Group predicts 6-metre sea level rise

  • Dec. 11, 2006 12:00 p.m.

by Alex Rinfret–A BC environmental group says the sea level here will rise by six metres in the next century if global warming trends continue, an amount that could plunge many homes on the Charlottes under water. The Sierra Club of BC released maps of the Victoria area last week, showing what it would look like after a six-metre rise in sea level. Entire neighbourhoods would be eliminated, and Victoria’s cruise ship port, the Swartz Bay ferry terminal and parts of downtown Victoria would all be submerged. The Sierra Club released a similar map of the Lower Mainland earlier this year. Communications director Sarah Cox said her office has been flooded with calls from residents of other parts of coastal BC wondering if the group can prepare maps for their area. “It is something we’re looking into, because we’ve had so many calls,” she said. The Sierra Club employee who made the maps, Dave Leversee, was coincidentally on Haida Gwaii this week in connection with other work. Mr. Leversee said maps showing what a six-metre rise in sea level would do to communities here would be relatively easy to prepare, although the project would take quite a bit of time. He said he prepared the Victoria area map using detailed contour maps of most of the municipalities in the Capital Regional District, which had been prepared by consultants for use in planning. It’s unlikely that this kind of data exists for communities on the islands, he said, but rougher elevation maps from the provincial government could also be used. According to Ms Cox, the Sierra Club based its six-metre sea level rise prediction on information from the journal Science published in March 2006. The Sierra Club says that according to researchers, the six-metre rise is “almost inevitable” in the next 100 years unless the global average temperature increase stays under 2 degrees Celsius. Even if the world reduced carbon dioxide emissions to zero immediately, the earth would still warm by approximately 1.4 degrees. The club called on the provincial government to legislate mandatory reductions in BC’s greenhouse gas emissions to help stop the ocean from rising. (Greenhouse gas emissions are making our climate warmer; the warmer climate causes the ocean level to rise for several reasons, among them by melting polar ice.) The provincial government is also concerned about the changing climate and how it will affect BC, and issued its own report on the issue a few months ago. That report singles out the east coast of Graham Island and the Fraser Delta as the most vulnerable coastlines in the entire province. “Rising sea level is a practical concern on the BC coast,” says the report, titled British Columbia Coast and Marine Envrionment Project 2006. The report says that the climate is definitely becoming warmer in BC, and that this change will bring adverse socio-economic effects. According to the provincial report, the global mean sea level is predicted to rise by just under a metre between 1990 and 2100, although the rate is not uniform over the globe. Ms Cox said new data has been released since the provincial report was prepared which indicates a higher sea level rise can be expected, and scientists are scheduled to release more information in February. “The information is more alarming all the time,” she said. Regional district administrator Janet Beil said she is aware that erosion and rising sea levels are affecting the islands. The regional district is eagerly awaiting information from University of Victoria geography professor Ian Walker about the impact of climate change on the east and north coast of Graham Island, she said. The regional district does not have any maps showing how the rising sea level will affect communities here, she said. “We’ve never done anything on it because we don’t have the resources,” she said. “It’s very important… It definitely has an impact on any type of planning for the Queen Charlotte Islands.”