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Wildfire soot darkening glaciers could speed up melt rate, scientists fear

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When Ben Pelto does his field research on glaciers in the Rocky and Columbia mountains there are distinct perks.

The views aren’t bad, if you like the breathtaking kind.

He also gets to drink water that comes straight from the source.

However, on recent visits the water has tasted less like pristine glacier and more like soot.

“When it’s fire season you can taste the smoke in the water. It’s a bit of a bummer, because you look forward to this crisp cold water, but it has this funky taste,” said Pelto, who has been monitoring glaciers, like the Conrad, south of Golden, B.C., for the last five years, as part of a research project at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Researchers are concerned over what they are calling the darkening of the ice on western Canadian glaciers, which is caused by smoke and ash from nearby wildfires. (Margot Vore)

It’s not the taste that concerns Pelto so much as the darkening of the ice, especially last summer when wildfires raged across British Columbia.

“The surface of the glaciers was the dirtiest I’ve ever seen it,” Pelto said.

The darker the ice the more sunlight it absorbs.

Scientists are concerned forest fire fallout will speed up the melt of glaciers already in retreat.

On the Alberta side of the Rockies, hydrologist John Pomeroy studies the Peyto and Athabasca glaciers through the Centre of Hydrology and Coldwater Laboratory in Canmore.

He’s also been finding deposits of ash, likely blown in from wildfires in B.C.

John Pomeroy, the director of the Centre for Hydrology and Coldwater Laboratory in Canmore, shows off an instrument called a pyranometer. He and his students mount them over the ice to measure solar radiation. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

“We’re fairly certain it’s coming from these fires. You can follow the smoke plumes from various atmospheric models and see them affecting it,” Pomeroy said.

Typically in the summer, when the snow has melted away, glaciers absorb roughly 60 per cent of the sun’s rays, Pomeroy said.

“The last two summers have been a shock. Last summer we saw a 70 per cent of the solar radiation was being absorbed on the glacier surfaces. This summer we’ve seen 80 per cent absorbed,” he said.

He worries that’s contributing to a faster melt rate, but he says it’s tricky to measure the effect of wildfires on glaciers.

Darker ice absorbs more sun, and researchers are concerned the darkening caused by forest fires will speed up the glaciers’ melt rate. (Ben Pelto)

One complicating factor is all the smoke.

“There were days last August when the ice was almost certainly melting more slowly than it would have without the fires because of the smoky sky, but the ash will last much longer than the smoke has. And so we’re putting this into our models now to estimate the net effect on this.”

For University of Calgary glaciologist Shawn Marshall, understanding that net effect is crucial.

Since 2000, he’s been studying the impact of climate change on the shrinking Haig glacier in the Rockies.

“If you’re getting a bad fire season, it’s already hot and dry. It’s already a tough summer for the glaciers. So, if we’re actually getting these darker glaciers, it’s just like a kick when you’re down a little bit — it’s even worse.”

Pelto said in his five years of research, last year was the dirtiest he’s ever seen the B.C. glaciers, when wildfires consumed large parts of the province.

Scientists, like Marshall, say more research is needed, but they’re facing an unsettling prospect. Because of intensifying wildfire seasons their forecasts for Rocky mountain glaciers, and the river systems they feed, may be overly optimistic.

“It’s a potentially important effect that’s missing right now in our models. So, for the river forecast projections for Alberta and Saskatchewan it’s pretty important to know how long these glaciers will be with us and it’s starting to look like the fires will be part of that story.”

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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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