International Polar Year 2012 Conference from Knowledge to Action

by Steve Maclean, President, Canadian Space Agency

Check Against Delivery

Montreal, Quebec, April 23, 2012

  • Ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests.

  • Thank you for that warm welcome.

  • Also, my thanks to the organizers of this incredibly important conference.

  • Being asked to participate, even in a small way, is an honour I genuinely appreciate.

  • Canadians, we know, care deeply about the North.

  • Yet, few Canadians have ever been to Canada's Arctic.

  • According to a survey conducted by the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, only 14 per cent—fewer than one in seven—have visited even one of Canada's three territories.

  • But at the same time, 68 per cent of Canadians—more than two out of three—say they hope to visit the North at some point.

  • Canadians also have strong feelings about the North's role in Canada's future.

  • More than half believe that it is vital to our security.

  • An even greater number say the Arctic is important for our economic prosperity.

  • Seventy-seven per cent believe Canada should invest in the development of the Arctic's natural resources.

  • And an overwhelming number—some 90 per cent—say Canada should be a leader in Arctic research.

  • Canadians, it seems to me, have got it right.

  • They see the North as appealing and intriguing, are passionate about its beauty and potential, and are fully aware of the vital role it can and must play in Canada's security.

  • They also want the Government of Canada to act decisively in the areas of stewardship and sovereignty over our northern regions.

  • I think this conference also got it right.

  • You're doing what matters most—drawing international attention to the importance of the world's Polar regions.

  • Better yet, you're doing it in a way that will make a positive and lasting difference.

  • Yes, you're focused on the most vital issues—like the impact of climate change, security, and economic development—but you're not losing sight of the significant social and environmental impacts that accompany those issues.

  • As a result, you're ideally positioned to redefine and re-establish important goals in the area of stewardship, sustainable development and environmental protection for Canada's North.

  • Your view of what can and should be done for Canada's North is not unlike that of the Government of Canada.

  • And understandably so.

  • After all, in addition to its vast potential, Canada's three northern territories make up 40 per cent of our total landmass.

  • Our northern coastline is 162,000 kilometres long, and we possess fully one-quarter of the global Arctic.

  • When planning this conference, organizers said they believed that it was being held at a pivotal time for the environmental health of our planet.

  • It's hard to imagine an area where this sense of urgency is more deeply felt than in Canada's North.

  • There is a strong desire today for economic development and growth in the North.

  • With that comes an unparalleled push to exploit the area's many natural resources.

  • Oil and gas companies are seeking new reserves, and innovative ways to extract the resources they find.

  • The pace of mineral exploration and mining in all three territories is accelerating dramatically.

  • The impact of climate change can be seen everywhere.

  • Glaciers are receding and ice is melting more quickly.

  • Not only is the shipping season now longer, the number of routes available to ships is increasing every year.

  • Not surprisingly, given all that's happening in Canada's Arctic region, international interest in the area is growing.

  • For the Government of Canada, this presents a number of challenges—like how best to exercise Canada's sovereignty over our Arctic lands and waters?

  • And how best to demonstrate effective stewardship and leadership without impeding economic growth and progress?

  • These are clearly difficult challenges, and as a country we will have to meet them head-on.

  • With the help of gatherings like this, I'm confident that we will.

  • As we do, I think it's important that we keep in mind one important fact: lurking behind every challenge is a new and exciting opportunity, an opportunity we must be prepared to seize.

  • Take climate change. We could continue to debate its causes, point fingers, or simply wring our hands in frustration. But that would accomplish little. Like it or not, climate change is real, and it's happening as we speak.

  • And because it is, we have a chance—or perhaps an obligation—to turn that change into opportunity. Be it through increased shipping or accelerated mineral exploration, we must take advantage of the situation that exists, not the one that might have been.

  • Fortunately, the Government of Canada has recognized the need to address the complex mix of challenges and opportunities at play in Canada's North.

