Published online 25 August 2010 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2010.432

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Canada picks site for Arctic research station

Cambridge Bay location offers a wealth of opportunities for studying the far north.

map of Cambridge Bay, CanadaA hamlet in Canada's far north will be home to a world-class research space.Google – Imagery / DigitalGlobe / GeoEye / Map data / Google

After months of deliberation, the Canadian government has chosen Cambridge Bay — a hamlet midway along the Northwest Passage in the country's far north — as the site for a world-class Arctic research station.

Once built, the station will house scientists all year round, giving them a modern space to study Arctic issues, including climate change and natural resources. It will host conference facilities and laboratories for research on marine biology and geophysics, provide ecologists with the space to do long-term ecological monitoring in aquaria and greenhouses, and give researchers in the health and social sciences a base for their studies.

"It's a very exciting and long-awaited announcement," says Warwick Vincent, director of the Centre for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec City, who was part of the committee consulted by the government during the selection process.

The proposal for the Canadian research station was first sketched out in 2007 and a shortlist of sites was released in 2009. A Can$2-million (US$1.9-million) feasibility study for the proposed station established its functions, preliminary costs and construction schedule and involved an analysis of three possible locations: Pond Inlet, Resolute Bay and Cambridge Bay, all in the northern territory of Nunavut.

The government will invest Can$18 million over five years in the pre-construction design phase of the station, which will include studies of green building options and of how the station will coexist with the community.

Ecologically dynamic

Cambridge Bay is situated on the southeast coast of Victoria Island, where Atlantic and Pacific waters meet. Its location puts scientists close to the Beaufort Sea and Bathurst Inlet, an ecologically dynamic area of advancing tree lines and changing populations of caribou and musk ox.

"It's a very smart location. It will open up access to the central part of the Northwest Passage and the surrounding areas that we know very little about," says David Hik, an ecologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

But the site caters less to scientists studying aspects of the cryosphere, including glaciers and ice caps, who might have preferred Pond Inlet, where these features exist. It is also disappointing for those who wanted to see expansion of the existing scientific infrastructure at the Resolute Bay station.

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Commenting on the new facility at Cambridge Bay, John England of the University of Alberta says: "There is an implicit need for expanded logistics that must accompany the station, given that the Arctic islands cover an area equivalent to Europe." England, who studies ice sheets and environmental change in the Canadian Arctic, adds: "The inadequate current logistical support needs to be expanded long before construction, if the Canadian scientific community is not to wither in the interim."

The new station will become a hub for the network of Canadian Arctic research stations. The government has allocated Can$85 million to refurbish its Arctic research infrastructure, including up to Can$11 million to the Polar Continental Shelf Program already based in Resolute Bay.

Details about the new facility's size or overall cost have yet to be released by the government, but sources suggest that it will be completed some time in 2017 at a cost of about Can$200 million. 

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  • #60827

    I think the fundamental problem is with the way space stations have been looked at. Instead of being looked at as vial infrastructure, they are looked at as expensive toys and projects. I think politicians can cut funding to an expensive toy allot easier than they can cut funding to a piece of infrastructure like a bridge.

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