A Winter Not Seen for 42 Years

By Dr. Adam Fenech, Director, UPEI Climate Research Lab

Last week PEI saw a “mini White Juan” storm that brought 48.5 centimetres (cm) of snow measured at Charlottetown airport.  White Juan refers to the brutal blizzard of February 19, 2004 nicknamed after Hurricane Juan, a storm that hit PEI on September 29, 2003 with wind gusts up to 140 km/h causing flooding, uprooting of trees and infrastructure damage in the Charlottetown Harbour. White Juan brought 120 km/h winds and 74.4 cm of snow at Charlottetown which remains the maximum 24-hour total since records began. Last week’s storm was a mini-version with lighter winds (98 km/h) and less snow, but it still reminds us of our vulnerability to extreme cold weather. Good preparations and planning helped PEI  emerge without too many tragedies this past week. Community leaders should be commended for their work in getting the message out to take this storm seriously.

Last week’s storm seems to have been one of many during this particularly cold and stormy winter of 2014. Over the past thirty years, there has been a definite downward trend in the amount of snow that PEI has received, but not this winter. We have to go back 42 years to find a year with more snow. If we consider the snowfall months to be November, December, January, February and March, then this year’s snowfall has been about 417 cm of the white stuff, the most since 425 cm fell in 1972.  On average, the snowfall this winter season has been almost 60% more than the normal, or what is expected. This year’s snowfall has been particularly jarring as the past two winters have been very dry indeed. And yes, this winter has been colder than normal by almost 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The winter of 1972 was a much different winter than this year’s. By the end of March, 1972 had 80 days of snowfall, while this year PEI has had only 47 days with snowfall. By the end of March, the winter of 1972 had many days of small snowstorms with none above 25 cm, while this year PEI has had four major snowstorms on December 22 (27 cm), January 22 (37.4 cm), February 19 (27.8 cm) and March 26 (48.5 cm). The winter of 1972 went on to have 531 cm of snow once the months of April and May were added to the total. I hope that the winter of 2014 does not have any more surprises for PEI.

And before you curse the winter, after you have shovelled this recent back-breaking load of snow off your driveway, remember that a cold and snowy winter can be good for the environment and economy. Some PEI businesses enjoyed a financial boost thanks to the early winter weather in December 2013. Businesses that offer sleigh and wagon rides looked at this snowfall as an early Christmas present, as their sales figures jumped about 50 per cent over the previous December. Brookvale Ski Park opened before Christmas for the first time in at least 10 years and automobile towing businesses saw an increase of 20-30 per cent from normal due to the snow.

Snow is also necessary for farmers.  The snow blankets the fields so that when it all melts in the spring, the fields are properly irrigated and ready for planting.  Certain crops such as the fruits and berries also need snow cover to provide insulation from extreme cold.  When these crops are exposed to the elements, they become vulnerable to frost which can kill the crop outright. If you hate mosquitoes, you should probably celebrate this awful winter as mosquito populations should be reduced by the severe cold, too. While a sustained cold snap won’t wipe out these pests, it can kill some larvae and slow the bugs’ spread.

Note: Don Jardine and I have put together over 365 weather trivia stories for a calendar titled “150 Years of Prince Edward Island Weather”. From humorous tales of pigs swimming down the street after their barn flooded during the Kennedy Inaugural Storm of 1961 to the tragedy of the Yankee Gale of 1851 where one hundred fisherman (mainly Americans) were drowned on PEI’s north shore, the PEI Weather Trivia Calendar is bound to meet the needs of the weather junkie in you. Watch your bookstores as it is being printed for release in May.

Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at afenech@upei.ca or (902) 620-5220

Yes, Mr. Premier, Your Province Is Shrinking!

By Dr. Adam Fenech, Director, Climate Lab, University of Prince Edward Island

The challenges to Prince Edward Island in addressing climate change are many – perhaps the most important being the impact of coastal erosion through storm surges and high water levels. We know, for example, that shorelines across PEI often experience erosion – a wearing away of the land by water, waves, ice, and wind. It is anticipated that climate change will bring more intense storms, rising seas and reduced sea ice coverage (which normally protects the shore from wind and waves). Coastal erosion will continue and likely become more severe, threatening public and private infrastructure at great economic cost. But by how much?

