Report: get ready for more snow, more climate change adaptation work
NRCan creates one-volume guide to climate change and Canada's coastal regions
Climate change will bring the Arctic more snow, more unpredictable weather, and a greater need for more resilient infrastructure, says a big report that Natural Resources Canada released this month.
The report, titled Canada’s Marine Coasts in a Changing Climate, brings together a massive collection of existing research on the effects of global warming on Canada’s coastal regions.
NRCan’s authors make no policy recommendations or calls for action in the report, saying its purpose is to provide a solid foundation of knowledge for governments and the private sector.
“The main goal of the report is to provide an up-to-date, reliable source of information that informs decision-making, planning and policy development…,” the report says.
To that end, they divide the country up into three coastal regions — and classify Canada’s Arctic as the “North Coastal Region.”
In that section they summarize years of research that confirm the Arctic will experience dramatic changes between now and the end of this century.
One big change is that Arctic coastal communities will see more precipitation — rain and snow — and that the Arctic will see the largest percent increases of any other region.
“Here, median precipitation is projected to increase by 10 per cent to 30 per cent for the low-emissions scenario and by more than 50 per cent in most of the region for the high-emissions scenario in 2081–2100, relative to 1986–2005…,” the frequently-asked-questions section of the report says.
And that rise in precipitation has already started.
“There has been an increase in annual precipitation for the period 1950–2010 at virtually all northern coastal sites (one site on James Bay shows a decrease that is not statistically significant), and an increase in the ratio of snow to rain,” the report said.
The greatest increases in rain and snow are likely to occur in the autumn and winter, with increases of 25 per cent projected for parts of the eastern and central Arctic by 2050.
On the other hand, sea levels are not expected to rise in most parts of the Arctic coast, the report said.
That’s because of the uplift effect — the slow rising of the land because of the reduced weight of glaciers, most of which will continue to melt.
One of the greatest uplift rates is at Kuujjuaraapik, at 14 millimetres per year.
“The uplift rate at Kuujjuaraapik is so high that the site is not projected to experience sea-level rise for even the largest sea-level–change scenario considered…,” the report said.
On the other hand, Tuktoyaktuk in the Western Arctic, where the rate of sea level rise is greater than the uplift rate, could experience 140 centimetres of sea-level rise by 2100.
That likely means more storm surges, flooding and coastal erosion at Tuktoyaktuk, where governments have already installed breakwaters and other forms of coastal protection.
As for the continuing thaw of permafrost, the report warns that governments and private developers will have to take that into account when planning future infrastructure.
That’s because existing infrastructure has already suffered from damage caused by permafrost melt.
“Historical changes in these parameters have, in some cases, weakened the structural integrity and safety of ice roads, bridges, pipelines and airstrips, and the walls of open-pit mines and containment structures.
“The risk of structural failure due to projected climatic changes is a concern at several operating and abandoned or orphaned mines across northern Canada,” the report said.
There are, however some positive benefits that may occur in a warmer Arctic
One is that the gradual warming of ocean temperatures could create new economic opportunities in the fishery, as cod and other species move north.
Another is that Arctic ports may become more economically viable when Arctic seas become navigable for longer periods.
But at the same time, more cruise and commercial cargo vessels operating in the Arctic will increase the number of ships at risk of running into icebergs and marine hazards that are not marked on charts.
“Despite potential opportunities, there are significant risks related to the lack of supporting infrastructure, including comprehensive charts, search-and-rescue capabilities and other tourism services. Some believe ‘it is only a matter of time before we witness a major ship based accident in Arctic Canada,’” the report said.
In figuring out how to adapt to climate change, the traditional knowledge of Inuit will help planners figure out how climate change affects people and communities, the report said.
But the report also said Inuit harvesters will have to adapt their knowledge to changing sea-ice and land conditions.
“Various adaptations have been documented in response to these changes, including changing the timing and location of harvesting activities, switching species harvested and hunted, developing new travel routes and avoiding travel at certain times and locations,” the report said.