  • It has done what we all agree needs to be done: establish a comprehensive strategy to determine the best future for Canada's North.

  • Given this government's strong support of International Polar Year—you may recall that Canada's contribution of $156 million was the largest initial investment of any country—it's not surprising that three of the four priority areas identified in that strategy have a direct bearing on what's being discussed at this conference.

  • They are: exercising our Arctic sovereignty; protecting our environmental heritage; and promoting social and economic development.

  • Those same three items have also become priority areas for the Canadian Space Agency.

  • In fact, most of what the CSA now does directly or indirectly impacts Canada's North.

  • The reason is simple.

  • The accelerated development of the North—including hot-button issues like longer shipping seasons and the increased exploitation of natural resources—must be done in a responsible way.

  • Progress, yes, but with minimal impact on the area's environment or way of life.

  • We know that success in these areas can be achieved only if the decisions we make are based on accurate and up-to-date information.

  • And no one is better positioned to collect and disseminate that information than the Canadian Space Agency.

  • Through our unique abilities to measure, to record, to collect, to monitor, and to analyze using space technologies, the CSA equips those who make policy with the data they need to make the absolute best choices for Canada's North.

  • We're now doing that in a number of ways: some tried and true, some new and innovative, some experimental, and others still on the drawing board.

  • One example with a distinctly northern focus is the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite, or M3MSat, a project in partnership with the Department of National Defence.

  • M3MSat, which includes an Automatic Identification System payload, or AIS, will provide a test bed and demonstration platform that will allow, government departments to track ocean going vessels on a global scale.

  • The M3MSat AIS payload will be a complement to the CSA's RADARSAT Constellation and DND's Polar Epsilon missions.

  • One example with a distinctly northern focus is the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Micro-Satellite, or M3MSat, a project in partnership with the Department of National Defence.

  • M3MSat, which includes an Automatic Identification System payload, or AIS, will provide a test bed and demonstration platform that will allow, government departments to track ocean going vessels on a global scale.

  • The M3MSat AIS payload will be a complement to the CSA's RADARSAT Constellation and DND's Polar Epsilon missions.

  • The AIS system was originally designed as a collision avoidance system.

  • Ships of a certain size were required to use AIS transponders to broadcast their identity, location and heading.

  • But there were limitations—only ships and land-based receivers within a 50 nautical mile range were capable of receiving that information.

  • However, by collecting those AIS signals from space, we dramatically increase our ability to gather and disseminate such information.

  • For government departments such as National Defence, this new technology provides an unprecedented global view of the world's shipping traffic.

  • Other departments also benefit.

  • For example, the information received from our microsatellites will help Canada's Coast Guard identify and monitor maritime traffic approaching or operating in Canadian waters.

  • There's yet another advantage.

  • Thanks to our microsatellite constellation, we will develop Canada's capacity in this area, vital to our goal of positioning the Canadian space industry as a leader in the development of smaller, lower-cost satellites.

  • While the AIS mission is clearly essential to knowing what's happening in the North, I think you'll find its use in a pilot project especially interesting.

  • In a project we've undertaken with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO, we use buoys to measure the temperature of the ice in the most northerly regions of the Arctic.

  • Called AtoNs—for Aids to Navigation—these transmitters collect information from buoys that are placed directly in the ice. From there, they send the information they collect to an AIS receiver/transmitter on a satellite, and it, in turn, sends that information directly to scientists on the ground.

  • If successful, this project could provide up-to-the minute information about ice conditions in the Far North. As an added benefit, it could also eliminate the need for researchers to travel to these remote locations to measure ice temperatures.

  • That's expensive, time consuming and rarely without risk.

  • Also, it limits the number of opportunities we have to actually measure the ice temperature.

  • So, rather than rely on readings taken every month or more, AtoNs would provide a continuous stream of data.

  • In March, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans placed the first two buoys in the ice near Resolute Bay for us.

  • We expect that they'll transmit information for up to 100 days. If all goes as planned, we hope to position hundreds of AtoNs throughout the Arctic in the coming years.