Last week, the Climate Research Lab at UPEI, in partnership with Dr. Nick Hedley of Simon Fraser University, launched a new tool for understanding the threat of coastal erosion, sea level rise and storm surges to Prince Edward Island. CoastaL Impacts Visualization Environment, known as CLIVE, is a video game programmed by two of our students – Alex Chen and Andrew Doiron – that uses a digital elevation model (DEM) together with high resolution aerial photos to provide a three dimensional landscape to depict scenarios of past and future environmental change. Yes, a video game; albeit a serious one. CLIVE is an example of an emerging approach to activating communities to respond to future climate changes through the use of visualization techniques.

CLIVE allows users to fly over the Island using a game controller, and to trigger the raising or lowering of sea levels to examine which areas of PEI are vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. Also immersed in the science that built CLIVE are the results from coastal change studies conducted over the past few years. Tim Webster from the Nova Scotia College of Geographic Sciences, and Carl Brydon from PEI’s own GeoNet Technologies, conducted a study a few years ago using aerial photos from 1968 and 2010 to examine every meter of PEI’s coastline. The study concluded that, on average across the Island, the annual rate of coastal change was 28cm of erosion (land wearing away or lost to sea). There were areas of accretion (adding land to the Island) but overall was erosion.

Wanting to know if this was significant, a group of concerned scientists including Carl Brydon, Randy Angus from the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI, Erin Taylor from the PEI Department of Environment, Labour and Justice, Steve Dickie from the PEI Office of Public Safety, Don Jardine, a private consultant, and myself conducted a further study examining the risk to infrastructure – roads, buildings, bridges – of future coastal erosion. The annual rate of coastal change was multiplied by 30 years, 60 years and 90 years for each meter of coastline to provide a sense of what PEI’s coast would look like in the future under current rates of change. The results are worthy of our attention.

Over the next 90 years, over 1,000 existing residential homes (about $160 million worth using an average housing price of $159,000), 8 barns, 7 gazebos and 42 garages are at risk from coastal erosion. Seventeen of our iconic lighthouses will need to be moved away from the shore for fear of damage. 146 commercial buildings, 5 waste water treatment settling ponds and even 1 wind turbine are shown in our study to be vulnerable. Over 50 kilometres of roads (about $50 million worth using an average rate for road replacement) are also at risk to coastal erosion. And remember, this study examined risk under current rates of coastal erosion. All of our knowledge tells us that coastal erosion will increase as a result of rising sea levels, lowering landforms (coastal subsidence) and an increase in coastal storms.

Not all coastal change is erosion. Our study showed that from 1968 to 2010, some PEI coasts grew about 15 square kilometres through accretion of land. Unfortunately, during that same time period, about 35 square kilometres were eroded, giving PEI coasts a total net, or overall, loss of about 20 square kilometres. While this represents only one third of one percent of PEI’s total land area, it is still almost 5000 acres, or almost half the size of Charlottetown. And it represents a thin band of valuable land around our coastlines. Our study results allow us to conclude that yes, Mr. Premier, your province is shrinking!

Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at afenech@upei.ca or (902) 620-5220

Coastal Erosion and Sea Level Rise – Preparing for Prince Edward Island’s Future

Join us on Tuesday February 11 at 7pm for the UPEI Climate Lab Lecture Series as Dr. Adam Fenech, director of the Climate Lab, presents results from recent coastal erosion research projects conducted on Prince Edward Island. The change in PEI’s coastline has been measured mapped and analyzed from 1968 to 2010. Buildings, roads and bridges have been assessed as to their vulnerability to future coastal erosion and sea level rise. Come see how our communities will be affected. Dr. Fenech will present the results of this research including the unveiling of a new interactive 3-D geo-visualization platform known as CLIVE. CLIVE allows stakeholders to interactively explore PEI’s coastline, and scenarios of future climate change, sea-level rise and storm surges. The presentation will take place in the amphitheatre of UPEI’s Duffy Science Centre. For more information, contact the Climate Lab at 902 620-5221 or climate@upei.ca.

Climate Change and Aquaculture – March 11 at UPEI

Mark your calendars to attend a science symposium to communicate current research and science activities on the Atlantic Region’s aquaculture industry concerning our changing climate. It will be held on March 11 at the University of Prince Edward Island.

There is no fee to attend the seminar, but space is limited and online pre-registration is required.  See attached file for more details and a link to online registration.

Agenda – Climate Change and Aquaculture

UPEI Summer Institute on Applied Climate Change July 2014

UPEI Summer Institute 2014

Applied Climate Change: Gaining Practical Skills for Climate Change Adaptation

July 7th to August 1st 2014

This course provides an overview of the knowledge, tools and resources needed to become more effective leaders and managers in adapting to climate change. During the four-week intensive sessions, participants will develop practical skills through lectures, step-by-step approaches, case studies and hands-on activities. As part of the course, each participant can complete, and carry away, a climate change impacts and adaptation study for their own region of geographic interest that will include: how the climate has changed in the past; how the climate is projected to change in the future; how these changes have/will impact the region; and how best to adapt to these anticipated impacts.

