University of Saskatchewan

July 30, 2014   

“Earth, wind and fire”

Jean-Pierre St.-Maurice, B.A., B.Sc., Ph.D.

Highlights

“As we move into a more intense study of environmental science and climate change here at the University of Saskatchewan, we’ll be setting up a structure that requires true collaboration not just from people in all the science disciplines, but also the social sciences. Think about it – climate change can affect the geo-political map, can spark wars and can bring on famine and drought. We all need to be involved in this issue.”

Background

1975, Ph.D. (Geology and Geophysics),
Yale University
1971, B.Sc. (Physics), University of Montreal
1968, B.A. College of Valleyfield, Quebec

Published

95 papers published in refereed journals & over 110 abstracts in conference proceedings
17 invited presentations at international
conferences & symposia

Mentored

12 graduate students
6 post-doctoral fellows

Committees/Boards

Chair of Commissions G and H for the Canadian National URSI committee
Liaison committee between NSREC and the Canadian Association of Physicists
Canadian Association of Physicists Chair, Division of Atmospheric & Space Physics
Associate Editor, Journal of Geophysical Research Science Steering Committee for Coupling Energetics & Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions, USA
Scientific Advisory Committee, EISCAT Observatory, Europe
Solar-Terrestrial Relations Advisory Committee to the Canadian Space Agency
Grant Selection Committee, NSERC
Grant Selection Panels, NASA

Editing and Media

Associate Editor, Asian Journal of Social Science Contributing Editor, Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society
Book Review Editorial Board, Critical Sociology Manuscript referee for three journals and one book Frequent media commentator on science and technology

Honours

  • Canada Research Chair in Environmental Sciences, Tier 1
  • Fellow, Summer study program in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • Visiting Professor, Max Plank Institut fur Aeronomie, Germany
  • Visiting Professor, Institute for Space and Aeronautical Sciences, Japan
  • Visiting Scientist, MIT Haystack Observatory
  • SERC visiting Fellow, Leicester, UK
  • Directeur de Recherche, Orleans, France
  • International Research Fellow, Stanford Research Institute, California
  • University Student Council’s Teaching Honour Roll, University of Western Ontario

Contact Information

Jean-Pierre St-Maurice
Phone: (306) 966-2906
Email: jp.stmaurice@usask.ca

Jean-Pierre St.-Maurice

Canada Research Chair in Environmental Sciences

Generated by massive storms on the surface of the sun, streams of highenergy particles constantly bombard our planet. Piercing the Earth’s magnetic field, this solar wind and the resulting electrical currents produce one of the great wonders of the night sky – the Aurora Borealis or northern lights.

But large bursts in the solar wind carry the potential to do real damage. Pummeled by the high-energy particles, Earth-orbiting satellites can lose attitude control, or instruments, or shut down all together. On Earth, electro-magnetic impulses from electrical currents in the ionosphere can create currents on the ground capable of destroying power installations and creating a domino effect of failure across grids. Welds on pipelines are susceptible to corrosion or to sparks that cause explosions when these currents pass through them. Even the Earth’s climate is influenced by space weather.

At the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Jean-Pierre St.-Maurice is intrigued with the activity on the sun, but more interested in how it manifests itself on Earth. As the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Sciences, he has set his sights on a multi-disciplinary effort that will better equip scientists to more accurately predict space weather, and thereby mitigate its effects.

“New technology, like the SOHO satellite, has already completely changed how we look at the sun. For example, we now know that the cycle of activity on the sun’s surface sometimes stops, and we have not a clue as to how this happens. What we do know is that when this happens, the northern hemisphere gets a lot colder. Likewise, the aurora can be very structured or very erratic. To me, I think of these systems as behaving like milk poured into hot coffee after you’ve given it a little stir. You see clouds and swirls forming complex patterns – the aurora, and even the solar cycle show similar kinds of turbulent structures.”

A physicist with a rich background in geophysics, atmospheric and plasma sciences, Dr. St.-Maurice’s work will focus on the ionosphere over the Canadian Arctic. Here, the Earth’s magnetic field offers its weakest resistance and is most susceptible to penetration by the solar wind particles. “Mapping electric fields 100 kilometers or more above the Earth and relating them back to solar activity will give scientists better insight into the connections between our planet and its life-sustaining star,” he says.

“The effect of the solar wind should never be underestimated. The work we do might help people know when to shield their satellites, to shut down power grids in vulnerable places, even to divert flights away from higher latitudes to protect people from radiation. This knowledge is useful and sometimes even critical.”

An important tool for Dr. St.-Maurice and other researchers is a new high frequency radar system called PolarDARN being developed at the Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Once operational, this ground-based system will use intersecting beams to chart electrical currents over the Canadian Artic.

“I’ll also be a catalyst for an environmental science effort here in Saskatoon. We’ll pull together researchers from all disciplines to explore the origins of climate change, its effects, and possible fixes. I have a genuine interest in looking at the broadest possible picture.”

 


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