Global Climates

Chapters 10 and 11 (4CE) (Chapter 10 (3CE))

There is a brief video introduction here:


–          Climatology is the study of climate: long-term weather patterns.

–          Climatologists can then identify climatic regions:  places with similar climates.

You need to read the introductory sections in Chapter 10, up to and including the introduction to the “Köppen-Geiger Climate Classification System,” 4CE pp. 275-281 / 3CE pp. 262-273.

I. The Components of Climate

Climates are classified on the topics we have already discussed in the course:

 1. Insolation

  • The amount of incoming solar radiation (insolation) a location receives will affect its climate.  This is directly linked to latitude (Figure 2.9, (2.10; 3CE) Daily insolation received at the top of the atmosphere”)

2. Temperature

  • In Chapter 5 we discussed global temperatures.  Temperatures are directly linked to insolation (latitude), altitude, cloud cover, and land-water heating differences.

3. Atmospheric Circulation and Air Masses

  • The dominant winds, ocean currents and air masses affecting an area will influence its climate.

4. Precipitation

  • The amount and type of precipitation in a region will affect its climate.

Obviously these four factors do not operate independently!

  • Temperature is directly linked to insolation.
  • Precipitation is directly lined to global circulation patterns, land/water location, and air masses.
  • Air masses are directly related to a location’s proximity to land/water.

For instance, global circulation patterns create regions like the sub-tropical high pressure regions (around the tropics).  These circulation patterns cause dry, sunny, warm conditions.  These conditions, in turn, create a hot, arid climate.

Some of the major climatic forces are ocean currents.  The most commonly known are El Nino and La Nina.

These occurs when, for no apparent reason, air pressure and ocean surface temperatures change over the southern Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru.

10 el ninoEl Niño: El Nino, which translates to “little boy” in Spanish, is characterized by warmer-than-average sea temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean.  When High Pressure develops over the western Pacific and Low Pressure over the eastern Pacific, the usual NE trade winds can actually reverse to flow from west to east.  Sea surface temperatures can also increase as much as 8-9 degrees C above normal.  This has dramatic consequences for marine ecosystems.  This can result in a less severe hurricane season in both the Pacific and Atlantic basins, and warmer and drier winters than normal in Canada.

10 la nina

La Niña: La Nina, which translates to “little girl” in Spanish, is characterized by cooler-than-average sea temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean.   This can result in a more severe hurricane season in both the Pacific and Atlantic basins, and colder and wetter winters than normal in Canada.

II. Classifying Climate

Places around the world are most often grouped into climatic regions using the Köppen-Geiger Classification System.  This system uses statistical data to group places with similar climatic conditions into larger categories.

The Köppen-Geiger system uses a series of two or three letters to summarize the climate of any region in the world (See 4CE Figure 10.2 / 3CE Figure 10.6, “World climates according to the Köppen-Geiger classification system,” 4CE pp. 280-281 / 3CE pp. 272-273.

The first letter, capitalized from A to E, roughly gives the latitude from the equator:

10 A Clim1

  • B:  Dry and warm climates (often associated with the sub-tropical highs:  Southwestern U.S., Mexico, Sahara Desert, Middle East, Australian outback)

10 B Clim2

10 C Clim3

10 D Clim4

10 E Clim7


  • H:  Highland climates (alpine areas like the Rockies, Andes, Alps, Himalayas, which can occur at any latitude)

The second and sometimes third letters, usually non-capitalized, subdivide each broad category according to specific temperature and moisture conditions.  See your text for more details.

A climograph is used to show the climate for a particular location.  It includes information like:

  • A graph of monthly temperatures
  • A graph of monthly precipitation
  • Location coordinates
  • Average annual temperature
  • Average annual precipitation
  • Total annual precipitation
  • Annual temperature range
  • Annual hours of sunshine
  • Elevation
  • Population

(No, you don’t have to memorize these!  Just know the TYPE of information presented!)

