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Gold Medal

2004 Recipient - Jean Lemire and Edryd Shaw

Golden accolades
Jean Lemire and Edryd Shaw, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s gold medallists for 2004, will be honoured this fall for their significant achievements in the field of geography.

There is a lighthearted scene in The Great Adventure, Jean Lemire’s documentary about a five-month sailing journey through the North-west Passage, in which Lemire and a fellow expedition member get mired in thick muck. It’s comical until the gravity of the situation sets in: the men are sinking in melted permafrost at the edge of the Beaufort Sea.

For Lemire, a former Canadian Wildlife Service biologist turned filmmaker, it was unsettling to find such visible proof of global warming’s impact on the Arctic. “In the movie theatres, people laughed at the scene,” he says, “but as it went on, they realized that it is not funny at all.”

Based in Montréal and îles de la Madeleine, Que., Lemire produced a five-part documentary series that focused on his sailing expedition (above) to track the effects of climate change on the flora, fauna and people of the Arctic. The films have attracted 10 million viewers worldwide since their release in 2003.

His next mission, planned for September 2005, is to spend a year sailing in Antarctica, another global-warming hot spot.

Ten years ago, Canadian satellites could only capture images of the portions of the globe that were illuminated by the sun. That changed on November 4, 1995, when Canada’s Radarsat-1 satellite was launched.

Working for the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS) between 1980 and 1988, Edryd Shaw led the development of the cutting-edge imaging technology, which used radar waves to scan the Earth in different directions and could pan and zoom regardless of lighting or weather restrictions.

Initially designed to monitor ice conditions, the technology was soon found to have a variety of applications, including documenting glacial movements, forest clear-cutting, moisture levels in soil and topographical mapping.

Shaw, an electrical engineer, moved to Canada from England in 1966 to begin a long career in remote-sensing research. He was director general of the CCRS when he retired in 2001.

That the satellite has operated for nearly twice as long as expected is a testament to Shaw’s work. “It would have been great if it had lasted for five years,” says Shaw, “but it’s been up there for nine.”

— Chris Mason and Monique Roy-Sole

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