Sunday, January 17, 2010

Climate change is underway in Saskatchewan

- Saskatchewan Eco Network

Records dating back 100 years show there has already been a significant increase in annual average temperatures throughout the province, and climatologists are predicting more warming in the coming decades.

The Prairie climate warmed by approximately 1° C during the 20th Century, but changes have been significantly greater in some locations. Records from Swift Current in Southwest Saskatchewan show the annual average temperature has risen 2.5°C since 1895, when record keeping began. Records also show that temperatures have increased mainly in the winter and spring months, with summer and fall temperatures up only slightly.

Climatologists are projecting a temperature increase of 3°-6° C this century. Although slightly higher precipitation is also expected, warmer weather increases evapotranspiration, resulting in drier conditions.

While a few degrees may not sound significant, this degree of difference in annual average temperature can have a substantial impact on industries such as agriculture and forestry, as evidenced by the costs associated with recent drought and forest fires. Unfortunately, drought will become more common, with the potential to place agriculture in a permanent crisis situation. Forest fires will also increase.
The effects of climate change are likely to be substantial in urban areas, since cities are centres of population, wealth, infrastructure and communications. Major storms, snowfalls, and droughts impacts expected to increase as the climate warms are very costly for cities. Climate change could affect every aspect of urban life, from transportation to water and sewer systems to health.

Water is a crucial concern. Both drought and flood are normal occurrences in Saskatchewan, but the frequency of both is likely to increase. In drought years, river flows will be substantially diminished, due both to increased evapotraspiration and melting of the glaciers which feed major rivers like the North and South Saskatchewan. This will result in two problems. First, water for power production, agriculture and industrial/municipal use will likely be limited both in quantity and quality. Second, it may not be possible to rely on rivers to dissipate wastes like treated sewage.

Climate change may increase the frequency of floods. One concern is that storms with heavy rain or snow can overwhelm the capacity of a storm sewer system. In the future, larger, costlier sewers may be indispensable. Many municipalities are already adapting, by installing larger capacity systems into new subdivisions and upgrading capacity in older neighbourhoods as part of the regular service cycle.

Climate change has already increased the frequency of the freeze and thaw cycle. One consequence is the deterioration of road surfaces and costs to motorists and governments will be high.

Effects of climate change are also being felt in areas such as health. Diseases like West Nile Virus could have far-reaching and unexpected consequences. In a warmer climate, particulates from car exhaust or industrial sources will become a larger concern for people with allergies or asthma. Pollution can even inhibit the growth of trees that have been invaluable for improving urban microclimates.

There are also some benefits to climate change. Milder winters are more enjoyable and reduce energy demand for space heating. Adaptation and mitigation efforts can also stimulate economic development, as companies respond by developing new technologies in areas like renewable energy or water conservation. Ultimately, apaptation and mitigation measures could contribute to a more sustainable society.

See also:
Economic Implications of Climate Change

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