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European Orbiter Finds No Methane in Mars’ Atmosphere, Puzzling Scientists

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The Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at Mars in 2016. (Credit: TG MEDIALAB/ESA)

The Trace Gas Orbiter has been hunting for methane in Mars’ atmosphere since 2016. (Credit: TG Medialab/ESA)

Methane on Mars

There’s a methane mystery brewing on Mars.

Scientists first detected traces of methane gas on Mars years ago, and it was exciting because the compound is a sign of life here on Earth. But a European orbiter has yet to find any evidence of methane in the planet’s atmosphere, despite being expressly made for the purpose. It’s complicating scientists’ search for life on the Red Planet.

Traces of methane were first detected in Mars’ atmosphere by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter in 2004. But, while some reveled in the discovery, other researchers believed the instrument wasn’t sensitive enough to create reliable results because it could only measure methane at a level of 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Ten years later, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected methane again in the planet’s Gale Crater. This past summer, Curiosity made another major methane discovery when it found that the Red Planet has a seasonal methane cycle.

Zero, Zip, Nada

But the ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which arrived at the planet in 2016, has found absolutely no methane in Mars’ atmosphere. The orbiter is using two spectrometers, both specially designed to detect methane in extremely low concentrations. At a semiannual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the TGO team said that these instruments are working perfectly well. The TGO team looked for concentrations of methane as low as 50 parts per trillion and extended their observations almost all the way to the planet’s surface. Still, no methane has been detected.

The data collected by TGO’s spectrometers has some noise that the team must clean up, Ann Carine Vandaele, the principal investigator for TGO’s NOMAD spectrometer, said at the meeting, as reported by Science. “But we already know we can’t see any methane,” she added.

Rethinking Mars

The Curiosity team has suggested that Mars’ methane likely comes from geological sources below the planet’s surface, though they couldn’t rule out organic sources, either. So, while TGO’s results are puzzling, they do help narrow down the search a bit by suggesting that there’s likely no methane coming from above the surface. Sources beneath the surface are still a viable reality, though.

However, these findings do rule out a previous suggestion that massive amounts of carbon from solar system dust enters Mars’ atmosphere every year and is turned into methane by solar radiation,

TGO’s findings might seem like a major flop in the search for life on Mars. But, as Sushin Atreya, a member of the Curiosity science team, explained to Science, it is possible that there could be methane beneath the planet’s surface that is not detected in the atmosphere. In fact, Atreya said that there could be thousands of methane sources, like the spot in Gale Crater where Curiosity measured a methane spike, and atmospheric signals could still be absent.

“I actually did the calculation. It’s going to average out to be a very, very low value, nondetectable,” he said.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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