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Increase in wildfire-induced storms needs government attention, researcher says

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Scientists are tracking more and more fire-induced storms, and policy-makers should be looking at ways to deal with them in environmental and emergency response strategies, according to an author and policy researcher based in Edmonton, Alta.

Ed Struzik, fellow with the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University, says thunderstorms triggered by wildfires — also known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds or pyroCbs — are becoming more frequent and powerful. And the storms are popping up in places where scientists have never seen them before, he writes in an article published in Yale E360, an online magazine from Connecticut-based Yale University.

“They call them these dirty thunderstorms because they look black and much darker than an ordinary thunderstorm,” Struzik told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

Watch how these storms form:

Experts observed a prime example of the phenomenon during B.C.’s disastrous 2017 wildfire season.

“As fires that would eventually consume 4,700 square miles in British Columbia burned out of control, five fire-driven thunderstorms rose over the conflagration,” writes Struzik, “shooting black smoke and carbon high into the lower stratosphere, spewing noxious gases that were eventually detected almost as far north as the North Pole, and touching off more fires.”

Climate change

There has been speculation that the increase in these storms is directly related to climate change. While there’s not yet enough evidence to prove that theory because it’s a relatively new area of study, Struzik thinks it’s likely.

“It’s connected to climate change,” he told CBC. “Things are warming up a lot faster and that’s the main ingredient you need for a pyroCb to form.”

A graph compares particulate matter thrust into the stratosphere by different wildfires and a volcanic eruption. (Naval Research Laboratory)

Pyrocumulus refers to clouds created by a fire; pyrocumulonimbus refers to fire-induced clouds that produce rain.

As the earth’s temperatures continue to climb, and are expected to for the foreseeable future, this should be cause for concern for scientists and policy-makers alike, Struzik said.

‘Slow in responding’

“Here in Canada we’ve been really slow in responding to the new challenges that we’re seeing from wildfires,” he said, noting that pyroCbs are causing major problems for wildfire planning.  

A satellite map from the early hours of Aug. 13, 2017, shows how B.C. wildfires, in pink, triggered large thunderstorms, in green. (Naval Research Laboratory)

“We have a federal government right now that is very good at compensating people who are impacted by fire, but not very good at funding the research that’s needed for us to be able to predict and adapt to the wildfires that are going to happen in the future,” Struzik said.

“We’ve got great firefighting personnel, probably among the best in the world, but we’re really using decades’ old tools to fight fires that are much different in some ways than they were in the past.”

Firefighters in northern California were stunned in 2018 when a fire-induced storm created a fire tornado, which created strong winds that shot out embers in its path, putting firefighters at risk.

Wildfires in California in 2018 also produced pyrocumulonimbus clouds or pyroCbs. (Cal Fire via Associated Press)

“There’s really no way of extinguishing them,” Struzik said. “It’s added a new element to the suppression tactics and strategies.”

“I think that this really hasn’t sunk in to the government policymakers.”

Scientists are tracking more and more fire-induced storms, and policy-makers have to include that in environmental strategies, according to policy expert Ed Struzik. 8:35

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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