Iroquois to Nunavut: Dr. Ralf Staebler

Concern about air pollution in Canada’s north, as shipping and mining activities in this remote region steadily increase, has led Environment Canada to install air quality monitors in two Nunavut communities. And installing those special monitors in Resolute and Cape Dorset during this past May was Dr. Ralf Staebler.

Staebler is a name that is very familiar within the community of South Dundas. 

Ralf’s parents, Manfred and Helga, who immigrated to Canada from Germany, farm just outside Iroquois, although brother Michael now operates the family business with his father. Ralf continues to call this area home as many members of his immediate family still live in South Dundas. However, Ralf’s career, since leaving his Eastern Ontario home town, has taken him to the farthest reaches of the great North, and placed him at the cutting edge of air quality research.

“My love of technology and nature inspired me to pursue a career in the field of air quality,” Staebler said. “I’ve been building gadgets since I was six, and I’ve always been an avid outdoors guy. This job in the science and technology branch gives me some of each.” 

A graduate in 1985 of Seaway District High School in Iroquois, Staebler was intensely interested in the sciences. He particularly remembers the late Wayne Johnston, who was his calculus teacher, and Rick Mackenzie, who was his chemistry instructor.

His passion for the sciences took him to Queen’s University in Kingston, where he earned a BScE in engineering physics, followed by an MSc in atmospheric physics from the University of Toronto. He was granted his PhD in atmospheric sciences by the State University of New York in Albany. In marked contrast to where he spends most of his time now, Ralf did his PhD field work in the Amazon jungles of Brazil.

He is employed with Environment Canada, and has gone to the Arctic specifically to study issues related to ozone depletions near the surface, carbon uptake by forests and various other topics involving the emission and deposition of pollutants.
 “I get to work on high-tech equipment and I get to make measurements in the Arctic, in forests, on aircraft, wherever there is a need for more data.”

Officially, Staebler’s home is in Toronto, and he works in Downsview. He is in charge of the Borden Research Station at CFB Borden, and spends much time there. But he has also been sent to such places as Alert, Nunavut, Barrow, Alaska, and put to sea on the Amundsen research icebreaker.

The rugged, empty terrain of the Arctic is a far cry from the gentler temperatures and changing geography he grew up with, but he has come to love the north. “The vast empty spaces and the harsh, but beautiful, pristine landscapes in the Arctic really put things in perspective. It’s a very addictive place,” he explained.

On his recent trip to the Arctic, he installed air quality monitors at Resolute and Cape Dorset which will keep an eye on increasing ship traffic, and the nature and extent of various pollutants in the north as the sea ice disappears. This summer, Staebler is going to the Alberta Oil Sands to participate in a large air quality study organized by Environment Canada.

For Ralf Staebler, his chosen field gives him an opportunity to “think outside the box, to tackle problems that have never been tackled before.”

He enjoys working with his colleagues, exploring new and intriguing ideas.

“I like to think that what we do is important, to ensure a liveable planet for future generations,” Dr. Ralf Staebler said. He hopes to continue his work in the Arctic and in other parts of Canada affected by pollution.

“Canada is the custodian of a huge portion of the Arctic. It is our responsibility to take care of our own backyard.”

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