Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program (ACCASP)

Understanding and adapting to climate change

The Government of Canada renewed domestic climate change adaptation funding in 2011, with a $148.8 million contribution over five years. This funding will continue and expand federal programs across nine departments and agencies, designed to improve our understanding of climate change and to help Canadians prepare for climate-related impacts. The investment includes a $16.5 million commitment to the Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the implementation of a five-year aquatic climate change program.

The SeaCycler, a sub-surface moored ocean profiler developed by Fisheries and  Oceans Canada will assist oceanographers studying global climate change. Photo: DFO

Climate change is a research priority for the Department. DFO’s Climate Change Science Initiative and its achievements in climate science over the past decade led to and will inform the new program. Fourteen DFO scientists were among those recognized for their contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and for their "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

Early efforts were made to try and understand what impacts climate change could have on the department of Fisheries and Oceans:

The SeaCycler, a sub-surface moored ocean profiler developed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada will assist oceanographers studying global climate change. Photo: DFO

The emphasis of the Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program (ACCASP) is on the development of new science knowledge to support the development of adaptation tools and strategies that will enable the integration of climate change considerations into the delivery of the Department’s programs and policies. It has three primary components:

  1. Development of a series of Large Aquatic Basin Risk Assessments to identify departmental activities’ key vulnerabilities to climate change;
  2. Producing New Knowledge of Climate Change Impacts on Canada’s Oceans and Inland Waters, and;
  3. Development of applied science-based Adaptation Tools to enable the mainstreaming of climate change considerations across the Department’s program activities and strategic outcomes.

National workshops held to launch the ACCASP aimed to better define DFO's needs regarding understanding climate change adaptation.

What does climate change mean for our aquatic environments?

Three short videos help explain some of the processes that regulate our climate, and how climate change is also bringing change to the oceans. Ocean scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada produced the videos to explain the potential impacts of aquatic climate change across Canada and to help viewers understand two complex ocean processes related to climate change; acidification and hypoxia.

  • Aquatic Climate Change Video: Ocean scientist Dr. Charles Hannah takes us on a quick virtual tour across Canada to discuss a few of the ways climate change will impact marine and freshwater ecosystems.
  • Ocean Acidification Video: Dr. Kumiko Azetsu-Scott studies ocean acidification and explains the price the oceans are paying for absorbing much of the carbon dioxide entering earth's atmosphere.
  • Low Oxygen/Marine Hypoxia Video: Dr. Denis Gilbert explains the impacts of marine hypoxia, or low oxygen "dead zones", in marine environments. Some dead zones occur naturally, and others result from human activities. Certain hypoxic areas, including one that occurs on the Pacific continental shelf, are linked to climate change.

For more information on climate change adaptation, please visit the Government of Canada Climate Change portal, which offers general background on this topic.  Departments such as Natural Resources Canada have been active in climate change adaptation work for some time, and have compiled useful links and information for Canadians. There is also information related to climate change adaptation at the provincial and municipal level. Check local websites for more information.

Bull Trout

Bull Trout shimmer underwater in a fast-moving tributary of the Sheep River, Alberta. Fish and other aquatic organisms are likely to be affected by the ongoing changes in climate conditions. Photo: Jeremy Stewart

Assessing the risk of climate change in four Large Aquatic Basins

Canadian aquatic environments are not the same across our vast country, nor are our three oceans. Consequently, an aquatic ecosystem in one region of Canada may respond differently to climate change than an ecosystem in another region. Capturing these differences is key, and as such the climate change risk assessments were conducted on four sub-regions, known as the “Large Aquatic Basins”.

Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia / Photo DFO
The four Large Aquatic Basins are:
  • Canadian Arctic including Arctic Ocean and Archipelago;
  • Northwest Atlantic;
  • Canada’s Central Freshwater Ecosystems (Lake Winnipeg Drainage Basin, and the Great Lakes Basin and St. Lawrence Freshwater Ecosystems), and;
  • Northeast Pacific.
The main rivers that drain into their respective ocean basins were included in their assessments.