Skim the various types of climates and climographs from Tropical Rain Forest Climates (4CE p. 282 / 3CE p. 271) to the end of that section (4CE p. 300 / 3CE p. 294).  Do not worry about trying to learn all of this!  In your lab you will have the opportunity to work with this information a bit!

III. Climate Change (4CE Chapter 11, 3CE Chapter 10, pp. 294-304)

NOTE:  we will use the term “climate change” rather than “global warming.”  This is a more comprehensive — and accurate term.  Global climates are changing … warming is just one indicator of this in many parts of the world.  The bigger issue is CHANGE.  While climates may be getting warmer in some areas, the bigger issues may be more frequent and more violent storms, less or more precipitation (annually or seasonally), greater (or less) wind, etc.  For instance, extended hot-dry periods during the summers on the west coast (2015) and exceptionally nasty winter storms on the east coast (2015) may exemplify climate change – in the latter case not necessarily warming!

“Global warming” refers to the long-term warming of the planet. Global temperature shows a well-documented rise since the early 20th century and most notably since the late 1970s. Worldwide, since 1880 the average surface temperature has risen about 1 °C (about 2 °F), relative to the mid-20th-century baseline (of 1951-1980). This is on top of about an additional 0.15 °C of warming from between 1750 and 1880.

“Climate change” encompasses global warming, but refers to the broader range of changes that are happening to our planet. These include rising sea levels; shrinking mountain glaciers; accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic; and shifts in flower/plant blooming times. These are all consequences of the warming, which is caused mainly by people burning fossil fuels and putting out heat-trapping gases into the air. The terms “global warming” and “climate change” are sometimes used interchangeably, but strictly they refer to slightly different things.

Good online readable introduction to all topics related to climate change include:

With all the recent rhetoric by our political leaders and others  this section should be very interesting to you!

The U.N. World Meteorological Organization’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the world’s premier peer-reviewed scientific authority on climate change, with several thousand atmospheric scientists involved.  This is the best source of all scientific information on climate change.

The IPCC Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions highlighted that:

  • Scientific observations indicate that climate change is happening as fast as or faster than the highest estimates previously anticipated,  This is having dramatic consequences for average surface temperatures, glacier and sea-ice retreats, sea water levels, and local and regional weather.
  • Social Disruption and equity dimensions need to be addressed:  All societies are impacted by the consequences of climate change.  However some of the poorest nations and regions (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia and Arctic regions are most affected and are least able to cope.
  • Inaction is inexcusable.  The scientific case is solid; climates are changing.  Technological, economic, and management resources exist to substantially mitigate the process and effects of climate change … but the political will is often lacking.
  • Meeting the challenging requires grassroots and political leadership to have a new vision and will power.  There could be substantial longterm economic, employment and health benefits from a “decarbonized” society, but the desire has to be there to make it happen.

The UN reports are considered conservative in their scientific assessments.

The debate about climate change among scientists — if it ever really existed — has long been over.  The (very few, about 3%) nay-sayers rarely deny change is occurring, but may debate the relative effect of human activity.

It should be noted that several of the most outspoken critics of human-induced climate change are often on the payroll of major corporations (see Sheldon Kamieniecki’s, Corporate America and Environmental Policy:  How Often Does Business Get Its Way? (San Francisco:  Stanford University Press, 2006).  Kamieniecki also highlights how several major polluting corporations hired the same media relations companies as large tobacco companies to try to sway public opinion in their favor.  Interesting.

A few papers have questioned the often cited “97% consensus” among climate scientists that climate change is happening, likely caused by human activities.  A new survey in the journal Environmental Research Letters of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers, the most comprehensive survey of its kind, found that just over 4,000 papers took a position on the cause of global warming, 97.1% of which endorsed human-caused global warming.   The survey found that the consensus has grown slowly over time, and reached about 98% as of 2011. The results are also consistent with several previous surveys finding a 97% consensus among climate experts on the human cause of global warming (see Survey finds 97% climate science papers agree warming is man-made | Dana Nuccitelli | Environment | The Guardian, see also Richard Tol accidentally confirms the 97% global warming consensus ).  Those papers which challenge this consensus tend to have ideological biases or methodological issues.

