Saturday, June 7, 2014

Manitoba caught in climate change crosshairs

Mary Agnes Welch in the Winnipeg Free Press: After a terrible winter and four massive floods in a decade, Manitoba is already starting to get a taste of the extreme weather that's a hallmark of climate change. But in the absence of any global commitment to shrink greenhouse gas emissions, the provincial government and local scientists have begun to study just how weird the weather will get in Manitoba over the next couple of generations and what to do about it. It doesn't look good. Manitoba is "climate change central," says Blair.

Already, average winter temperatures in the southern Prairies, including Manitoba, have warmed three degrees over the last 40 years. In the distant-horizon world of climate science, that's massive. The shorter, warmer winters have added nearly a month onto the Prairie growing season. If the trend continues, and there is little hope it won't, we'll see winters that are seven degrees warmer by mid-century.

Summer temperatures have not changed as fast, but Blair says they likely will, especially if global emissions continue apace. In one worst-case-scenario model, Winnipeg could see the number of extreme-heat days, where the mercury tops 30 C, triple by mid-century. We have about 13 super-hot days now. Some models predict as many as 60.

Those data, and much more, are embedded in a new climate atlas Blair, his team from the University of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) are creating for the provincial government. So far, the team's study of historic
temperature and precipitation figures and its future models have produced some eye-popping results, especially in the north.

...Manitoba, say local climate experts, is about to feel very different. As the climate warms, we can expect more bugs, such as the beetles that kill elm trees, the mosquitos that transmit West Nile and the ticks responsible for Lyme disease. Forest fires will likely become more common, damaging a key industry in the province and altering air quality. Bad roads, including pothole epidemics such as the one Winnipeg suffered this spring, will become more common as the freeze-thaw cycle and extreme heat harms every bit of transportation infrastructure from railroad ties to winter ice roads. There could be more algae blooms on Lake Winnipeg, more seniors who die of heatstroke and less tourism as polar bears and whales relocate or disappear....

2009 flooding in Manitoba, shot by Shawn, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons 2.0 license

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