The course consists of four main modules:

  • Understanding the Past and Future Climate of My Region;
  • Climate Policy, Planning and Economics;
  • Climate Change Visualization, Mapping and Gaming; and
  • Climate Change and Biodiversity.

By the end of the course, students will take home practical skills in:

  • following the steps assigned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for conducting a climate change impact assessment;
  • accessing, quality controlling, and statistically analyzing climate observations;
  • preparing scenarios of future climate change through ensemble and validation techniques;
  • applying the SDSM 5.1.1 statistical downscaling software for reliable estimates of extreme temperatures, seasonal precipitation totals, areal and inter-site precipitation behavior;
  • establishing a Smithsonian Institution Biodiversity Monitoring Plot for use in tracking the impacts of climate change;
  • understanding national politics behind the issue of climate change;
  • negotiating international environmental agreements;
  • developing climate change adaptation options;
  • conducting a cost-benefit analysis of climate change adaptation options;
  • understanding land-use planning under a changing climate;
  • using geographic information systems for visualizing climate change;
  • and others.

The course will be taught by world-renowned teachers including Dr. Adam Fenech, University of Prince Edward Island; Dr. Bill Gough, University of Toronto; Dr. Robert Wilby, Loughborough University; Dr. Francisco Dallmeier, Smithsonian Institution; Dr. Nick Hedley, Simon Fraser University; Dr. Patrick Withey, St. Francis Xavier University; Dr. Livia Bizikova, International Institute for Sustainable Development;  Dr. Patricia Manuel, Dalhousie University; the Honourable David MacDonald; Dr. Kirsty Duncan, Member of Parliament; Dr. Josh MacFadyn, Western University; Dr. Tony Shaw, Brock University; and others.

The course is being co-sponsored by the University of Prince Edward Island, the University of Toronto and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

Registration is for the whole course, or individual modules, or individual days.

To register or for more information, contact climate@upei.ca

What a December! Winter Storms with Snow and Rain bring the Most Precipitation to PEI in Almost 25 years!

By Dr. Adam Fenech, Director, Climate Lab, University of Prince Edward Island

It seems as if PEI has been battered by one storm after another over the past month – heavy snow, freezing rain and strong winds. On the final day of December 2013, we take the tally of snow, ice and rain for the month and see how it stacks up against previous Decembers. So how bad was it?

The verdict is in. For overall total precipitation, December 2013 saw about 215 millimeters (mm) of both rain and snow almost twice the new climate normal (117 mm or the average from 1981 to 2010). It is the December with the most precipitation in almost 25 years when 260 mm fell in December 1990.

Looking at just the snow, over 100 centimeters (cm) fell this December, the most since 2007 when 150 cm fell. This year’s December snowfall was almost double the new climate normal of 65 cm (the average from 1981 to 2010), and certainly much more than December 2012 or the few years prior.

Why is snow important?

Some PEI businesses enjoyed a financial boost thanks to the early winter weather in December 2013. Businesses that offer sleigh and wagon rides looked at this snowfall as an early Christmas present, as their sales figures jumped about 50 per cent over the previous December. Brookvale Ski Park opened before Christmas for the first time in at least 10 years and towing businesses saw an increase of 20-30 per cent from normal due to the snow.

Snow is also necessary for farmers.  The snow blankets the fields so that when it all melts in the spring, the fields are properly irrigated and ready for planting.  A lack of moisture in the soil in the spring is problematic and can force farmers in severe situations to either reduce their plantings or in a worst case scenario, not plant at all.  Certain crops also need snow cover to provide insulation from extreme cold.  When these crops are exposed to the elements, they become vulnerable to frost which can kill the crop outright.

So PEI’s amount of snow and rain in December 2013 was higher than normal but not record breaking. We do not know what is ahead for the next two months of winter, but Nature has a way of averaging things out over the course of a season so I’d say enjoy the snow while it is here  - as my Mother would say “get outside and play in the snow”.

Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at afenech@upei.ca or (902) 620-5220 

PEI’s Top 3 Weather Stories of 2013

By Dr. Adam Fenech, Director, Climate Lab, University of Prince Edward Island

Another year has gone by and it’s time to talk about Prince Edward Island’s top three weather stories of 2013. This past year wasn’t such a record breaking year as 2012, but it reminded us that the weather plays an important part of our everyday lives. Every year brings stories of weather no matter where you are, and Prince Edward Island is no different. Here are my top three weather stories for 2013, and how they affected PEI.