See also:

The political debate — among politicians — is far from over!

    A Brief History of Climate (Deciphering Past Climates)

Earth’s climate has changed naturally (and very slowly) over time.  The science of studying past climates is called paleoclimatology.  The text goes into methods for long-term and short-term climate reconstruction and histories in great detail (4CE, pp. 310-318) – skim this, but you do not need to know it for the exam.  It may give you some help in understanding how scientists assess climate is actually changing today.

    Mechanisms of Natural Climate Fluctuation (4CE pp. 319-320)

Climate does change (very very slowly) due to natural processes:

  1. Solar variability – the sun’s output of energy toward earth changes over time.  Overall it is increasing.  It also varies on an approximately 11-year cycle related to sunspot activity (tit is greatest when their are the most amount of sunspots.  There are also approximate 70 year cycles of reduced sunspot activity (a time of global cooling).  Actual observed results of global temperatures suggest that these historic trends are no longer holding true.  2005-2010, a time of  low sunspot activity SHOULD have been a cool period, but instead were very warm, suggesting other effects are shaping climate (see NASA Earth’s Energy Budget Remained Out of Balance Despite Unusually Low Solar Activity
  1. Earth’s orbital cycles
  • The Earth’s orbit is not a perfect circle, but an ellipse, meaning at times the Earth is closer to the sun and at times it is further away.
  • Earth’s axis “wobbles” meaning that at times one hemisphere is more tilted toward the sun than the other.
  • The tilt of the Earth’s axis varies from 21.5 – 24.5 degrees.  Currently it is 23.5 degrees.
  1. Continental positions and topography – long-term changes in the relative amount/shape of land and oceans can affect climate (see text)
  1. Atmospheric gases and aerosols – naturally occurring changes in the composition of the atmosphere can affect climate.  For instance volcanic eruptions tend to produce much atmospheric dust, blocking incoming solar energy, which can lead to global cooling.  Carbon dioxide (CO2), cause by burning of (presently or formerly) living organism – e.g. forest fires burning large expanses of trees – has the net effect of raising global temperatures.  Increased water vapour in the atmosphere also increases global temperatures.

The important “Greenhouse Gases” are (4CE, pp. 328-332)

    Evidence of Present Climate Change

1.Temperature – Global warming gases have hit record levels in the world’s atmosphere, with concentrations of carbon dioxide up 39 percent since the start of the industrial era in 1750 (see CTV News – UN: Concentrations of greenhouse gases hit record).  CO2 is the greenhouse gas of greatest concern to policy makers looking to stem human-induced climate change:  fossil fuel-burning, loss of forests that absorb CO2 and use of fertilizer are the main culprits. Levels of methane – considered the second most important greenhouse gas – have risen after a period of relative stabilisation from 1999 to 2006. This could be due to the thawing of the Northern permafrost and increased emissions from tropical wetlands. Nitrous oxide, emitted into the atmosphere from natural and man-made sources, including biomass burning and fertiliser use, was 323.2 parts per billion in 2010 – 20% higher than in the pre-industrial era.  Read the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)  Greenhouse Gas Bulletin GHGbulletin.html.

HFCs (Hydrofluorocarbons), a popular choice by refrigeration manufacturers of because they are are deemed to be a “like-for-like” replacement substance for ozone-depleting Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorochlorocarbons (HCFCs) are also dramatically increasing in the atmosphere — and are potent greenhouse gases .(BBC News – Climate concerns as ‘ozone-friendly’ HFCs use grows).  HFCs are much more potent global warming agents than carbon dioxide:  Global Warming Potentials

For an interesting recent study see Megacities’ urban heat may warm up Canadian winters.

