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Here's what gives a summer sunset its pretty colour

03 August 2016 19:19:00 Ottawa Citizen - News

This summer, Postmedia’s Tom Spears brings you the often offbeat science behind the season that calls us to go outdoors. It’s all part of a series we call the Science of Summer. Today’s story is on the science behind what makes a sunset pretty. The vivid colours in the sky at sunset look like art, but underlying them is the physics of light and colour, as fascinating as the colours themselves. Wayne Hocking of Western University's physics department has spent years studying our atmosphere, and knows a lot about what it does to light. Sunlight begins with all the colours of the rainbow combined, until our air breaks them apart. This happens because light bounces off molecules of nitrogen, oxygen and other gases in the atmosphere, a process known as scattering. Blue lightwaves are short compared to the warm colours of red and orange, Hocking explains, which makes blue light the most likely to scatter. Longer waves of red and orange light push through the air without scattering as much. "So the blue light scatters more than the reds and greens and yellows," he said. "Because the blue scatters more intensely, that's why the sky looks blue (in the middle of the day). "The red light, relative to the blue, sort of comes straight down to Earth, whereas the blue light coming from the sun scatters a bit more. So we have this bluish haze to the sky." Sunset introduces a new angle, literally. As the sun sets on the horizon, light is entering the horizon at a shallower angle. Late evening sun is cutting sideways through the atmosphere — passing through more air than the daytime sun coming nearly straight down. Now a second factor comes into play: absorption. The atmosphere actually absorbs some lightwaves, blotting them out completely. And the light it absorbs most is blue and green light — the short waves. The long trip sideways from a sun near the horizon filters out most of these colours. Red light is scattering around the sky and spreading its colour, meanwhile, and by evening it no longer has a lot of blue light overpowering it. "So by the time it (the sun) sets, the blue light has pretty much been absorbed and we're just left with the red light, and we're left with this reddish tinge," Hocking said. Dust particles in the atmosphere, pollutants and sooty particles from forest fires or even volcanoes will change the colour of a sunset. These make it more red, Hocking said. That's because these are relatively large particles (compared to molecules of nitrogen and oxygen), and therefore they are better able to scatter the long waves of red and orange light. The result is that large fires even many hundreds of kilometres away can send enough smoke downwind to change the colour of the sky, even when the smoke itself is not visible. Humidity can also add a reddish, hazy look, he said. Hocking has even seen a green sunset, also known as a green flash. It happens mostly near the poles, he said. With the sun dipping to the horizon, "the light will actually bend as it passes through the atmosphere. It's called refraction. "You can have occasions where it sort of bends the red light out of the way and the blue light is heavily absorbed, and you are left with a sun that actually looks green. "It's kind of cute.You can say, Hey, I've seen a green sun." Hocking was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014 in recognition of his work.

Vice null Time03 August 2016 19:19:00


Forest fires in Canada, by the numbers

05 May 2016 00:04:08 Simcoe County-News (from

A by-the-numbers look at the number and size of forest fires in Canada

Vice null Time05 May 2016 00:04:08

Albertans open arms — and doors — to wildfire evacuees

05 May 2016 00:01:54 Halton-News (from

Albertans welcome the displaced as Shell Canada and Syncrude offer space in their northern Alberta camps for evacuees fleeing the wildfire that continues to burn through Fort McMurray

