Atlantic Canada encompasses the three Maritime Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador.While the provinces are diverse in size and characteristics, they all share the strong influence of the coastal environment on their economies, cultures, landscapes and climate.
As such, rising sea level and more intense coastal storms are key climate change concerns for the region. Atlantic Canada is also projected to see hotter and drier summers, warmer winters and more precipitation falling as rain, rather than snow. Mean annual temperature in the region is projected to increase by 2°C to 4°C by 2050, with most of the change happening in the summer months and in interior, rather than coastal, areas. More extreme weather, including more frequent droughts and more intense rainfall events, is also a concern.
Hurricane Juan made landfall in Nova Scotia on September 29, 2003 as a Category 2 storm. The hurricane caused widespread tree blow-downs, massive power outages and severe damage to buildings and infrastructure.
These changes will present both challenges and opportunities to Atlantic Canadians. Of the region’s population of 2.3 million people, more than half live in rural communities. In these rural communities, natural resources, such as fisheries, contribute greatly, both economically and culturally. The natural environment is also extremely important to the many Aboriginal communities in the region. In each province, urban centers are growing, with a shift towards a service- and knowledge-based economy.
Impacts on coastal communities will result from increased coastal erosion and flooding caused by sea level rise, more intense storms, high winds, more powerful storm surges and changing ice conditions. Infrastructure, such as roadways and bridges, and industries, including fisheries and tourism, will be impacted. Sea level rise will also result in the intrusion of saltwater into coastal aquifers, affecting groundwater supplies for both communities and agriculture.
Rising sea level will result in flooding of higher, previously immune areas, and more frequent flooding of low-lying areas.
Sections of the Atlantic coasts are among the areas in Canada most severely threatened by a rise in sea level.
Marine fisheries will also be affected by changing ocean conditions (e.g., temperature, salinity and currents). These factors affect the abundance, health and availability of different fish species for harvesting.
Aboriginal communities are concerned about the impacts of climate change on their health, culture and traditional ways of life. The loss of valuable coastal land, including productive saltmarshes, and shifts in the distribution and abundance of country foods are impacts of concern.
While agriculture and forestry will benefit from longer and warmer growing seasons, they also face less predictable and more extreme weather conditions, new threats from pests and pathogens and, in some areas, water shortages.
Weather extremes, such as prolonged droughts, more intense storms and heat waves, will affect the region’s water resources, and consequently residents’ health and well-being. Heavy rains, for example, could result in contamination of drinking water supplies. Summer dry periods would affect municipal water supplies and present challenges for agriculture, fisheries, tourism and the energy sector.
In the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence a storm surge of 3.6 m above present sea level now occurs about once every 40 years. With rising sea levels, this could become an annual event by 2100.
What’s Being Done
Adaptation to sea level rise and increased coastal erosion is ongoing in many coastal communities. Traditional approaches, such as restricting development and elevating buildings, as well as innovative initiatives are being used. In Annapolis Royal, the citizens have mapped flood-prone areas and assessed the potential impacts of tidal-surge flows in their region. They enacted mock disaster scenarios and drew up step-bystep procedures for responding to emergencies.
Building on pylons is often an effective adaptation to the threat of flooding and storm surges.
Farmers in the region are shifting to more drought- and pest-resistant crops, and developing best-practices for protecting soil and conserving water. Aboriginal communities are finding less exposed areas for planting sweetgrass, an important plant used in traditional ceremonies.
Halifax Regional Municipality’s Climate SMART (Sustainable Mitigation and Adaptation Risk Toolkit) program, a joint venture between the public and private sector, has taken a fully integrated approach to addressing climate change at the municipal level.
An important aspect of any adaptation strategy is development of an understanding among residents of the key issues facing their community. Community-based planning and activities are likely to be the most effective.
Potential areas at risk from storm-surge flooding in Annapolis Royal, NS (after Belbin and Clyburn).