While many politicians and media types (for various political reasons) may question the reality of climate change, it is a bit like those who argued the earth was flat back in Columbus’ day.  The scientific evidence is overwhelming.


Warming is expected to be greatest over land and at high latitudes, with some models predicting rises of 10 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years in the Arctic.  This has dramatic consequences for permafrost, ecosystems, structural engineering, and transportation (e.g. ice highways)

The issue is not that change is happening.  The real challenge is coming to terms with the changes.

2. Ice Melt

a. Glacial Ice – Glaciers, perennially frozen water, have been in retreat for decades.  This has all sorts of ecological and even economic implications

Permafrost, perennially frozen ground, is thawing in the Arctic at accelerating rates.  This releases methane, a greenhouse gas, and permanently changes the ecosystems of these areas.

b. Sea Ice – Sea ice is declining at 11% per decade, which has major environmental implications.  Sea ice is expected to decrease, with some projections predicting late-summer Arctic sea ice to disappear entirely by 2030. 2011 had the second lowest level of Arctic sea ice recorded (the lowest was 2007) — overall these are the lowest levels in several thousand years.

see up to date Arctic sea ice graphs

c. Sea Level Rise – UN Reports suggest that global warming and rising sea levels will continue for centuries, even if greenhouse gas emissions are slowed or reduced.  We will likely experience a temperature increase of about 0.5 degrees by 2025 regardless of what we do, but the increases start to diverge depending on the levels of emissions when you look a hundred years from now.  The report predicts average temperature increases of 1.8 to four degrees by the year 2100. On sea levels, the report projects a rise of 17.8 centimeters to 58.4 centimeters by the end of the century. An additional rise between 9.9 to 19.8 centimeters is possible if the recent, surprising melting of polar ice sheets continues (“It’s not like Las Vegas.  What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” — Dr. Walter Meier, National Snow and Ice Data Centre)

  • A rise of similar size is projected to come from a combination of melt water from mountain glaciers and thermal expansion of seawater.
  • Other studies suggest this may be a conservative estimate.  In spring, 2011, Dr. Eric Rignot from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and other authors published a study suggesting that glacial melt is higher than previously thought.  The Greenland and Antarctic sheets were losing a combined mass of 475Gt (gigatonnes – billion tonnes) of ice per year in 2006; loss from the Greenland sheet is increasing by nearly 22Gt per year, while the much larger and colder Antarctic sheet is shedding an additional 14.5Gt each year.  If these increases persist, water from the two polar ice sheets could add 15cm (5.9 inches) to the average global sea level by 2050 and 59 cms by 2100.  (BBC News – Polar ice loss quickens, raising seas).
  • Other estimates put sea level rise at closer to 1 m over the next century (Sea level rise underestimated, say B.C. scientists – British Columbia – CBC News).  The biggest uncertainty in forecasting sea level rise is determining how quickly the polar ice sheets will melt in response to warming temperatures.
  • However sea levels not only rise from more water, but as water temperature increases, so does the volume it occupies — it expands.  This will double the overall sea level rise to 1-2 metres by 2100.  For countries like Bangladesh, eastern China, and Thailand (and even cities like Halifax, Charlottetown, and Richmond/Surrey/Delta, BC)  at sea level, this has profound consequences!  The BC government has warned builders and developers to plan for a 1 m sea level rise over the next 90 years (B.C. warned ocean will rise by 1 metre by 2100 – British Columbia – CBC News).
  • Sea levels did rise  an average of nearly eight centimetres between 1992 and 2015, the result of warming waters and melting ice (Sea level has climbed 8 centimetres since 1992 – Technology & Science – CBC News).

See also

4. Extreme Events – Globally, extreme weather events and their effects are anticipated to increase

5. Precipitation is very likely to move toward the poles, with an increase at higher latitudes and a decrease in subtropical regions.

6. Hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation are highly likely to become more frequent.  Wild fires will become larger and more intense as forests warm and dry

7. Hurricanes/typhoons are likely to become more intense, and may become more frequent.

6. Intense rain events and flooding may become more common

8. Ecosystem Changes

9. Acidification in oceans: Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (up almost 40% since the pre-industrial age) will lead to increasing acidification of the ocean.

10. Social and Economic Impacts: all of this has huge social, cultural, and economic costs — for nations and individuals.   For instance, with extreme weather events, rising temperatures increase, and either not enough or too much rain, there is more food insecurity. In some cases, yields of maize and wheat, for example, have increased in higher altitudes while yields of the same crops have declined in regions with lower altitudes.  One consequncce is “climate change-induced displacement and migration.”  For instance, agricultre in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua is highly dependent on rainfall.  Changing precipitation patterns mean food security is undermined.   The desertification of increasing areas of North Africa and Middle East has been implicated in the economic and political instability in these areas, contributing to widespread migration.

On a global scale these will have dramatic impacts that will, inevitably, affect Canada — we are part of a global community!

  • Sea level rises will flood much of the country of Bangladesh, substantial areas of eastern China, and major world cities like Bangkok — where do we as an international community — put 100,000,000+ people?  (Other low-lying areas in Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas will also be affected:  as much as 50 % of the world’s population lives within 2 metres of sea level.  Think about Canada — almost 1 million live within a metre of sea level in suburban Vancouver; Charlottetown is at sea level, as are neighbourhoods of Halifax and other coastal cities and communities).
  • What do we, as a global community, do when the Sudan, Sahara, and sub-Sahara regions of Africa become so dry as to be uninhabitable?  Desert areas in Africa, Asia, and North America will expand.  Population is also growing in these areas (like Arizona):  where do they get water?  Billions of litres of water is used to irrigate golf courses — is this ethical?
  • How do we, as Canadians, respond to increasing international demand for our fresh water resources (as the southern U.S.A. becomes hotter, drier — and more densely populated, our water, rather than our oil, may be coveted by our neighbors to the south)?
  • As extreme weather events become more common, how do we respond to more frequent catastophes?
  • Major economic implications, especially for poorer country:  “Adverse effects of global warming are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and goals.”
  • This increase in stress, poverty, and displacement has serious security implications:
  • These are not “other people’s problems.”  They will become all of ours!  Do they have ethical issues for Christians?  What are the implications for missions?  These are questions the Christian community must begin to take seriously!
  • One interesting study notes that Richer Canadians emit far more greenhouse gases than lower income people:  “The richest 20 per cent of Canadian households spew almost twice — 1.8 times — the greenhouse-gas emissions of the country’s lowest income-earners … The report says the top one per cent of households had emissions three times the average and almost six times those of households in the bottom 10 per cent …  The report’s author, economist Marc Lee, says the rich can reduce emissions — taking steps like cutting air travel and investing in home energy efficiency — more easily than low-income families, without affecting basic needs.  Lee says climate policies have to be fair to be effective, and he contends high-income Canadians should bear the greater burden of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.”  Are there some justice issues we need to wrestle with here?

Canada Effects

Climate change in Canada – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia has good information on

