high school in St-Pierre Jolys to the University of Manitoba,” said Duggan. “How about we set targets for improvement – for heating and cooling – for the next 10 years?”
Adjusting demand, which can be done on a low scale by simply switching off lights and reducing the heating and cooling burden in unoccupied rooms, is a good start, however modest. But there are grander methods of achieving a better ratio of renewable to non-renewable energies as well.
Solar walls are one, especially when schools plan projects such as new classrooms or gymnasiums. Better windows and high-efficiency furnaces are others. Then there are the heating options that can augment, or even replace, fossil fuels, such as the biomass burner installed at Providence in 2011.
“At Providence, we’re somewhere around the 70 per cent renewables number,” said Duggan. “Ten years ago, we were somewhere around zero per cent.”
Meaningful, sustainable change can be made when paradigms are flipped on their heads – when sustainable options become normalized and are the de facto building strategies rather than the exception.
And, at a more personal level for many students, when paths are clear between high school training, aspiration, and the job market.
These are the challenges Gerald Farthing, deputy minister of Manitoba Education and Advanced Learning, believes will define our society going forward.
“If our job is preparing students for their future, then equipping them to deal with the future they’re going to live in is fundamental,” he said.
It’s a future, he added, that hinges on the natural environment’s ability to sustain the societies we create – societies with values, those vital tenets, that hopefully align with ecological realities.
“It’s our values that guide our decision-making,” said Farthing. “The school system has an obligation to engage in this conversation.”
Jerrad Peters is creative content specialist at Providence University College & Theological Seminary.
By Jenny Ford
At a young age Melissa Creede became an expert in her field. When she joined Delphi Group in 1997, an environmental consulting firm, she encountered the emerging discussions about climate change and was hooked. The issue was like a well-plotted novel; there were characters, money, politics, technology and an international appeal.
“I felt connected with the globe, the physical part of the globe and the people and culture of the globe, as well,” says Melissa, now 42.