Thursday, February 23, 2006

In the news: CFS Alert

The Edmonton Journal reported today ("Alarm sounded on future of Alert base: Research station depends on Tories' Kyoto stance," Edmonton Journal, 23 February 2006) that the future of Alert "may rest on the Conservatives' decision on Canada's commitment to the Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and climate change."

But as far as I can tell this does not in any way mean that the future of Canadian Forces Station Alert is on the line. The Atmospheric Environment Service weather station at Alert (see photo below) is a separate facility located adjacent to the Canadian Forces Station. Originally one of several Canada-US Joint Arctic Weather Stations built in the Canadian North during the early days of the Cold War, the Alert weather station began operations in 1950, six years before the RCAF opened the experimental SIGINT site that later became CFS Alert.

It is unclear to me why opting out of the Kyoto Protocol would endanger even the weather station at Alert, unless the new Conservative government has also decided that it would prefer to be in the dark about the global climate crisis that is bearing down on us like a Mack truck. As the article notes, the government did consider closing the weather station in the early 1990s, at a time when Environment Canada, like other government departments, was facing dramatic budget cuts. But an international outcry at the prospect of the station's demise ensured that it survived on that occasion. Today, with a more secure budget climate and an even scarier global climate, it hardly seems likely that the site will be closed any time soon.

What would endanger the weather station is a decision by DND to shut down CFS Alert. The weather folks have come to depend pretty heavily on the Canadian Forces for transportation and infrastructure at Alert, and it is conceivable that Environment Canada might choose to abandon the site if it had to provide all those services on its own.

But to the best of my knowledge DND is not considering closing CFS Alert. Osama and his boys are probably not about to sneak over the Arctic Ocean by dog sled, but I doubt there is any shortage of other SIGINT targets to keep Alert's antennas busy at the moment.

[Update: 3 May 2006
CBC News reported in April (Costly fuel prompts cuts at northern military station, CBC News, 13 April 2006) that an unspecified number of military jobs at Alert would be replaced by civilian contractors because of "rising fuel costs". At the same time, however, Major Gioseph Anello told CBC that some facilities at Alert are being modernized: "We are recapitalizing. We are rationalizing to provide better sustainability up in Alert." The clear implication is that CFS Alert will not be closing anytime soon. The changes are presumably the result of the CFS Alert Modernization Project, which began in January 2003.

Update II: 7 May 2006
More on developments at Alert (Nathan VanderKlippe, "Military downsizes Arctic spy outpost", Edmonton Journal, 5 May 2006).]

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