1 Emissions

2 Public policy

3 Lobbying

4 Climate change by province

5 Impacts on forestry

6 Statistics

  • In Canada, the federal government has backed away from taking leadership on climate change issues.  The federal government website used to be a great resource on research, management, and mitigation strategies.  Now the federal website has no information at all on climate change (don’t even bother checking it out – it’s a waste of time:  Environment Canada – Climate Change – Climate Change).  Apparently the Government of Canada no longer considers climate change a topic worthy of webspace.  Make of that what you will.
  • Several of the provinces – especially B.C., Ontario, and Quebec – are VERY proactive.  Their websites are much more helpful!
  • The costs to Canada — in terms of effects on key industries (like forestry), land flooded, dwelling damages, and health problems/deaths from air quality and temperature changes — are huge:
  • Canada heading towards uninsurable housing market as extreme weather events increase | CTV News
  • Canada’s aging infrastructure vulnerable to natural disasters: experts | CTV News
  • Climate change could cost billions a year by 2020 – Politics – CBC News
  • – Interactive – Climate change could cost Canada billions: report
  • Potential Impact of Climate Change on BC Hydro’s Water Resources
  • The Tyee – Glaciers, BC Hydro’s Melting ‘Batteries’
  • From
  • “As a northern nation, Canada is a key barometer for climate change. Over the past 50 years, average temperatures in this country have risen by 1.2°C, almost twice the global rate. The Mackenzie Basin in the Northwest Territories is one of three climate hot spots in the world, along with Lake Baikal in Siberia and northwestern Alaska.
  • “After decades of debate, the world’s scientific community generally agrees that the winds of climate change are sweeping our planet. But what does “climate change” really mean?
  • “Changes in the Earth’s climate are a natural and cyclical phenomenon. Historically, the climate has fluctuated between warmer and colder conditions, such as the ice ages. The greenhouse effect — the rise in temperature on Earth when gases in the atmosphere, such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, trap and reflect heat back toward the Earth’s surface — is also a natural occurrence. Without it, the average temperature on Earth would be a frigid -18°C.
  • “Daily human activities, such as burning fossil fuels to drive our cars or heat and cool our homes, are precipitating changes in these natural systems. Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are intensifying the greenhouse effect, which may cause the planet to warm up at a rate never before experienced in human history. It is already resulting in changing weather patterns worldwide and more frequent extremes in weather, such as hurricanes and droughts. Global warming, which strictly means an increase in the world’s mean temperature, is often defined under popular usage as warming caused by human activity.
  • “The changing climate is also altering the Canadian landscape and will touch Canadians in every aspect of their lives, from ski conditions to air quality. This thematic highlights major shifts and what the future may hold in Canada’s five main regions, taking into account the degree of uncertainty in climate change projections. It also broaches the question of how Canadians will have to adapt to their changing surroundings.
  • Warming on average in Canada would increase four to six degrees Celsius, with a smaller change in the south and an increase of 10 degrees in the north (over the next century).
  • Environment Canada has completed a an assessment of the social, biological and economic impacts of climate change on the different regions of Canada.  Climate experts from government, industry, academia and non-government organizations were brought together to review existing knowledge on climate change impacts and adaptation, identify gaps in research, and suggest priority areas where new knowledge is urgently needed.
  • The impacts of a changing climate are already evident in every region of Canada. Unequivocal are the impacts of climate change on many physical and biological systems, such as ice and snow cover, river, lake and sea levels, and plant and animal distributions. In addition, increases in the occurrence of heat waves, forest fires, storm-surge flooding, coastal erosion and other climate-related hazards are consistent with observed climate trends.

Some observed impacts of changing climate on physical and biological systems in Canada

