University of Victoria geography professor Ian Walker thinks parts of the highway connecting north and south are in serious jeopardy, Mariah McCooey writes from Old Massett.
“Sections of the highway (near Tlell) will be gone in 20-30 years,” he said Saturday at a climate change forum in Old Massett.
This is one of the reasons why the UVic researchers are studying the effects of coastal erosion on the islands. So far, their data from East Beach shows the average erosion rate is 1-3 metres per year – but in the last year alone there are places where as much as five metres have been swallowed by the sea.
“The erosion is gradual or related to big events, such as the December 24 storm of last year,” said Dr. Walker.
“The east coast of the Charlottes was identified as one of the most sensitive areas in Canada,” said Dr. Walker. This is why the research team got a federal government grant from the ‘Climate Change Action Fund,’ – money set aside to study the specific effects of climate change on forestry, agriculture, and tourism across Canada.
There’s a widespread misconception about climate change- most people think it just means warmer temperatures, said Dr. Walker, what they don’t realize is that with climate change comes an increase in the frequency and magnitude of storms.
Since we rely on the coastal highway and the ferry system for our food and medical supplies, islanders should be aware of how these services would be impacted by climate change, he said.
“The current rate of change is unprecedented,” he said. “There are 800,000 years of temperature records contained in the polar ice, and the rate of temperature increase and emissions has never been seen before.”
In the last 150 years, the average air temperature has risen 1-2 degrees, and the average ocean surface temperature off the coast of British Columbia has risen 2 degrees, he said.
“The warmth makes the water molecules expand,” said Dr. Walker, explaining that this is one of the contributing factors to rising sea levels. The major ocean currents (which control weather patterns) are also affected by the changing temperatures.
The UVic team is taking a “new approach” to climate change research by encouraging active participation by members of northern Graham Island communities, who are most affected by climate change. The workshop on Saturday was part of that process, where members of the public were invited to share their views on how climate change affects them personally.
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