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(October 18, 2001, Gazette)

Tracking climate change

Moire Wadleigh (L) and Richard RivkinPhoto by Chris Hammond

Moire Wadleigh (L) and Richard Rivkin


Bounded by three oceans, Canada has a vital interest in the impact of changing ocean processes on weather patterns, resources and transportation. Memorial University investigators are playing key roles in the development and implementation of a new international climate-change initiative aimed at understanding the interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere, and the implications of those interactions for global climatic change.

Memorial’s Dr. Richard Rivkin, Ocean Sciences Centre, and Dr. Moire Wadleigh, Earth Science, are two of the Canadian scientists working on the Canadian Surface Ocean Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) Research Network. SOLAS is a new program within the International Geosphere- Biosphere Program (IGBP) and the Canadian SOLAS, the first national program to be funded.

NSERC and Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences (CFCAS) will contribute almost $9 million directly to the new research network. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (and other federal government and private sector partners) willcontribute over $1.5 million in ship time and other in-kind and cash support. Memorial researchers will receive about $1.2 million over five years for their role in the network.

“This is the first time there has been such a close collaboration between those studying the surface layer of the ocean and the lower atmosphere,” said Dr. Wadleigh. The network will be asking questions about how the production and cycling of climatically-active gases influence various aspects of atmospheric processes and contribute to global warming and climate change.

The SOLAS Network consists of 15 individual research projects that are organized into three research modules; the cycling of gases in the upper water column, their cycling in the atmosphere, and modelling of ocean and atmosphere interactions.

Dr. Rivkin’s group will be examining the cycling of inorganic (CO2) and organic carbon in the upper ocean.

“Cycling of the carbon – its transfer to the ocean interior and rates and patterns of return to the surface and eventual reequilibration back into the atmosphere – are very important processes to understand and constrain in order to predict changes in atmosphere concentrations of greenhouse gasses and therefore global warming,” explained Dr. Rivkin.

Dr. Wadleigh’s team will examine sulphur containing compounds in the lower atmosphere. “Sulphur also has a biological connection. Algae living in the surface ocean layer produce a volatile gas, dimethyl sulphide (DMS), which is transferred to the atmosphere,” said Dr. Wadleigh.

The SOLAS Network involves 43 Canadian researchers in oceanographic and atmospheric science from nine universities and government agencies, as well as international industry partners.

“This network is not simply a collection of investigators doing their ‘own thing’ side by side on a ship, there is a high degree of interaction in both planning as well as implementation stages of this research. It is the only way we can hope to answer some of these complex questions,” said Dr. Rivkin.