Number 3 – Good Weather for Potato Harvest

Finally, a good weather story in the top three – 2013 was a good weather year for the potato harvest. While the cold wet spring delayed planting by about a week, and summer climate conditions produced only an average potato crop this year, there were fewer cases of late blight reported on PEI’s potato crop, an unusual situation due to the hot and dry temperatures. Potato blight is a fungus that can be devastating for potato crops. More importantly, potato growers across PEI basked in some of the finest weather in years for the autumn harvest, scooping up clean white potatoes instead of mud splotched ones – red mud of course. The autumn climate was so co-operative that most of the province’s potatoes — roughly 85,000 acres — were in the warehouses before Halloween.

Number 2 – Record Extreme Heat in both Winter and Summer

This year was one of record extreme heat yet again, but this time in both winter and summer seasons. After a downright painful cold snap that lasted more than a week, Islanders were treated to some extremely mild weather during the final week of January in 2013. Temperatures reached record levels for January 30 peaking at plus 9.9 degrees Celsius in Charlottetown, breaking the old January 30 record of 7.8 degrees that had stood for more than a century (1910), and reached plus 8.7 degrees in Summerside, breaking the old January 30 record of 7.2 degrees set in 1938. The following day was even warmer at 11.2 degrees in Charlottetown, shattering the old January 31 record set in 1938 when the capital city reached 8.9 degrees.  Summerside was at 11 degrees, topping the old January 31 mark of 8.9 degrees set in 1953. Temperatures dropped 20 degrees by nightfall that day returning to more seasonal temperatures but it was a great reprieve in the middle of last year’s winter.

Temperatures climbed to record highs in the summer of 2013 as well, when on July 15th thermometers read 31 degrees Celsius, two degrees above the previous record for the day. After days of record-breaking heat and tinder-dry conditions, campfire bans were put into place at PEI parks and all burning permits on PEI were cancelled. July 2013 was one of the hottest months on record with five days where temperatures reached 30 degrees Celsius at Charlottetown Airport; as a comparison in July 2012, there was not a single day where temperatures reached 30 degrees Celsius. Even hardware stores ran out of fans and air conditioners at one point in July as Islanders looked for ways to stay cool.

Number 1 – More Extreme Weather is the New Normal

2013 will go down as the 19th year in a row that saw higher than normal annual average temperatures on Prince Edward Island (in the raw climate record compared to a 1961 to 1990 climate normal). PEI temperatures in 2013 were fully 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1961 to 1990 climate normal. These are reflecting the overall global temperature changes being recorded by scientists. As the global community’s scientific authority on climate matters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reported this year that warming of the climate system is “unequivocal and unprecedented”; there is now “incontrovertible evidence” that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased in the last 200 years, causing the average temperature of earth’s atmosphere and oceans to rise; and that so much evidence now exists that scientists are “virtually certain” human activity is the main driver of climate change, which means they are at least 99 per cent sure. These warming trends have led Environment Canada meteorologists to state that more extreme weather is the new normal for Atlantic Canada. So we all better get used to it.

Questions? Contact Adam Fenech at afenech@upei.ca or (902) 620-5220

UPDATE: SOLD OUT. Climate Change in Atlantic Canada Tour with David Suzuki

suzuki_0Join us Sunday, November 24 for a screening of the documentary film “Climate Change in Atlantic Canada” and a talk by Canada’s best-known environmentalist: David Suzuki. The event begins at 7 pm in the Duffy Amphitheatre of UPEI’s Duffy Science Centre. The cost is $22 per person, with proceeds benefiting the Kensington North Watershed Association for a new volunteer climate watchers program. The event is part of a tour of Atlantic Canada sponsored by the David Suzuki Foundation and locally by UPEI’s Climate Research Lab.

About the film: Across Atlantic Canada, coastlines and communities are already being adversely affected by climate change due to increasing storm intensity, surging sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding. Preparations are now being made for the super storms of the future, but this will not be easy, as ocean levels are expected to increase over one meter globally by the year 2100 due to melting Polar Regions and warmer waters undergoing “thermal expansion.” This film, shot across Atlantic Canada, represents a consultation with more than 100 stakeholders, and documents their real world experiences and efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Despite being on the front lines, Atlantic Canadians show that solutions to this pressing global issue are within our grasp, provided we decide to act. Directed by Ian Mauro, Canada Research Chair. Climatechangeatlantic.com.

