Water / Eau




Canadian Climate Impacts & Adaptation Research Network




















Adaptation workshop

The Atlantic Region of the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN Atlantic) will hold a two-day workshop in June on adapting to climate change.

Researchers will present examples of climate change vulnerabilities and adaptation opportunities, with focus on communities, municipalities, infrastructure, and transportation systems. Other presentations will include the economics of adaptation and funding opportunities. Stakeholders will respond to these presentations in the context of how they see adaptation fitting into their areas of responsibility. Workshop participants will then participate in a project planning exercise to learn how to plan adaptation projects.

A public lecture the night before the workshop (June 11) will bring participants up to speed on the vulnerability of Atlantic Canada to climate change impacts. A public walking tour the evening of June 12 will highlight some of the areas of downtown Charlottetown that are vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surges.

More information, including a registration form, is available on the web. Feel free to contact C-CIARN Atlantic with any questions you may have.

The Road Ahead - 
Adapting to Climate Change in Atlantic Canada 

Kyle McKenzie & Kathryn Parlee
Canadian Climate Impacts and
Adaptation Research Network
April 2003

increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are believed to be changing our climate in unprecedented ways. ice storm damage. photo: CP Even with the intended reductions of the Kyoto Protocol, greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise and our climate will continue to change over the next century.

Because resource based economies are likely to be harder hit than industrial economies, the Atlantic Provinces may suffer proportionately more economic hardship than central Canada.

Atlantic Canada may not experience as much warming as central, western, and northern Canada, however, the region may be particularly hard hit by secondary effects such as:

  • rising sea level

  • extreme weather events

  • coastal erosion

  • wetter winters

  • drier summers

  • reduced freshwater resources

  • drought on farms

  • exotic pests bringing new diseases and threats to our farms and forests with infestation

  • increased forest fires

  • plant and animal communities may not be able to adapt fast enough

Coastal Impacts

Climate change models (used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), suggest that the projected increase in the global average surface temperature will likely result in a global sea level rise on an average of 50 cm by 2100. This change in sea level will occur due to the thermal expansion of seawater and the melting of glaciers and ice caps. This increase is a global estimate and sea level increases on a more regional scale will depend on a variety of factors such as the local coastline variations, changes to currents, vertical land movements, and differences in tidal patterns.

In response to past glacial processes, the land in Atlantic Canada is actually lowering. This means that the region is already experiencing a relative increase in sea level and will be even more susceptible to global changes in sea level. This is because the projected increase in global sea level will be added to the current rate of regional increase. At Halifax, for example, sea level has risen about 30 cm over the last century. This means that with climate change, Halifax could potentially experience an increase in sea level of 80 cm by the year 2100. According to a report completed by the Geological Survey of Canada in 1998, approximately 80% of the Atlantic Region's coastline is considered to be highly sensitive to global sea level rise.

Each year, several large storms pass through the Atlantic region and cause damage along the coast. Powerful storm waves increase the risk of erosion on soft sediment shores and storm surges put low-lying coastal areas at risk of flooding. Although there is currently little agreement among climate models regarding changes in future storm activity, many researchers believe the Atlantic region will experience an increase in extreme events.

Gros Morne National Park

(photo: K. McKenzie)

The major impacts expected for the region include an increase in the rate and extent of erosion and coastal retreat. There is also expected to be an increase in flooding and breaching of dykes in low-lying coastal areas resulting from high tide events and/or storm surges. This could mean that areas normally flooded once every 100 years could potentially experience floods every 10-20 years, and areas previously safe from flooding could now be at risk. Areas already vulnerable to erosion and flooding will be at even greater risk as a result of sea-level rise. For example, along the Bay of Fundy, an extensive system of dykes was started in the 1630s and now protects 85% of the former marsh area from flooding and inundation. Since the 1630s, regional sea level has risen by 1.3 m due to coastal subsidence and although these dykes have been maintained and upgraded to keep them at levels adequate enough to prevent flooding from regular high water events, many are currently 2 m below the level of an extreme storm surge superimposed on a high tide, and by 2100 they could be as much as 3 m below.

Flooding on the Sackville River

(photo: K. McKenzie)

Increased erosion and flooding will likely mean significant impacts on coastal communities with damage to houses, buildings, roads, bridges, and other types of infrastructure, as well as the risk of contamination to fresh water supplies, damage to drainage systems and sewage treatment facilities. Important coastal resources and sensitive coastal habitats could also be at risk from the impacts of increased erosion and flooding. There are also a host of other areas that may experience impacts from increased erosion and flooding such as human activities, human health and safety, emergency preparedness, insurance, construction, maintenance and repair costs, property ownership, jurisdiction, liability and legal issues.

Sea level rise may also increase the risk of salinization to groundwater in low-lying coastal regions or threaten the viability of freshwater coastal aquifers. Salinization of freshwater supplies will be an important concern for coastal communities, as well as for those sectors or activities, such as coastal farming, that depend on this water.   

(photo of Bathurst: K. McKenzie)

While some coastal ecosystems may be able to naturally adapt or migrate landwards in response to rising sea levels, those areas backed or fringed by human development, where natural processes of coastal evolution have been disrupted, may be permanently inundated or squeezed out.  Coastal wetlands are extremely diverse and productive ecosystems and are critical in the life-cycles of many marine and terrestrial species, so the loss of these ecosystems could have significant implications for biodiversity and coastal resources.

How can we adapt?

Because some climate change impacts are inevitable, planning adaptation strategies now is essential. One example of adaptation is the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and  Prince Edward Island, which was built a metre higher than currently required to accommodate sea level rise over its one hundred year lifespan.

Confederation Bridge
Confederation Bridge
(photo: K. McKenzie)

Fortunately, adaptation also includes maximizing climate change benefits, such as planting new crops that can benefit from a longer growing season. Other benefits may include a longer tourist season, less heating in the winter, and increased shipping. Whether these benefits will outweigh the hardships or not is questionable.