Monitoring Earth’s Atmosphere: an important contribution from the Canadian space program


Written by ABB, a #DontLetGoCanada coalition partner.

Canada has long been at the forefront of efforts to understand Earth’s atmosphere. When proudly stating that Canada was the third nation to fly its own space hardware, this refers to a small satellite dedicated to understanding Earth’s ionosphere, a layer of our planet’s atmosphere that helps protecting life from the deadly flow of high speed particles ejected from the sun. Observing the thin air strip in which we live is of paramount importance if one adheres to the principle that human activity has the potential to change the natural balance established over millions of years of evolution. Knowing that Earth has undergone important climatic changes in the past, some of which are still not fully understood, it is important to gain the ability to monitor these changes and develop the ability to act, if we collectively decide to do so.

Did you know that the planet’s most detailed atmospheric monitoring from orbitis carried out by a Canadian satellite? For more than 15 years now, the SCISAT satellite has been tracking and establishing trends 24/7, 365 days/year for the presence of more than 60 different gas species. SCISAT has been able to confirm that the Montréal protocol, signed in 1987 and banning the use of CFCs harmful to the ozone layer, had tangible and positive effects. It clearly demonstrated that humanity can reverse unpleasant upward trends such as the increasing presence of CFCs. We also notice from the satellite data a steady rise of new molecules used by industries as a substitute to CFCs but known to have less negative impacts. As well, we see the rise in new gas species associated with the fracking industry and the effects of solar cycles, and confirmation of many other global scale phenomena affecting our environment.

The Earth’s atmosphere is like a sponge collecting volatile particles that reflect activities on the ground. SCISAT is one of many Canadian initiatives to monitor our atmosphere from space. A legacy of atmospheric observation instruments such as MOPITT, OSIRIS and CLOUDSAT sub-systems were built in Canada and greatly contributed to international efforts. While satellites like SCISAT rarely make the headlines, they provide a steady and reliable source of data used in assessments on climate change, such as the annual intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) report to the United Nations.

Canadian scientists and industries are involved in many mission proposals to maintain this Canadian legacy. From a better monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions and air quality in our cities to investigating uncharted atmospheric processes playing a role in climate change, all these efforts directly target benefits to our current and future quality of life. None of these can proceed into implementation without renewing our commitment to this critical role of the Canadian space program.

So, do not let go Canada! Support the efforts made toward new and follow-on missions that allow Canada to contribute to, and lead, vital initiatives that will inform decision making at the political level. One of the most cited and revealing observation from astronauts is how thin our atmosphere is when observed from space. The Earth’s ever-increasing population brings unprecedented challenges within our societies. These challenges will require irrefutable evidence to help guide the way we want to approach climate change, not only as a nation, but as a global community.

Help support the #DontLetGoCanada coalition by sending an email to your MP and signing the e-petition.