  • The value of our partnership with DFO on this buoys project, or similarly, our partnership with National Defence on the M3MSat mission, cannot be overstated.

  • One of the most intriguing features of these kinds of partnerships is how easily they can come about.

  • We meet with different government departments, be it National Defence, Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada or a host of others with an interest in Canada's North.

  • We ask them what they're doing, and if there's some way that the CSA can help them do it better. Or perhaps more simply.

  • We talk. But mostly we listen. And because we do, we learn.

  • Simple, yes, but it works. Time and again.

  • Another CSA initiative that has a direct impact on the North is a veteran of Canada's Space Program. RADARSAT-1 was conceived way back in the late 1980s and launched in November of 1995.

  • But don't let the grey hairs fool you—RADARSAT-1 remains a formidable tool in our quest to do what's best for the North.

  • Originally designed to monitor our huge expanse of land and sea, as well as the movements of ice and naval vessels, RADARSAT-1 continues to provide regular and reliable surveillance of the entire Arctic region.

  • RADARSAT-1's unique monitoring skills—it shrugs off the challenges of cloud, fog or darkness—allowing us to accurately measure changes in ocean waters, waves and winds.

  • RADARSAT-1 also helps track sea ice distribution, identify various types of ice, and produce daily ice charts.

  • That information is especially useful for offshore oil exploration, ocean research operations, and locating potentially productive fishing regions.

  • Those same monitoring skills enable us to determine the extent of marine oil spills, providing vital information for control and clean-up operations.

  • RADARSAT-1 proved its worth as recently as two years ago when a drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Images generated by RADARSAT-1 and -2 were invaluable in helping government agencies coordinate and manage the disaster relief operations.

  • RADARSAT-1 is more than a good example of how space can help us in the North.

  • It illustrates perfectly how partnerships, nationally and internationally, make such missions possible.

  • Since its launch in 1995, RADARSAT-1 had developed a global client base of more than 600 commercial and government users in some 60 countries.

  • The success of RADARSAT-1, and the partnerships that have developed, reinforced our belief that Canada is one piece—albeit an important one—of a much larger picture.

  • The addition of RADARSAT-2 has secured the CSA's reputation as a global leader in space observation and imagery.

  • Launched in 2007, RADARSAT-2 is still one of the world's most advanced Earth observation radar image providers.

  • In terms of monitoring the environment and supporting the sustainable management of natural resources in the 21st century, it is literally indispensable, to Canada and to the world.

  • Data generated by RADARSAT-2 have helped us dramatically improve the classification of vegetation cover, soil moisture, snow cover and wetness measurement.

  • The same is true in the classification of ice type, ice edge detection, wetland measurement, crop type, and crop condition.

  • As it turns out, RADARSAT-2 is equally at home at either end of the planet.

  • In August of last year, imagery provided by RADARSAT-2 enabled scientists to chart previously unmapped glaciers in Antarctica.

  • Thanks in large part to the contributions of RADARSAT-2, researchers discovered unique terrain features indicating the direction and velocity of ice in Antarctica.

  • No doubt, this will provide invaluable insight in the future for scientists measuring ice melt and predicting rising sea levels.

  • If the world has come to praise the contributions of RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2, I expect the praise will ring louder still when the latest additions to the RADARSAT family are launched over the next few years.

  • The RADARSAT Constellation, or RCM, represents the evolution of the entire RADARSAT Program.

  • The RADARSAT Constellation will provide Canadian and international users with complete coverage of Canada's land and oceans, as well as daily observational access to most of the world.

  • Like RADARSAT-1 and -2, the Radarsat Constellation will function day and night and in any weather conditions and will pass over Canadian territory up to four times a day.

  • Each of the satellites of the RADARSAT Constellation has a projected lifespan of seven years.

  • However, I should point out that RADARSAT-1's planned lifespan was only five years. And as we speak, it is now in its 16th year of operation.

