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Impacts of Climate Change on Waves and Storm Surge in the Southern Beaufort Sea and Western Canadian Arctic


Computer projections aid understanding about how climate change and ice loss impact infrastructure in Arctic coastal communities like Tuktoyaktuk, (seen here after a severe storm). Photo: Steve Solomon, Natural Resources Canada.

As sea ice decreases in the Arctic, and large, open expanses of ice-free water develop between Siberia and the Mackenzie Delta, powerful storms are occurring more frequently. With the waves, currents, and storm surges generated by these intense storms, low-lying coasts off the southern Beaufort Sea, and western Canadian Arctic, are being damaged.

This project aimed to study the effect of climate change on the interactions between atmosphere and ocean, which lead to changes in waves and storm surges. Using models to simulate oceanographic and atmospheric processes, researchers studied maximum wave heights and storm surges in the Beaufort Sea and the Western Arctic Ocean under different potential climate change scenarios.

Results: In a simulated scenario of balanced fossil fuel and non-fossil-fuel development, results suggest an increase in average wave height of approximately 0.7m and of approximately 1.6 m for extreme wave heights. These figures increased for a scenario in which there is no summer sea ice, with extreme wave heights increasing by 2.1 m. These changes are explained as a result of changes in winds, which are in turn influenced by decreased sea ice.

Researchers observed trends in sea ice conditions using estimates derived from simulations of conditions from 1970 to 2009 and of climate change scenarios for 2040 to 2069. Results showed that sea ice will essentially disappear by the end of the simulation period, by about 2070. These and further results are presented in nine scientific publications.

Program Name

Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program (ACCASP)


Central Canada: Lake Winnipeg, Nelson River Drainage Basin

Principal Investigator(s)

Will Perrie
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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