“Land of Living Skies” proclaims the Saskatchewan license plate. The prairie province is famous for its huge skies filled with billowing clouds or sheets of rustling Northern Lights.
So, it made sense that Wayne Evans, a prairie boy, became fascinated by the sky. “I used to watch B-52 bombers fly North and the Aurora Borealis,” recalls Evans.
His initial fascination in the sky led him to pursue science degrees at the University of Saskatchewan. For his master’s he studied the Aurora Borealis, but he found his true love for his Ph.D. The atmosphere.
Since his beginning his Ph.D. Evans has studied many of the chemicals that make up our atmosphere through the use of weather balloons and satellites. Through good luck, he was researching the ozone layer just before the ozone layer caused by CFCs was discovered in the 1980s.
His research took off (literally) when he moved to Ottawa to work for Environment Canada and launch the STRATOPROBE. Data from that satellite and others were used to keep accurate measurements of ozone depletion in the Arctic and the concentration of CFCs worldwide. Because of his and other scientific data, world leaders signed the Montreal Protocol which banned CFCs and helped restore the ozone layer.
After 15 years, Evans moved to Trent University in Peterborough to pursue another area of developing interest after the ozone layer: greenhouse gases. He combined with teams at York University, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Waterloo to measure and monitor greenhouse gases.
“It’s been my most important work,” says Evans of his greenhouse gas research. Evans hopes that his measurements of greenhouse gases will have the same impact that measuring ozone had. “We’re talking about a problem that is affecting the whole world and because the gas lifetime in the atmosphere is so long it will take a long time to deal with it.”
By Graeme Stemp-Morlock
As A Young Scientist...
Growing up in the Saskatchewan prairies, Evans fell in love with the big skies. The Northern Lights and jet contrail as B-52 bombers flew overhead excited his imagination.
Often one thinks of launching a satellite into space so that it can look at the stars, but Evans has turned the eyes of many satellites back down to Earth. His research interest is the atmosphere and the multitude of gases that make it up.
For his Ph.D. thesis, Evans measured the ozone layer using high altitude balloons. This research was just ahead of the curve and within a couple years, the ozone hole was discovered. Because of his earlier research and experience, Evans moved to Environment Canada to work on the STRATOPROBE project.
This was Evans first satellite mission, and the goal was to measure a range of important gases that affected the ozone layer. In fact, Evans team was the first to measure Nitric Acid in the atmosphere, and they discovered the Arctic ozone hole just a year after the Antarctic ozone hole was found.
In 2001 Evans saw another satellite with his name on it launch, when the ODIN satellite carried the University of Saskatchewan’s OSIRIS instrument into space. OSIRIS was able to measure several ozone related chemicals and help refine the data available.
After fifteen years at Environment Canada, Evans left to do research at Trent University in Peterborough. The change of workplace also shift in research focus. Evans continued to research ozone, but his focus became greenhouse gases, a topic that was rapidly beginning to heat up.
In 2003 the ACE satellite from the University of Waterloo rocketed into space, and Evans was able to get data from the satellite. Unlike previous satellites, ACE had the capability to measure over a thousand different chemicals in the atmosphere.
Thus, Evans began to study what he calls “his most important work”, radiation forcing. Radiation (for example, light and heat) come from the Sun, trickle through the atmosphere, and heat up the Earth before returning into space. Greenhouse gases have insulated the atmosphere so less heat escapes, in essence, throwing off the radiation balancing act.
How much it has been thrown out of whack, is what Evans has tried to find out. By monitoring and measuring atmospheric chemicals, he’s been able to determine how much of an effect chemicals like methane or jet contrails are having on the overall temperature. “The IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has been using radiation forcing as their scientific yard stick to tell you how powerful gases are in comparison to carbon dioxide. I’ve been measuring that quantity, whereas they’ve been calculating it using a model.”
By measuring atmospheric chemicals, Evans has found out that the IPCC’s models are actually slightly wrong compared to reality. For example, they predict that methane is 25 times more powerful that carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Evans has found it is actually 17-18 times more powerful, a difference of around 20%.
Evans other works has focused on jet contrails. “Cirrus clouds cause a change in the radiation balance, and jet contrails are artificial cirrus clouds,” said Evans. “So plane flights are altering cloud cover and the radiation balance.”
By Graeme Stemp-Morlock
Global warming is a problem that is going to take us hundreds of years to deal with, and there’s gonna be several science career lifetimes to deal with this problem. We are going to need all kinds of careers, from biologists seeing what happens to plants to engineers developing carbon sequestration.
- Nipawin, Saskatchewan
- Seattle, Washington
- Other Interests
- Sports such as golf and badmington. Travel.
- Professor, Emeritus
- Trent University/York University
- 1961 - Honours B.A. in Physics, University of Saskatchewan
- 1963 - M.A. in Physics, University of Saskatchewan
- 1968 - Ph.D. in Physics, University of Saskatchewan.
- 1997 - D.Sc. in Physics, University of Saskatchewan
- 2002 – CRC Tier One Chair Award
- 1989 - Fellow of Royal Society of Canada
- 1986 - DRIE Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer
- 1982 - Research Scientist Level 4 (Senior Scientist)
- 1977 - President's Prize, CMOS
- 1975 - Public Service Merit Award, Federal Government
- Last Updated
- November 17, 2011
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