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Geoscience: Climate change

Federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous decision makers need to make evidence-based decisions about how we adapt to climate change. Our scientists at the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) support them with the geoscience they need to protect Canada’s economy, its people and its environment. In particular, we study how our changing climate affects permafrost, coastlines, glaciers and the occurrence of extreme events such as flooding and landslides.

Why it matters

As a northern country, Canada is experiencing climate change at twice the rate of the world’s average. In the Canadian Arctic, the rate is three times the world average. Increasing temperatures mean that glaciers are melting and permafrost is warming and thawing. The effects are dire in Canada, which has the third largest area of glacier ice in the world (~200,000 km2). Moreover, a full 50% of Canada contains permafrost. Canada’s northern coastlines are among the fastest changing areas in the world.

Melting glaciers and permafrost thaw impact freshwater availability and quality, groundwater dynamics, ground stability and marine fish habitat. Permafrost thaw and coastal erosion threaten existing infrastructure and development projects, and accompanying sea-level rise floods land and enlarges rivers and lakes. In short, melting ice and sea-level rise can wreak havoc on coastal regions.

Almost all Indigenous communities in Canada’s North are located on the coast, so they’re most at risk of experiencing climate change impacts. These include risks to infrastructure, water supply, livelihoods, housing, food sources and ultimately the health and safety of the citizens.

What we’re doing

We have several programs that serve our research on climate change geoscience:

  1. Climate Change Geoscience Program (CCGP)
  2. Marine Geoscience for Marine Spatial Planning (MGMSP)
  3. Groundwater Geoscience Program (GGP)
  4. GEM-GeoNorth (GEM)
  5. Public Safety Geoscience Program (PSGP)

Assessing changes in permafrost, glaciers, coastlines, sea level and extreme events

  • Mapping and monitoring the ground ice conditions in Canada’s permafrost
  • Understanding how permafrost, climate and infrastructure interconnect
  • Assessing the rate and cause of glacier changes in Canada’s arctic and alpine environments, including ice dynamics and thickness change
  • Creating sea-level projections under different future climate scenarios
  • Assessing future flooding hazards (e.g., flood forecasting of the Hudson Bay Lowland)
  • Determining the sensitivity of Canadian coastal regions to climate change and the impacts on coastal Indigenous communities
  • Clarifying the causes and consequences of rapidly changing northern environments, including coastal areas experiencing erosion due to sea-level rise, permafrost degradation, reduced sea ice and more storm surges
  • Gathering data and knowledge about Canada’s aquifers (stores of groundwater), which are susceptible to climate change (their recharge rates as well as an increase in their use in drier areas)
  • Providing geoscientific advice and expertise on major resource development projects and their potential environmental effects, as required for federally mandated environmental impact assessments

Supporting adaptation strategies

  • Informing adaptation strategies for existing and proposed infrastructure, coastal communities and major transportation routes in the North
  • Providing decision makers with information about climate change hazards
  • Ensuring the availability of data to support land-use planning and government regulations that help at-risk communities adapt to climate change
  • Providing advance warning to Indigenous communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change
  • Offering long-term hydro-climatic records to help improve hydroelectric water management

Indigenous engagement

Our climate change research often takes place with and near Indigenous communities, particularly in the North, but also in other areas of Canada. We work with Indigenous communities to increase our shared understanding of the land. For example, the Climate Change Geoscience Program is working with the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, to learn from the people, share our coastal science and work together to adapt to the impact of climate change in the area.

Featured tools and data

Permafrost Information Network

This network connects borehole stratigraphic, geotechnical and ground thermal data as well as surficial geology data from a variety of sources. It includes geotechnical and ground thermal data from published GSC databases. This information is used by government, northern, and research stakeholders to better understand permafrost conditions in Canada.

CanCoast 2.0: Data and indices to describe the sensitivity of Canada’s marine coasts to changing climate

This geospatial database contains information about the physical characteristics of Canada’s marine coasts. It includes feature classes that are not expected to change through time (e.g., coastal materials) as well as those that are (e.g., sea level and wave heights, including the effects of sea ice; early and late 21st century). Use it to understand the sensitivity of Canada’s marine coasts.

You can also conduct your own data search on Canada’s open data platform.

Featured publications

A ground ice atlas of Canada

Use this atlas to understand the varied ground ice conditions in northern Canada and the associated environmental conditions that control ice type and abundance. It’s particularly useful for those involved in land-use planning.

Relative sea-level projections for Canada based on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and the NAD83v70VG national crustal velocity model

This report contains national and regional maps and national geospatial data files of projected relative sea-level change across Canada for 2006 and every decade from 2010 to 2100. They can help communities and stakeholder organizations navigate land-use decisions and coastal infrastructure projects.

Revised estimates of recent mass loss rates for Penny Ice Cap, Baffin Island, based on 2005–2014 elevation changes modified for firn densification

Changes in glaciers directly affect northern coastal communities. The mass balance of a glacier indicates how much snow and ice it has lost or gained year over year. Over the long term, the changes in mass signal how the glacier is responding to a changing climate.

Conduct your own GEOSCAN search, or browse pre-filtered results:

Related maps

Ground ice map of Canada

This mapping offers an improved depiction of ground ice in Canada at a broad scale. It incorporates what we currently know about the associations between geological and environmental conditions and ground ice type and abundance.

Related topics

Hazards and public safety

Learn about space weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides, and their related risks. Use our information to guide land-use decisions, develop emergency plans and inform the location and design of new structures.

Marine and coastal

Canada has the world’s longest coastline. We research its offshore landmass, evaluate natural resource potential and assess natural hazards. Access data about the geological composition, environmental sensitivity and seismic activity in these areas.

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