Book your tickets today at DavidSuzuki.org/AtlanticTour.

UPDATE: Please note, this event has sold out. Thank you so much for your interest.

New Climate Report Says Warmer and Wetter Conditions Ahead for Prince Edward Island

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global community’s scientific authority on climate matters, will release its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) next month. A leaked draft version has been appearing on websites for almost a year, and capturing headlines in the media.

What is the new IPCC report saying?

The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) released in 2007 concluded that warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Further support is given for this conclusion in the AR5 through new observations, longer data sets, and more paleo-climate information. Confidence is stronger that many changes in the climate system are significant, unusual or unprecedented. Widespread warming is observed across the surface of the Earth, as well as in the upper ocean. Each of the last three decades has been significantly warmer than all preceding decades since 1850.

According to the new report, there is now “incontrovertible evidence” that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased in the last 200 years, causing the average temperature of earth’s atmosphere and oceans to rise. So much evidence now exists that the draft says scientists are “virtually certain” human activity is the main driver of climate change, which means they are at least 99 per cent sure. In AR4, the figure was lower, 90 per cent, so scientific certainty has increased.

The most pessimistic projections for global temperature rise, although they may be the most realistic, is between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius by 2100. Sea levels are projected to rise by between 29 and 82 centimeters by the end of the century.

What do the new IPCC projections mean for Prince Edward Island?

The new IPCC global climate model projections show a future climate for PEI in the 2050s that is warmer 2-3 degrees Celsius and wetter by 5-9% in precipitation (that is rainfall and snow), this means hotter and a bit wetter. This is a little different from what my own research on climate has shown for PEI over the past 30 years. PEI has definitely gotten warmer and drier according to climate observations. But we don’t have to believe the scientific instruments alone, just ask any farmer or fisherman who is out in the weather every day and they’ll tell you that the climate is changing towards warmer and drier seasons.

The impacts from this anticipated warmer and wetter climate will be varied, resulting in both positive and negative impacts. The positive effects would be longer growing seasons so farmers can expect more and varied crops from their land; more warm water fish catches such as lobster; less costs for snow removal; more beautiful days for playing golf and being outside. The negative effects would be more insects, pests and diseases for our crops; more invasive fish species in our water; more days that we wish we had air conditioning. Probably most frightening for PEI is an increase in coastal erosion through higher sea levels and increased storm surges. PEI is already seeing major coastal erosion all across the Island, sometimes in the meters per year, and we scientists expect that damage to increase under climate change.

Why the change? From very likely to virtually certain that humans are the cause of the warming?

New evidence, gathered through climate research and monitoring activities is now available. The IPCC has a scale called the “Likelihood scale” which connects language of certainty to an amount of probability, or likelihood that an event will occur. The IPCC determines uncertainty through expert judgement – they examine the results from climate research and monitoring activities, and then weigh the evidence. Computers are getting faster and stronger. They are able to integrate more information and data in making projections of future climate change so scientists have more and more confidence in the overall results.

Remember that this leaked draft IPCC document remains to be edited and approved through more meetings of scientists. But the main message is there – the climate is getting warmer and scientists are more confident that it will continue to do so.

Climate data for researchers

The Climate Research Lab at the University of Prince Edward Island is offering a new and valuable tool for researchers who require climate projections for anywhere on the planet. The lab has downloaded raw data from 40 global climate models and translated, analyzed, verified, and converted it into a usable dataset for researchers.

“This is the world’s most advanced science, and will be part of next year’s Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),” said Dr. Adam Fenech, director of the Climate Research Lab. “If researchers require projections that are monthly, seasonal, or annual over the next century, we can provide them.”

Watch Dr. Fenech explain:

Dr. Fenech has worked extensively in the area of climate change since the IPCC First Assessment Report in 1988. He has edited seven books on climate change, most recently on climate impacts and adaptation science. Dr. Fenech has worked at Harvard University researching the history of the science/policy interfaces of climate change. He has represented Canada at international climate negotiating sessions, written climate policy speeches for Canadian environment ministers, and authored Canadian reports on climate change to the United Nations. Dr. Fenech has taught at the University of Toronto as well as the Smithsonian Institution for over 15 years, and lectures regularly at universities across Canada and around the world. He is presently the director of UPEI’s own Climate Research Lab that conducts, facilitates, and hosts research and science on the vulnerability, impacts and adaptation to past and future climate change. As part of the IPCC, he was co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Researchers can get in touch with Dr. Fenech at climate@upei.ca. Follow along with the research of the UPEI Climate Research Lab at upei.ca/climate.