MAGS: Research on Northern Water Resources
by Bommy Lee
Dr. Ming-ko Woo, Professor in the School of Geography and Geology at
McMaster University, illuminated the importance of research of Northern
water resources at a breakfast meeting in the West Block, Parliament Hill
on Nov. 29, 2001. The meeting was hosted by The Partnership Group for
Science and Engineering, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council. In particular, he talked about the Mackenzie River Basin Study,
known as MAGS, of which he is the Principal Investigator.
MAGS is part of GEWEX (Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment), an
international collaboration aimed at studying the interrelationship between
water and climate in areas sensitive to the present warming trend. Besides
the MacKenzie Basin, GEWEX includes the Mississippi and Amazon Rivers,
the Baltic Sea and Asia's monsoon and Siberian regions. MAGS began in
1992 and involves over 60 Canadian climatologists, meteorologists, hydrologists,
remote-sensing experts, and modellers from several universities and government
departments of Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada.
After ten years of data gathering, the second phase of the MAGS program
starts January of 2002.
According to Woo, the main goal of the second phase is to "integrate
the information and knowledge we have and develop computer models to improve
our predictions of the atmospheric processes, weather forecasts and water
The MAGS team aims to address various problems related to water resources.
They will also be collaborating with Japanese colleges in the Siberian
region in exchanging information.
"They have a similar environment to the one we are studying so we'll
try to see if we can transfer knowledge," says Woo.
The Mackenzie Basin covers 20 per cent of Canada extending from Jasper,
Alberta, to the Beaufort Sea coast. It is the largest Northern American
source of fresh water for the Arctic Ocean and plays an important role
in Canadian climate as well as the temperature and salinity of the world's
"It is important to have a fundamental knowledge of the physical
environment and in our case the atmospheric and hydrological environment.
These are scientific issues that have to be understood before we plunge
into a lot of the regional and local planning," says Woo.
However, according to Woo, there is inadequate research in Northern areas.
"Take the Queen Elizabeth Islands, way up north, for example,"
The Queen Elizabeth Islands cover an area comparable to the British Isles
and France combined.
"How many weather stations you think we have?" asks Woo. "Three.
And do we have any stream flow gauging stations for measuring streams?
No. Can you imagine a country like France in size, having only three weather
stations and no stream flow stations? And you want to make wine?"
Woo says this need for more research in Canada's North is due in part
to a lack of concern and awareness about the North.
"The Arctic is very important as a weather and climate generator,
and it's not just for Canada, but for the world as well. And when we don't
know much about that, not only do we suffer but also the world community
will suffer. This is something that you cannot leave in private hands
to do. It is a role for government," he says.
Woo says that education is the key to resolving the need for knowledge
of Northern regions. And it must start at an early age.
"There is no point in waiting until students are in university;
it is important that we encourage and stimulate interest when they are
still young," he says.
Currently, the Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife has a weather
station with which students are collecting data to analyze in their math
and science classes.
"They are getting interested in weather and climate and they are
thinking of putting the information on a website so that other students
from anywhere else in the world can get the information," says Woo.
As the second phase of MAGS begins, five million dollars in new funding
from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada has
already been awarded.