  • Actually, to anyone familiar with Canada's Space Program, RADARSAT-1's longevity should come as no surprise.

  • Canadian satellites have a pleasant habit of surpassing their projected lifespan, often by a considerable margin.

  • That trend actually began 50 years ago with our very first satellite, Alouette-1.

  • As late as the morning of that fateful day, a NASA engineer predicted that even if Alouette-1 survived the launch—which he doubted—it would probably function for all of 20 minutes.

  • Turns out it lasted for 20 minutes—and then for another 10 years, before a command was sent to turn it off.

  • Not bad for a satellite that was designed to work for only one year.

  • During its projected lifespan, the RCM will carry out a number of key tasks, some added since the original mission was designed.

  • For example, the initial plan was to focus primarily on maritime security requirements.

  • Now, however, land security, particularly in the Arctic, will also be dramatically enhanced.

  • Because the RCM makes up to four passes per day in Canada's far North, and several passes per day over the Northwest Passage, we've been able to introduce a range of applications.

  • These are based on the increased collection of data and the creation of composite images that highlight changes over time.

  • These applications are particularly useful for monitoring changes—such as land use evolution, coastal change, urban subsidence and even human impact on local environments.

  • The RCM will also build on the archive of images generated by RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2.

  • This archive will allow us to document environmental changes and human habitation over a long period of time, providing valuable geophysical information not only about Canada and the North, but the entire world.

  • Images supplied by the satellite Constellation will also:

    • support the sustainable management and development of natural resources;
    • enhance weather monitoring and navigation safety;
    • aid in the enforcement of fishing and environmental regulations; and,
    • support disaster management, humanitarian and relief efforts.
  • There are still more benefits.

  • For example, by adopting a Constellation approach, and by using smaller satellites, we've been able to introduce a number of new applications.

  • There will be more frequent coverage of Canada and a reduced risk of a service interruption.

  • Another hard-working Canadian satellite is SCISAT, a scientific satellite launched in 2003 to further our understanding of the ozone layer.

  • I don't have to tell this gathering that Canada is perhaps the most vulnerable country in the world when it comes to the effects of ozone depletion in the Arctic region.

  • But the Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment, or ACE, aboard SCISAT has performed so well that the mission has moved well beyond its original mandate.

  • In addition to providing excellent data related to ozone depletion, SCISAT now generates equally valuable data on climate change, air quality and pollution.

  • And while SCISAT's contributions were scheduled to last just two years, it's about to complete its first decade as an active mission.

  • Another satellite mission that recently celebrated an anniversary—it was launched on February 17, 2007—is THEMIS, a NASA program with its eye on the skies and its feet—of which there are 20—firmly on the ground.

  • While THEMIS doesn't directly address issues of security, sovereignty or mineral exploration, it does underscore how the Arctic's unique location can advance science and research.

  • As you'll recall, that's something an overwhelming majority of Canadians want us to focus on.

  • THEMIS uses its northern location to study the solar winds that create the Aurora Borealis.

  • While we already know a great deal about solar winds, scientists have yet to determine where—and at what point—does the energy transform into auroras?

  • To help answer those questions, THEMIS employs five identically-instrumented spacecraft whose apogees—the point at which they are furthest from Earth—align every four days.

  • The data they collect are sent to a number of ground-based observatories—16 in Canada and four in Alaska.

  • A Canadian team is responsible for fielding the 16 Canadian observatories and for retrieving the massive amounts of data generated by all 20 observatories.

  • Information gathered through the THEMIS program is solving longstanding mysteries about the nature of substorms and the abrupt and explosive release of solar wind energy stored within the earth's magnetotail.

  • Without a doubt, two of the most pressing challenges in Canada's North are communications and weather.

  • We're addressing both through the proposed Polar Communication and Weather Mission, or as it's more commonly called, PCW.

  • Made up of two satellites, PCW would be expected to provide continuous 24/7 broadband communications services throughout all of the Arctic and improve climate change monitoring and weather forecasting.

