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‘Amateur hour’: Work for Trans Mountain pipeline destroyed salmon habitat: scientist

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VANCOUVER — Work on a Trans Mountain pipeline crossing in a British Columbia stream has destroyed salmon habitat, raising concerns about the Crown corporation’s ability to build infrastructure through waterways if the expansion project proceeds, a scientist says.

Mike Pearson says the “amateur hour” work on the Stewart Creek crossing in Chilliwack will reduce food sources for coho and chum salmon and limit their ability to hide from predators. The fish are part of the diet of endangered southern resident killer whales.

“There was no consideration given whatsoever to the habitat, which is just not acceptable,” said Pearson, a biologist with 30 years’ experience, in an interview.

Trans Mountain Corp. filed documents with the National Energy Board showing its plans to cover exposed pipe in the Fraser Valley creek. It wrote that it would place concrete mats in the channel, extending about eight metres upstream and nine metres downstream of the exposed line, and cover it with small stones.

Pearson said the work was completed in August to September of last year. He visited the site in December and took photos that he says show most of the stones have been swept away by currents, leaving the concrete blocks exposed.

“The work has degraded habitat in several ways,” he wrote in an assessment filed with the energy board by intervener Yarrow Ecovillage.

The smooth, hard concrete provides no hiding places for salmon, supports very few of the aquatic invertebrates they feed on, inhibits plant growth and prevents fish from burying their eggs, the document says.

Pearson believes it’s not an isolated incident. An assessment he did of a pipeline creek crossing on Sumas Mountain in 2015 for Pipe Up Network, an anti-pipeline group, concluded the site was physically unstable and reconstructed with materials inappropriate to restoring habitat.

A stream-keeper has also raised concerns about excavation at Trans Mountain’s terminal in Burnaby. John Preissl has filed several complaints with the energy board alleging the work has caused sediment to fall into two salmon-bearing creeks.

Federal and provincial officials inspected the terminal in April and found improperly installed sediment and erosion control measures. A follow-up energy board report concluded Trans Mountain had fixed the problems by the end of November.

Trans Mountain said in a statement that the BC Oil and Gas Commission approved its Stewart Creek work and found no issues in site inspections during and after construction.

It said a third-party engineer designed the plan to protect the exposed line and conducted a study to ensure it would not impede fish passage. Environmental plans were created and work was monitored full-time by a qualified environmental professional, it said.

As for Pearson’s 2015 criticism of the Sumas Mountain crossing, Trans Mountain said an independent environmental consultant completed an assessment and made a management plan. The work was monitored by an environmental professional and the oil and gas commission found no issues.

It also said “extensive” sediment control measures and mitigation efforts are in place at its Burnaby terminal.

The corporation added that field crews investigated all potential watercourse crossings for its expansion project even before it applied to the energy board for approval.

“The information gleaned from this fieldwork allows us to avoid or minimize impact to fish and fish habitat during pipeline construction,” it said, adding environmental inspectors will monitor construction.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has purchased the pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion.

The expansion would triple the capacity of the existing line that runs from the Edmonton area to Burnaby. The energy board completed its first review in 2016 and recommended the government approve the project with 157 conditions.

In its report, the board wrote the watercourse crossing plans “would effectively reduce the extent of effects on fish and fish habitat.”

Ten conditions relate to fish, including that the company must file details on the presence of fish and fish habitat with the board before starting construction on watercourse crossings.

Most of the conditions are “a plan to make a plan,” argued Eugene Kung, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

“They don’t have any actual measurable effect on the outcome.”

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed the project’s approval in August in part due to the board’s failure to consider marine shipping impacts. The government ordered the board to conduct a new review looking at this issue and produce a report by Feb. 22.

Scientists and environmentalists say the new review, which is limited to 12 nautical miles off B.C.’s coast, is neglecting the streams and rivers that support salmon.

Board spokesman James Stevenson said it will consider all evidence on the record relevant to assessing impacts of project-related marine shipping, including but not limited to impacts on southern resident killer whales.

“Some parties have filed evidence regarding (southern resident) prey, including salmon,” he said.

The board rejected Pearson’s evidence because Yarrow Ecovillage filed it nine days after a December deadline, but the board noted the evidence “may have some relevance as it pertains to salmon, which is a food source of the (southern residents).”

Chinook salmon comprise roughly 80 per cent of southern resident orca diet in the summer, but chum, coho and steelhead trout make up about 14 to 18 per cent, and little is known of their winter diet, said Pearson in his filing with the energy board.

Paul Spong, founder of Orca Lab research station on Vancouver Island, said chum are the whales’ second choice after chinook, adding that starvation is the biggest threat to their survival.

“Anything that interferes with salmon using river systems is detrimental to the orcas.”

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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