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The cost of learning: Research in Canada’s North up to 25 times more expensive

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Travelling to remote locations and engaging with Indigenous communities for scientific research in the Canadian Arctic can be up to 25 times more expensive, according to a study in the journal Arctic Science.

The study compared the costs of the same three-person, four-week seabird research camp within the north and south of Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Norway.

Canadian Arctic most expensive

It concluded research in the Canadian North was the most expensive due to air travel as well as consultation with and hiring from communities near research sites.

“Depending on what you add on, it can be up to anywhere from four to 25 times more expensive to work in the Arctic,” said lead author Mark Mallory of Acadia University in Wolfville N.S.

Across the four countries, the study found conducting research in the Arctic is typically eight times more expensive than similar studies at a southern location, with travel, supplies and community outreach accounting for the difference.

Created fictitious study

Mallory, a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) chair in coastal ecosystems, has worked in the Arctic for 20 years studying seabirds.

With the Arctic increasingly becoming ground zero in the study of climate change, researchers wanted to quantify the cost difference between working in northern versus southern locations.

“A large part of the impetus to do this paper was to see whether we could actually find examples of how much more expensive it was to work in the Arctic,” Mallory said.

The result was a fictitious, standardized research project based on real numbers from the cost of firearms, ammunition and bear fences to air travel and community workshops in Canada.

Norway, Canada most expensive

The two most expensive locations to conduct the basic seabird research were High Arctic Canada and High Arctic Norway.

Holding a community workshop in the Canadian High Arctic added $20,000 US to the cost, bringing the total to $71,270 US. Half of that added cost was air travel.

The greatest cost difference within a country was in Canada where the High Arctic was almost 19 times more expensive than in the Bay of Fundy of Nova Scotia when outreach is added.

“Doing those types of consultations in many cases is more expensive than doing an entire program in the south, so it adds a lot. But it’s what we need to do and we should be doing,” said Mallory.

What is outreach?

Outreach can involve everything from community consultations with the rental of community facilities and local hiring to companion interviews to gather Indigenous knowledge.

“In particular, in some Arctic locations and for some projects, consultation and collaboration with northern communities or organizations are essential to successful and meaningful research programs. In our Canadian work this has provided clear, mutual benefits,” the report states.

Budget buster

The report noted governments recognize the extra expense of Arctic research but the additional costs of working there gobbles up research funding.

In Canada, the average NSERC ecological research grant is $30,000 with an additional $30,000 available in supplementary support for northern projects.

“For an ‘average,’ established researcher to undertake a project in the Canadian Arctic, effectively all of their core research grant would have to be applied to that one project, whereas a researcher doing the same work but in a southern location could theoretically conduct about five similar projects for the same core grant,” the report states.

Mallory said the expense is especially challenging for younger researchers who generally have a harder time getting funding than more established colleagues.

Do it here or there

Some scientists have no choice but to work in the Arctic, like those studying the impacts of climate change on Arctic wildlife, permafrost and glaciers for instance, or looking at adaptation and resilience or implications on infrastructure.

But for others like Mallory there are alternatives.

He studies seabirds at all latitudes.

“If you work on a gull species or common eiders, we have in Nova Scotia up to the Arctic, you can do a lot more on eiders here than you can up North, so it really comes down to what you are trying to do,” he said.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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