Washington, DC, June 23, 2020 — Significant scientific data collection on atmospheric conditions in the Arctic and around the globe is ending because the University of Colorado abruptly removed the researchers doing the work, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, years of continuous readings on climate gases, including methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), produced by fossil fuel combustion will cease.
Two key projects are in jeopardy. One involves monitoring of VOCs that has occurred for the past 15 years at more than 40 global monitoring sites. It is the only network of this kind providing these data. This continuous record has now been interrupted for three months, since the University of Colorado’s (CU) April 7, 2020 sudden dismissal of Associate Research Professor Dr. Detlev Helmig who had worked at CU-Boulder for 25 years at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. Dr. Helmig has published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles. Dr. Helmig has not been replaced, leaving the project suspended.
Another imperiled project involves data collection from a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored field site at Summit, Greenland. Access to the station for a necessary instrument repair trip is only possible during the middle of the summer. If that trip does not take place during the next two months, then an important climate record that started in 2008 will be interrupted. No plans have been finalized to undertake this trip.
“Petty politics at the University of Colorado are impeding scientific work important to planetary health,” stated PEER Rocky Mountain Director Chandra Rosenthal, noting that Dr. Helmig’s work has been attacked by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and other fossil fuel interests. “Dr. Helmig has been dedicated to tracking energy emissions that affect both climate change and public health.”
Community groups and scientists are challenging this termination and are seeking documents justifying the action. They particularly question the legitimacy of CU’s removal of Dr. Helmig as the lead investigator on the NSF research grants that were awarded to Dr. Helmig. He was awarded these grants after following NSF’s peer review process for granting federal research funding.
In a June 17, 2020 “Open Letter to the University of Colorado Board of Regents”, 14 prominent climate researchers decry the treatment of Dr. Helmig and declare:
“As a result, important scientific records regarding the rapidly changing Arctic environments, which Dr. Helmig has maintained for over a decade, as well as current activities are in jeopardy.”
“Dr. Helmig’s research is producing evidence that the petroleum industry is delighted to have disrupted,” added Rosenthal. “The reputation for scientific excellence at the University of Colorado has taken a big hit and its administrators should be ashamed of themselves.”
PEER and other scientific advocacy groups are pressing for an independent review of Dr. Helmig’s case.