Vice null Time05 May 2016 00:01:54

Humans leading cause of wildfires:scientist

04 May 2016 21:41:54 Brampton-News (from

Humans cause majority of wildfires in Canada: scientist

Vice null Time04 May 2016 21:41:54

Sky's the limit: Renfrew paramedics harness the power of drones

19 April 2016 00:25:48 Ottawa Citizen - News

The wheels started to turn for Renfrew paramedic chief Michael Nolan in February 2012 after one of his crews helped rescue a snowmobiler whose machine had crashed through the ice on Calabogie Lake. Paramedic Brad Smith later won a Governor General's Award for bravery for his role in the dramatic rescue, using a canoe and his hands for paddles to get to the stranded man clinging to a crust of ice. But Nolan thought there had to be a better way for paramedics to save lives — and money — in a jurisdiction that stretches its resources over 10,000 square kilometres from West Carleton to near Mattawa, and reaching into west Quebec and Algonquin Park. "What if it had been possible to know more about the situation on Calabogie Lake?" Nolan asked himself. "Or if there was a technology that could, say, deliver a rope to the desperate man hanging on to that wafer of ice?" Soon after, Nolan learned that one of his paramedics, James Power, had military experience with drones, also called "unmanned aerial vehicles," or UAVs. And the gears that were turning in Nolan's head clicked into place. The ability to assess a situation from the air would help first responders answer calls more efficiently and safely. The images and video also provide a record for quality assurance and training. A drone offers a "cheat sheet" for first responders, says Nolan. "It identifies the likely injuries. It lets you prepare for a situation that otherwise would be in the moment." The paramedic service's first drone was a hobbyist model. It soon became obvious Power needed one that could fly longer, have additional attachments and a more sophisticated operating system as well as greater awareness of the airspace. He has since upgraded to drones modified especially for the paramedics by B.C.'s InDro Robotics and technology from Ottawa's Kongsberg Geospatial that allows the drone operator to be aware of other objects around it to prevent collisions in the airspace. Drones can be mobilized much faster and less expensively than aircraft, and can get much closer, says Power. Police are still using $100,000 cameras mounted on aircraft to take pictures of crime scenes. That's not the most effective use of resources, he says. The drone was used for aerial surveillance when OPP were investing the scene of a homicide in Foymount last September. The Renfrew paramedic drone has been used for surveillance — the OPP seconded it to get a bird's-eye view of a homicide scene in Foymount as first responders followed the path of a killer who took the lives of three women last September. So much about the scene was unknown. Was the armed intruder still in the house? Where were the exits located? Where was the victim's 20-year-old son? The drone was also used during a forest fire near Eganville last spring, helping to identify hot spots. The possibilities are endless — you can even put a nuclear radiation detector on a drone, says Nolan. Last month, the drone checked out the hard-t0-access scene of a landslide that dragged several hectares of Leda clay and accompanying trees into the Bonnechere River, creating a natural dam. Within a few minutes, the drone identified the location and the extent of the damage. The landslide is a prime example of a situation where the drone proved its value, said Peter Emon, warden of Renfrew County and the reeve of the town of Renfrew. "I think every rural municipality should have one. It gives you a vantage point you wouldn't usually get." But the drone must be used within legislation that governs paramedics, including respect for privacy, as well as Transport Canada's regulatory framework that says drones can only be used within the operator's visual range. The paramedics have applied for exemptions from Transport Canada that would allow them to fly the drone any time or anywhere under appropriate conditions. Renfrew's paramedic service is the first emergency service in Canada to innovate and work collaboratively with Transport Canada. Nolan has spoken about the initiative as far away as Turkey, and will travel to Oxford in England later this spring. Soon, Nolan hopes that a drone can be used to deliver life-saving medications and devices such as an EpiPen for someone in anaphylactic shock. Instructions for using the device could be provided over a cellphone. "People are starting to think of UAVs as not just science fiction, but real-life tools," says Philip Reece, CEO of InDro Robotics. "I wouldn't be surprised if, within two years, it's standard for every fire engine to have a UAV on board."

