Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson announced details of the province’s climate projections study, completed by Joel Finnis, a nationally-recognized
climatologist at Memorial University’s department of geography, Thursday morning at the Suncor Energy Fluvarium in St. John’s. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
A government-funded study offering climate projections for Newfoundland and Labrador suggests climate change could affect the population in a variety of ways during the next few decades.
Based on the work of local climatologist Joel Finnis, a geography professor at Memorial University who studies large climate data sets to inform his analysis, the study found that temperatures will go up, precipitation will increase and the severity of weather events involving precipitation will rise.
As projections, Finnis said there are always ranges of uncertainty in what the models suggest will occur.
“But the models are all in agreement that temperatures are going to rise,” he said. “The models are largely in agreement with what’s going to happen with precipitation.”
By the middle of this century, temperatures are projected to rise anywhere from 2 C to 4 C. A rise in the mean temperature will result in fewer days with frost and a shorter winter season, thus allowing for a longer growing season. Dry spells are expected to decrease in all seasons.
Gerald Crane, director of research and analysis with the province’s Office of Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Emissions Trading, said recent years in Newfoundland and Labrador have been the warmest on record since the Second World War.
Crane said higher temperatures will be more noticeable in northern Labrador, where mean temperatures are projected to rise by 4 C or 5 C above what they are now. Overall warming will be more significant on the western half of Newfoundland than on the eastern half.
There has been evidence of increased storm activity in the province within the last 20 years. According to data from the Canadian Hurricane Centre and Environment Canada, the first 90 years of the 20th century saw an average of six storms per 10-year period take place in Newfoundland and Labrador. From 1990 onwards, that number has risen to 11.5 storms.
Crane made note of some possible outcomes related to the projections. Human health could be affected by warmer temperatures through variations to patterns of diseases linked to bacteria and viruses carried in insects and animals. Fish health could similarly be affected.
Increased precipitation could create a need for larger culverts and increase demand for snowclearing during winter months. Tourism seasons might change, agricultural and forestry activity may expand, and coastal erosion may intensify.
Offering an example of the increased severity of storms, Crane said a 1-in-100-years storm in
St. Lawrence with 134 millimetres of rain over a 24-hour period would become equivalent to a 1-in-50-years storm. Such information could affect future decisions made in the community.
While he does not believe Newfoundland and Labrador is more susceptible to climate change than other parts of Canada, Finnis says it is more susceptible to certain outcomes relevant to climate change.
“There’s high concern with things like sea levels rising, although admittedly getting to things like sea level rise is much harder than talking about things like increased precipitation outcome,” he said.
Environment Minister Tom Hedderson said the government will use information in the study to help inform decisions made in multiple departments.
“This information will of course now be incorporated into any long-term planning with regard to infrastructure,” he said.
Discussing the aftermath of hurricane Igor, which caused millions of dollars in damage to roads and culverts throughout the central and eastern regions of the province, Hedderson said the province increased the size of approximately half the culverts replaced. Concrete abutments were also placed around the culverts to permit expansion.
“We did incorporate the best practices at that particular time,” said Hedderson, who was the Transportation and Works minister during hurricane Igor, “but this new information now, these new projections, will be incorporated into all of our government planning to make sure that we’re getting ahead.”