One-stop data shop

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Barb Sweet
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Province exploring means of handling climate change data, issues

Memorial University geography professor Norm Catto says recent studies of climate change have practical applications and are vital for predicting future environmental effects on the province. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Amid a flurry of requests for proposals directed at climate change, the province is attempting to create a one-stop shop for environmental and other crucial data.

Getting a handle on the data  means it could be used in all kinds of ways from energy and marine applications to research to policy making, protecting water and coastlines, and making roads safer.

And it can be vital in managing emergencies. While it can’t prevent an Igor-like storm from striking the province, it could better prepare vulnerable areas for the onslaught.

A series of requests for proposals  — which include a call for ways to measure energy and greenhouse gas efficiency and a study of business sectors that can prosper from the green economy — come at a time when the provincial government is in the process of updating its climate change action plan, which will come around June, said Charlene Johnson, who was minister of Environment and Conservation when the requests were issued.

Johnson said a lot of work is being done internally by the Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading, but it also needs to seek outside expertise.

According to the province, the federal government has forecasted that this province will experience temperature increases by the middle of the century amounting to two to three degrees Celsius on the island and between two to four degrees Celsius in Labrador.

Precipitation is expected to increase by as much as 10 per cent across the province by 2050.

Climate stations monitor temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, snow and river conditions and belong to provincial, federal, educational and private operators.

“A full review of these sites and a discussion of ways to improve the climate change monitoring capabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador has not been undertaken,” notes the request for proposals seeking to map the stations.

Within the provincial governmental alone, the climate data is collected by a number of departments, Johnson said.

Compiling everything together will help identify any gaps, and help monitor and predict climate change over time, she said.

“We need to get a picture of all the observation efforts,” she said, adding the province has shown it can be innovative through its web portal on water resources.

Having a complete collection of climate-related information can help the government set policies such as establishing or redrawing flood zones in certain repeatedly hard hit areas. Or it might prompt a realization there needs to be better monitoring of conditions around the province.

As for private operators of collection stations, Johnson said everyone can work together and it will be of benefit to share.

It’s not that the collection has been inadequate in the past, it’s just not been centralized, Johnson said.

Norm Catto, a geologist at Memorial University, who worked on coastal erosion studies and other projects for the province, said the onslaught of studies may sometimes look to the public like a way for academics and scientists to keep themselves busy.

But he said their practical applications are real and vital to predicting environmental affects on the province.

While meteorology remains the tool for predicting storms, compilations of other data can determine how government and people better  cope with them, Catto said, citing the examples of the Burin Peninsula’s Jacques Fontaine in Igor and the west coast’s Beaches, which was in peril from a storm this month, sparking renewed talk of relocation.

For instance, it could pinpoint where to spend money on upgrading  infrastructure or identify areas where there is a need to stockpile supplies because they could be cut off in a severe storm — as the Burin and and Bonavista peninsulas were in hurricane Igor. 

Climate, he appointed out affects so many different things such as transportation, agriculture, the fishery to wildlife — it’s hard to get a handle on the ramifications of change.

“Making a list of who has done work or putting data in one place could be very valuable,” Catto said.

He said the province isn’t lagging behind — there are good researchers who have been picking away over time on various studies.

One of the things Catto did in the past for the provincial government was prepare a report listing all the studies that had been done.

“When I got that information together, I was quite impressed how much effort had been made, and I’m sure I missed a lot,” Catto said.

He traced studies and reports on climate and environmental matter dating back to the mid-1970s.

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Organizations: Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading

Geographic location: Igor, Newfoundland and Labrador

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