Vice null Time19 April 2016 00:25:48

Military shrinks to lowest level in years – and could shrink further

27 January 2016 01:58:26 Ottawa Citizen - News

The Canadian Armed Forces have been bleeding personnel at an increasing rate, as attrition and recruiting problems push the number of men and women in uniform down to levels not seen in years. The numbers are likely a sign of things to come as the Liberal government moves on its promise to create a “leaner, more agile” force. The previous Conservative government expanded the military after coming to power a decade ago, adding thousands of men and women to the ranks. After the 2009 financial crisis, the government promised to keep 68,000 full-time military members and 27,000 reservists in uniform despite billions in spending cuts. But a Defence Department report tabled in the House of Commons this week shows a shortage of nearly 1,900 regular force members and 5,300 part-time reservists as of March 2015, thanks to higher than expected attrition and, for reservists, “challenges in meeting recruiting quotas.” That compares with a shortage of 900 full-time military personnel and 4,500 reservists the previous year. The military has said it needs more than 4,000 new recruits each year just to offset attrition and keep 68,000 full-time troops in uniform. The report doesn’t explain the difficulties in recruiting and retaining personnel, but the shortfall created problems, at least in the short term. Of 95 occupations in the regular forces, 24 were “stressed” – that is, understaffed – though the report said new recruits in the system would “gradually” make up the difference. The shortage of reservists was especially acute as the part-time force has been called upon numerous times to help with missions such as Afghanistan, or in crises at home such as floods and forest fires. The shortage of army and navy reservists was cited as a particular concern. Defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the numbers in the report put the Canadian Armed Forces at their smallest size since at least 2009. But rather than rushing to the rescue, the Liberal government could end up shrinking the military even more. The Liberal government has ruled out any significant budget increases for defence. Instead, it has promised a comprehensive defence review to create the first defence white paper in more than 20 years, with a plan to making the military "leaner, more agile.” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan confirmed Tuesday that one of the things the government will be looking at is the size of the force. "It's going to look not just look at the procurement, it's going to look at our number of forces, how it connects into our global footprint," he told reporters outside the House of Commons. "We want to make sure that the Defence Review is done in a manner that sets us ­ Canada up for the next 10, 20 years and how we fit as part of the world." The Conservatives were sensitive about reducing the size of the military after criticizing previous Liberal governments for doing exactly that in the 1990s. But the Tories’ refusal to reduce the number of personnel in uniform at the same time it was cutting billions of dollars in defence spending put a disproportionate amount of budgetary pressure on other parts of the military, including maintenance and procurement. One former defence chief, retired general Rick Hillier, warned in 2013 that reducing the size of the military was the only way to ensure the force remained strong and stable. He said the number of full-time members should be reduced from 68,000 to 50,000. Most analysts agree that the mandated staffing levels and planned procurement projects are unsustainable under the current defence budget. “Something has to give,” said Perry, who has estimated that cutting the size of the force by 1,000 regular-force members would save about $105 million a year. National Defence also reported that it was short about 2,200 civilian employees, against an authorized strength of more than 24,000. The Conservative government did not have a target for the number of civilian workers, though it did put a priority on employing those in uniform. The Canadian Armed Forces, by the Numbers 68,000: Mandated strength of the regular force 66,130: Actual strength of the regular force on March 31, 2015 1,870: Difference between mandated and actual strength 27,000: Mandated strength of the reserve force 21,707: Actual strength of the reserve force on March 31, 2015 5,293: Difference between mandated and actual strength — Source: Department of National Defence

Vice null Time27 January 2016 01:58:26

Air quality poor in Saskatoon, southern Saskatchewan: Environment Canada

29 August 2015 20:09:04 The StarPhoenix - News

Forest fires in the United States are compromising air quality in the entire southern half of Saskatchewan, including Saskatoon, according to a statement by Environment Canada.

Vice Alle News Time29 August 2015 20:09:04

Environment Canada warns of smoky conditions in Edmonton

24 August 2015 15:22:16 Edmonton Journal - News

Smoke from forest fires in Washington state and British Columbia is expected to move into central and southern Alberta early Monday morning. Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Edmonton, St. Albert and Sherwood Park to warn people that there could be reduced visibility on the roads and poor air quality.

Vice Alle News Time24 August 2015 15:22:16

Rain brings relief to Edmonton

13 July 2015 23:08:18 Edmonton Journal - News

Rain and cooler temperatures are bringing much needed relief to Edmonton after a heat wave combined with smoke from forest fires made for a sticky, hazy weekend. “The good news is that in the next week we will see more days with rain than without,” said Environment Canada climatologist Dave Phillips.

Vice Alle News Time13 July 2015 23:08:18

Wildfire grows in Jasper National Park

10 July 2015 22:01:33 Simcoe County-News (from

Growing wildfire forces people from Maligne Valley in Jasper National Park

Vice null Time10 July 2015 22:01:33