Big changes to Nunavut coastlines highly possible: researcher
“The higher water is against the beach, the higher the waves attack"
Rising sea levels will increase coastal hazards for communities in the North and South, warn researchers from a Canada-Caribbean climate adaption project.
And, in the North, these rising seal levels are expected to put Arctic infrastructure and travel at risk, they say.
Changes to Nunavut’s coastlines are “an eventuality,” says Waterloo, Ontario-based coastal ecologist Colleen Mercer Clarke, who works with C-Change, a research alliance which twins Canadian and Caribbean coastal communities and works to assist them adapt to environmental changes.
Clarke and her colleagues from C-Change spoke at the annual conference of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects, hosted in Iqaluit July 14 to 17.
“Our focus has been largely on infrastructure — buildings, roads, treatment centres and other municipal services,” Clarke told Nunatsiaq News. “In 100 years from now, we have to look at where buildings should be sited or not.”
Many Arctic communities have already been affected, according to research by another C-Change researcher, Donald Forbes, who has studied coastal hazards and sea-level change in Nunavut communities.
“The higher water is against the beach, the higher the waves attack,” he said in his presentation to the architects last month. “You probably couldn’t go into a community in Nunavut where you don’t hear people talking about how climate change is impacting their lifestyle.”
In Hall Beach, the community’s sea wall is partially collapsed from shoreline erosion, said Forbes, a geographer with Natural Resources Canada.
Rising water levels have also created ice pile-ups along the Foxe Basin community’s shoreline.
Forbes said he knows of cases where ice has even come through second-floor bedroom windows.
Sea levels are also affected by land movement, which is rising and sinking in different areas of Nunavut.
In Hudson Bay near Arviat, a phenomenon called land uplift is pushing sandbars upwards, creating hazards for navigating vessels.
“As that occurs, a shoal may eventually cut off access to vessels,” Forbes said.
A longer open-ice season can create storm surges in other communities, he said, which means flooding hazards in places like Clyde River, which is located on a flood plain.
So, more than ever, Forbes said sea-level projections are important to help plan for the future.
To do that, Forbes targeted five Nunavut communities, Arviat, Whale Cove, Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit, and looked at their local sea levels from 1950 to 2000 to calculate projections until 2100.
The sea level near Iqaluit to rise by up to 80 centimetres by 2100, Forbes said.
That may sound insignificant over several decades, but it should impact how communities protect and plan for future infrastructure, he said.
Meagan Leach, the city of Iqaluit’s director of engineering and sustainability, called the research on sea level rise “very timely” while the community considers building its new city hall site along the waterfront.
And Leach said the city has already committed to identifying risks to its shoreline infrastructure.
As part of the city’s its 2010 general plan, Iqaluit has committed that “all new infrastructure will be designed and constructed to specifications that include withstanding projected changes over their expected design life.”