  • At the moment, the telecommunication needs of remote areas in Canada's North are served mainly by geostationary communications satellites.

  • To their credit, these satellites offer a variety of communications and entertainment services to Canadians in all parts of the country.

  • However, due to their orbit geometry, geostationary communications satellites cannot cover all areas.

  • Also, their ability to provide mobile services to ships and planes in the High Arctic is limited.

  • That means some of Canada's northern regions do not have access to secure, reliable and high capacity telecommunication solutions.

  • Similar challenges exist in our ability to predict weather in the High North.

  • While polar orbiting satellites provide spatial resolution over high latitudes, they are forced to do so along a narrow swath.

  • As a result, they are unable to cover the whole circumpolar area at one time—it's not uncommon for six hours to pass before a satellite is in a position to image the same target area.

  • Not only does this make forecasting weather in the Arctic difficult, it adversely affects the accuracy of weather forecasting throughout Canada, North America and globally.

  • As we know only too well in Canada, the Arctic has a significant effect on weather everywhere.

  • Should we go forward with the PCW project, we expect that it will greatly contribute to improving matters dramatically in both communications and weather forecasts.

  • Earlier, I referred to the CSA's commitment to and reliance on international collaboration.

  • Well, the PCW and the RADARSAT Constellation Mission projects show we're equally committed to successful partnerships right here at home.

  • The idea behind PCW emerged from a three-way partnership involving the CSA, Environment Canada and the Department of National Defence.

  • A study carried out jointly by these departments showed that a system of two satellites, like PCW, could dramatically improve climate change monitoring and weather forecasting.

  • The RCM had similar Government of Canada participation, including National Defence and Natural Resources Canada.

  • And, like the previous RADARSAT missions, the RCM is providing opportunities for the CSA to collaborate with international partners including the European Space Agency, of which we are a member.

  • All of these missions, from RADARSAT to PCW, and those in between, are designed to tackle some very specific problems.

  • But taken collectively, what they're really doing is bringing infrastructure to Canada's North. Like any road or bridge, these satellites are an integral part of that infrastructure.

  • Let me put it another way.

  • What we're really doing at the CSA—in collaboration with our international partners, with academia, with industry and with other government departments—is building a railroad.

  • There's no golden spike at the end of it all, but it's still very much a railroad, a strategic infrastructure, that effectively links the North and connects it to the rest of Canada.

  • RADARSAT-1 and -2 are part of that strategic infrastructure. So are SCISAT and THEMIS. And, if launched, so will, M3MSat, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, and PCW.

  • The more we explore space, the more we realize how very little we know about it.

  • In my three years as the President of the Canadian Space Agency, I've come to realize the same is true of Canada's Far North.

  • It comes as no surprise, then, that these two areas should share a number of traits.

  • Both are appealing and foreboding places, comprised of equal parts of mystery and magic.

  • Both have the ability to inspire and the potential to improve.

  • Little wonder Canadians feel so strongly about the North.

  • I've had the good fortune to experience Canada's North six times over the past three years.

  • Without fail, I've discovered something exciting and unexpected on every one of those trips.

  • One memory stands out.

  • We were flying over a number of pristine lakes and I was especially struck by the incredibly deep blue colour of the water.

  • When I mentioned this to the person seated next to me, he told me the colours were caused by cyanobacteria.

  • And this bacteria was not only responsible for the water's striking colour, but was also of considerable interest to pharmaceutical companies.

  • For me, it was just one more reminder of the North's untapped potential and its unique ability to combine beauty with benefit.

  • I expect to visit the North again. Probably several times.

  • When I do, I'm sure that I will continue to be surprised and amazed by what I see and experience.

  • I have no doubt many of you, if not all, feel the same way.

  • Canadians have made it clear they want to protect the North.

  • And one day, they hope to share that experience.

  • Working together, I think we can make sure they can.

  • Thank you.