Monday, May 3, 2010

Climate Change Impacts in Saskatchewan

By Dr. Norman Henderson
Regina Ecoliving

Carbon dioxide, methane, and other atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are rising rapidly. These gas concentrations are rising as a result of emissions from human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels like gasline and coal. When greenhouse gases are meitted into the atmosphere they trap heat and cause the climate to change. Based on estimates of rising greenhouse gas emissions, climate models provide us with projectison of what our climate is likely to be in the future. For Saskatchewan, these models suggest that the climate is turning warmer, participating in winter. Unfortunately, as precipitation is expected to increase only a little, warmer temperatures mean that Saskatchewan is also becoming drier.

In Saskatchewan, we are seeing trends lower summer stream flows, falling lake levels, and increasing soil and surface water moisture deficits. Here are some of the effects we can expect climate change to have on Saskatchewan in the future:

Droughts will occur more frequently and be of longer duration and greater intensity. But while the overall trend is towards a drier Saskatchewan, we can also expect increased climate variability and an increasing frequency of severe or extreme climate events. So within the context of generally increasing dry conditions we can expect to experience flooding events or even an extremely wet year or two.

Rocky Mountain snowpacks and glaciers are the source of most of the river flow across souther Saskatchewan. River flows will decline owing to reduced spring melt in the mountains. A rapidly industrializing Alberta may also retain and consume more river waters, leaving less for Saskatchewan.

Shifts in crop zones are occuring now and will continue. In theory, higher grassland and crop productivity could result from increased carbon dioxide or from a longer and warmer growing season, but in most cases aridity will more than cancel out any carbon dioxide fertilization effect. New pests and disease vetors will likely survive warmer winters.

There will be major ecosystem impacts. Aquatic habitats will be stressed: various fish species may disappear from particular lakes and rivers and some waterfolw populations will decline substantially. Change in land ecosystems will be most visible in isolated forests and forest fring areas, where forests will give way to shrub or grassland landscapes. Species that are not native to Saskatchewan may increase, while some native species will decline or disappear entirely. We will see new and unprecented ecosystems develop.

Major loss of forests in the southern boreal forest is very possible. There will be an increase in the frequency and severity of forest fires, and increasing vulnerability to insect or other pathogen attacks. Intensive forest management and the deliberate introduction of non-native tree speecies adapted to drier and warmer conditions might allow for forest retention (albeit with different species).

Everyone is affected by climate change, but rural communtites, especially those dependent on agriculture or forestry, are the most ta risk. Resource-based rural Aboriginal communities will expereince growing threats to traditional lifestyels of hunting, fishing and gathering.

In conclusion, we know that climate change is accelerating. To some degree we can preditc the impacts of climate change on the physical landscape, and by inference, on our economies and societies. But what will be the disorienting and disturbing sprititual impact on us as the earth, waters and sky around us shift and change beyond all experience?

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