Arctic Weather Stations' anniversary
Half-century in Alert, Eureka and Resolute Bay marked

Arthur Milnes
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 07/98) - A special birthday for Environment Canada's High Arctic Weather Stations was celebrated this week.

On a tour through the area, Defence Minister Art Eggleton unveiled plaques marking 50 years of operation at the installations located in Alert, Eureka and Resolute Bay.

Constructed jointly by the American and Canadian governments, the first two stations, at Eureka and Resolute Bay, were opened in 1947. Additional facilities at Isachsen and Mould Bay were opened in 1948 with Alert, the most northerly inhabited place in the world, opening in 1950.

"When they first started out, they'd be in for a whole year," Environment Canada's Dave Law, chief, atmospheric monitoring division said Thursday.

"They installed them all (the installations) over a three-year period."

Though only Eureka and Alert are still staffed, Law said the service is still essential, all these years later.

"This whole program is very important for forecasting globally," he said. "Alert and Eureka are the last ones to (study) the upper atmosphere."

Research into the ozone is another critical part of the scientific study still going on through the stations.

Concern about ozone depletion led to the construction of a $5 million observatory at Eureka in 1992. And, the station has also provided a platform for scientific studies ranging from white wolves to Arctic communications over the years.

"The High Arctic continues to be impacted severely by climatic change," Environment Minister Christine Stewart said in a statement. "Having the data which has been collected over the past half century will increase our understanding of climate change and its potential effects on Northern people and their lifestyle."

Another important role the stations have served is the promotion of Canadian sovereignty in the North.

On Friday, during a stop in Yellowknife before returning to Winnipeg after visiting the stations, the head of Environment Canada's aerological programs, former city resident Brian Kahler, also discussed the stations' legacy.

He stressed the sacrifice his department's officers had made over the years in operating the stations in such isolation. Once, he said, one of the staff was mauled by a polar bear while taking a reading. And, nine people died after a plane crash during the first year Alert was in operation.