New online maps let viewers zero in on how climate change will affect their part of Canada’s boreal forest.
“It’s designed to give information that’s relevant to people where they live,” Danny Blair, co-director of the Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg, said Monday.
The centre released its climate atlas of Canada last spring. This week, they’ve added information that details how things are likely to change in the boreal forest, the vast ribbon of green that stretches across the northern reaches of most provinces and into the territories.
“So much of climate change information just isn’t relevant to people,” Blair said. “It’s big scale, very long-term trends. It all seems rather vague and I’m not surprised that people turn away from it.”
Blair and his colleagues divided the entire country into a grid of squares 10 kilometres per side. Using a combination of 12 international climate models, they made their best projection as to how each of those grid squares would be changed.
The changes were calculated for high- and low-emissions futures. As well, they were projected out to the end of the century.
Their method allows them to be quite specific.
Edmonton, for example, currently averages three or four days every summer in which the temperature climbs above 30 C, Blair said. By the second half of the century, little more than 30 years from now, that is likely to increase to more than 20 such days.
Similarly, Winnipeg is likely to go from 12 30-plus days to more than 50.
“It’s really quite dramatic if we follow the trend that we’re on right now,” Blair said. “We’re going to see some really high temperatures.”
At the same time, the prairies from Manitoba to Alberta are likely to be drying out. Blair has no hesitation in linking the larger, hotter forest wildfires of the last few summers at least partly to climate change.
“If there’s one thing we’re quite certain about, it is that forest fires are getting worse under climate change and they’re going to get worse.”
Insect infestations are also likely to grow. Huge swaths of boreal forest in much-loved areas such as Jasper National Park are already reddened by dead trees caused by the mountain pine beetle.
As well, the forest is being squeezed.
On the south, drought stress is making it tough on boreal staples such as aspen trees. But the soils of northern climes are too thin to allow trees to move northward, although some shrubs are already making the move.
“Soils have a very, very long time of generation,” Blair said.
The point of the maps, he said, was to give Canadians a plain-language tool they can use for themselves to understand what’s coming.
Much of that climate change is already here. The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests the planet has little more than a decade to lower emissions to avoid further impacts.
“It has real implications for agriculture, for human health, all aspects of our life that are affected by temperature,” Blair said.
“It’s going to get a lot hotter — that’s coming one way or another. Hopefully, we’ll limit it by reducing our carbon content in the atmosphere.”