The birth of the HAWC
-By Hind Al-Abadleh, Jean-Pierre Blanchet, Adam Bourassa, and Kaley Walker-
On October 18, 2022, The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced that Canada will contribute more than $200 million to the High-altitude Aerosols, Water vapour and Clouds (HAWC) mission to be part of the Atmosphere Observing System (AOS) mission led by NASA. The AOS mission is an international and major multi-satellite mission that also include Japan, France, and Germany. Led by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the HAWC mission consists of two Canadian instruments on a Canadian satellite and a third instrument on a NASA satellite, all planned for launch in 2031.
The HAWC mission is an intrinsically collaborative project. The HAWC team consists of the CSA, a consortium of thirteen universities, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada, and the National Research Council of Canada. Canadian aerospace companies with international expertise in optics and satellite technology were also partners on the innovative instruments designed and developed in Canadian university labs. The three Canadian-made scientific instruments (sensors) that work in a synchronized fashion from orbit are ALI (Aerosol Limb Imager) – satellite imager for aerosol profiling (USask-developed), SHOW (Spatial Heterodyne Observations of Water) — satellite imager for water vapor (USaskdeveloped), and TICFIRE (Thin Ice Cloud and Far InfraRed Emissions) — far infrared imager for ice clouds and radiation (UQAM-developed). TICFIRE will fly on the polar orbiting element main observatory of the NASA AOS with a suite of active and passive nadir looking instruments, and ALI and SHOW will fly on a Canadian satellite in a synchronized orbit to make coordinated limb observations of the same air mass as TICFIRE. The key project elements for HAWC on NASA’s AOS, include launching of the HAWC satellite by NASA, creation of a Canadian-built satellite platform, development of the three Canadian atmospheric sensors, and data production/computing/analysis.
The Canadian team has been hard at work over nearly two decades before HAWC was born. Early investments from the CSA enabled concept studies and technology development. The HAWC team has been advocating for federal support of the HAWC Satellite mission for over a year as a timely and tangible outcome of Canada’s Strategy for Satellite Earth Observation. While HAWC is designed for a space mission time of five years, this government investment in the project would help supply of valuable data to inform the next two decades. HAWC will deliver data on atmospheric aerosol and clouds that will enable creation of evidence-based solutions for long-term, short-term and time-critical decisions for extreme weather prediction, climate modelling and air quality.
The HAWC mission is an opportunity to reposition atmosphere-related research in Canada and to build new collaborations inside and outside of the science community. By leveraging this new government investment with other research grants, HAWC will integrate the efforts ofresearchers in government, industry and universities in ways that will contribute to the training and retention of highly qualified personnel. The HAWC team aims to create collaborative educational opportunities that include specialized classes, in-person and virtual workshops, and hands-on experimental and theoretical modules to name a few. All partners on the HAWC team are committed to integrating best practices in equity, diversity, and inclusion in their training plans to capitalize on the creativity and ingenuity of diverse scientific teams.
As efforts are ramping up to tackle climate change, the HAWC team will engage in timely knowledge mobilization efforts. These efforts include working closely with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Indigenous Science Division, writing plain language op-eds for newspapers and scientific magazines, launching public outreach seminars in partnership with science communication and wider community groups.
As mitigation efforts are ongoing, albeit slowly, to reduce carbon emissions, to enhance climate adaption and minimize human suffering, humanity needs not only better environmental prediction capability but also sustained funding to new and ongoing international scientific collaborations and integration of multiple ways of knowing and informing societies of what’s to come.
Professor Hind Al-Abadleh: HAWC consortium collaborator, Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Chair, Atmosphere-related Research in Canadian Universities (ARRCU).
Professor Jean-Pierre Blanchet: HAWC consortium co-lead, Université du Québec à Montréal, Département des sciences de la Terre et de l’atmosphère.
Professor Adam Bourassa: HAWC consortium co-lead, University of Saskatchewan, Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies.
Professor Kaley Walker: HAWC consortium co-lead, University of Toronto, Department of Physics.