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Turning science into action

Coastal communities are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Copyright: Shutterstock.

Coastal communities are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. © Shutterstock.

Canada is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, some places more than others. In the Arctic, air temperatures are increasing about three times faster than the global average and this is resulting in decreased sea ice and increased upper-ocean temperatures in the summer and fall.

Adaptation planning can:

Adaptation to climate change is a long-term challenge. Scientific research, information and data are necessary to track, predict and understand changing ocean conditions and the impacts of climate change on our aquatic resources. This is especially true for vulnerable coastal regions that must adapt to the impacts on their fisheries, aquatic ecosystems and coastal infrastructure.

Role of aquatic climate change science

The impacts of climate change are growing and creating a sustained need for scientific information to fill knowledge gaps and to develop adaptation tools.

Coastal and indigenous communities are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on livelihoods and coastal infrastructure such as seawalls or dykes. Federal, provincial, and territorial governments help vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change through the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

To prepare for and respond to impacts of climate change on our oceans, decision-makers need to know what resources may be most vulnerable. They need to understand the reasons for this vulnerability, and which tools will help them to adapt. For example, coastal communities can use models to determine if protective seawalls and dykes should be strengthened or raised.

Our research priorities provide the foundational science to understand these impacts.

Adaptation tools

We are developing adaptation tools to inform decisions related to managing our fisheries, oceans and coastal infrastructure. These tools help to prepare for expected changes in the future. They can include a combination of science, engineering and socio-economic information depending on the application. The tools should be informed by the best available scientific climate change evidence.

For instance, we have developed a Coastal Infrastructure Vulnerability Index. The index reflects a site's vulnerability to sea-level-rise, storm surge and other effects of climate change. It also incorporates harbour engineering and socio-economic indicators. Small craft harbour managers use this tool to help plan for future changes in wharves and breakwaters.

Another tool that we have developed is the Fish Stock Climate Vulnerability Assessment Tool. This tool helps fisheries managers to determine which commercially valuable species are most vulnerable to climate change, and what information is available to better understand and address the risks.

The Canadian Extreme Water Level Adaptation Tool

The Canadian Extreme Water Level Adaptation Tool is an adaptation planning tool that provides sea-level rise projections for Canada’s coastline over the coming century and advice on how much higher to build coastal infrastructure to accommodate the projected rise. The tool, developed for small craft harbours locations, is also useful for planners dealing with infrastructure along Canada’s ocean coastline.

This tool led to the creation of the Educating Coastal Communities About Sea-level Rise Project that will inform Atlantic Canadians about sea-level rise. Through this project, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Ecology Action Centre are working together to create an informative website and deliver workshops for residents, harvesters and municipalities. This information will help local harbour authorities and developers incorporate sea-level rise into future community planning.

The aims of this project are to:

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