For each of these Large Aquatic Basins, both a Science-based climate change risk analysis (focusing on ecosystem and infrastructure impacts) and an Integrated Risk Assessment that incorporated Science and Socio-Economic risk analyses, as well as Policy considerations (provided by DFO’s Policy sectors) were conducted.

The risk assessments for each Large Aquatic Basin focused on priorities in the Department’s Strategic Outcomes.

Lake Ontario, with Toronto, Ontario in the background / Photo: © Pat Anderson.
Transient killer whale TO87 in Northumberland Channel, British Columbia / Photo: DFO 

The results of the Science-based peer reviewed climate change risk assessments are available on DFO’s Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat page:

The results of the Integrated Climate Change Risk Assessments will be available starting in fall 2013.


The table below offers a few examples of risks that sectors within the Department may expect from climate change.

Climate Change Risks

Impacted DFO Sectors

Sea-level rise and storm surges can impact safety & infrastructure

Coast Guard, Small Craft Harbours, Oceans Management   

Changes in ocean temperature, precipitation & freshwater runoff impact ecosystems

Species at Risk, Habitat, Ecosystem Management

Decrease in water O2 and pH, and changes in nutrients may impact fisheries

Fisheries Management, Oceans Management

Resolute Bay in the Arctic Archipelago, Nunavut / Photo: DFO.
Photos, from top to bottom: Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia / Photo: DFO. Lake Ontario, with Toronto, Ontario in the background / Photo: © Pat Anderson. DFO's Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, British Columbia / Photo: DFO. Severe storms due to climate change endanger the coastal infrastructure of Northern communities, Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories / Photo: M. Fortier, Arctic Net.

New Science Knowledge to Support the Development of Climate Change Adaptation Tools 

In addition to the Large Aquatic Basin risk assessments, the Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program is strategically investing in the development of science-based knowledge to inform future climate change adaptation efforts by the Department.


New Knowledge of Climate Change Impacts on Canada’s Oceans and Inland Waters

Over the first two years of the program further development of the science and technology knowledge base in three designated priority areas will be pursued: Canada’s North; Marine and Freshwater Infrastructure Impacts; and Marine and Freshwater Ecosystem Impacts.

Projects funded (2012-13)
Synopsis of the result from the 2012-2013 funded projects – to come
Projects funded (2013-2014) – to come

Severe storms due to climate change, impact infrastructure maintained by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The small craft harbour at Balsam Bay, Manitoba before and after an extreme 'weather bomb' storm. Photos: DFO
Severe storms due to climate change, impact infrastructure maintained by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The small craft harbour at Balsam Bay, Manitoba before and after an extreme 'weather bomb' storm. Photos: DFO
Severe storms due to climate change, impact infrastructure maintained by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The small craft harbour at Balsam Bay, Manitoba before and after an extreme 'weather bomb' storm. Photos: DFO


Adaptation Tools

Dedicated work to begin the development of applied adaptation tools will also be initiated in 2012-13.  This investment will support the direct application of science
knowledge to establish applied ‘tools’ for immediate use by DFO program areas in the mainstreaming of climate change considerations into decision-making, policy development, and planning. 

Projects funded (2012-13)
Synopsis of the result from the 2012-2013 funded projects – to come

(Click this link to access a searchable database of all climate change adaptation program research projects).


Climate Change Adaptation Initiatives from Other Federal Departments

Programs in other federal departments with parallels to the adaptation work at DFO include:

An Ivory Gull, designated a species of Special Concern, investigates a tidbit tossed by an Environment Canada researcher/photographer.  Seabirds have been used as indicators of marine ecosystem changes due to climate change. During DFO’s two-year International Polar Year "Canada's Three Oceans Project”, researchers identified all seabirds visible along the tracks of the two icebreakers involved in the baseline study of Arctic marine life. Photo: Environment Canada
An Ivory Gull, designated a species of Special Concern, investigates a tidbit tossed by an Environment Canada researcher and photographer. Seabirds have been used as indicators of marine ecosystem changes linked to climate change. During DFO's two-year International Polar Year "Canada's Three Oceans Project", researchers identified all seabirds visible along the tracks of the two icebreakers involved in the baseline study of Arctic marine life. Photo: Environment Canada