  Glacier cover – mass and area; widespread reductions with local variability
  • widespread retreat since late 1800s in western Canada, since 1920s in Arctic
  • glaciers in BC are currently retreating at rates unprecedented in the last 8000 years
  • estimated loss of ice mass in Canadian Arctic of 25 km3/a for period 1995–2000
  Snow cover – reduced annual extent and duration
  • 10% decrease in extent in Northern Hemisphere for period 1972–2003
  • decrease of 20 days in duration of snow cover in Arctic since 1950
  Sea-, lake- and river-ice cover – reduced extent and duration
  • 3% per decade decrease in annual average area of sea ice in Northern Hemisphere for period 1978–2003
  • reduction of ice cover season on Great Lakes by 1–2 months during past 150 years
  Permafrost conditions – warming and deepening of annual thaw layer
  • most significant warming in western Arctic
  • 1°C increase in surface permafrost temperature since 1990 in northern Quebec
  • increase in summer thaw penetration in the 1990s
  River and lake levels – changes in water levels and timing of peak flow events
  • decline in summer and fall runoff in Prairies, leading to lower lake and river levels at those times
  • trend towards earlier spring runoff
  Plant phenology – events occurring earlier
  • 26-day shift to earlier onset of spring over the past century in Alberta
  • 5–6 day advance since approximately 1959 in the onset of phenological spring in eastern North America
  Plant productivity–
lengthening growing seasons and increased productivity
  • greater productivity rates of spruce and poplar in Quebec
  • lengthening of growing season for crop production
  Distribution of some animal species – northward or upslope shifts in terrestrial ecosystems, shifts towards warmer thermal regimes in freshwater ecosystems
  • increasing abundances of cool and warm water fish species relative to cold water species
  Coastal erosion – enhanced as a result of decreased ice cover, sea-level rise, increased storminess, and non-climatic factors
  • accelerated erosion and degradation of the dunes and coastline throughout the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, northeastern Prince Edward Island and southwestern, western and eastern Newfoundland
  • Many of these impacts directly influence human systems. For example, decreases in the thickness and duration of lake and river ice have significantly impacted the viability of many winter road networks that provide access to remote communities and mine sites in northern Canada, while coastal erosion has impacted buildings and critical infrastructure, and threatened cultural sites on all of Canada’s marine coasts. There is also strong evidence that climate change has been a contributing factor to a number of other environmental, social and economic issues.
  • Impacts of recent extreme weather events highlight the vulnerability of Canadian communities and critical infrastructure to climate change.
  • The economic costs resulting from extreme weather events in Canada in the past decade and a half have been greater than for all previous years combined. Costs reaching hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars are associated with flooding, wind, hail and ice storms, hurricanes, tornados and wild fires in all regions of southern Canada, arising from property damage and disruptions in the production and flow of goods and services. Prolonged periods of unusual weather, such as drought, can also result in high economic costs.
  • Recent costly weather events in Canada, NOT including drought
    • 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire:  $9.9 billion
    • 1996: Calgary hailstorm (Alberta):  $300+ million
    • 2005: Southern Alberta floods:  $400+ million
    • 2010: Calgary hailstorm:  $400+ million
    • 2005: Toronto extreme rain (Ontario):  $500+ million
    • 2009:  Central Alberta hailstorm:  $500+ million
    • 2003: British Columbia/Alberta wildfires: $700+ million
    • 2011: Slave Lake wildfire (Alberta):  $700+ million
    • 1997: Red River flood (Prairies):  $817 million
    • 1991: Calgary hailstorm:  $884 million
    • 2013:  Toronto thunderstorm/flood:  approximately $1 billion
    • 2011:  Southern SK, MB flooding (Prairies):  $1+ billion
    • 1996: Saguenay flood, (Quebec):  $1.7 billion
    • 2013:  Southern Alberta Floods: $3-5 billion estimates
    • 1998: Ice storm, (Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada):  $5.4 billion
    • 2010:  BC wildfires:  $230 million
    • 2009:  Hamilton thunderstorms (Ontario):  $200-300 million
    • 2003: Hurricane Juan (Atlantic Canada):  $200+ million
    • One issue in the news recently is the decreased potential electrical-generation energy available from hydro-electric dams.  Bridge Glacier, in BC, which supplies dams producing the 3rd largest amount of hydro-electric energy in the province, is retreating 200m per year. This has already reduced the amount of water available for hydro-electric power generation.  The amount of electricity potentially available from hydro-electricity in BC will only continue to shrink — even as demand for electricity increases.

Here are some of the highlights of regional reports (non-italicized portions from Environment Canada, italicized selections from Royal Canadian Geographical Society):

British Columbia/Yukon/Rockies

For changes to date see:  LiveSmart BC – Effects of Climate Change

For projections of future climate change:  LiveSmart BC – Climate Change Projections

  • Significant impacts in British Columbia and the Yukon would include increased flood dangers in some areas, drought in others, and widespread disruption to forests, fisheries and wildlife.
  • Sea levels are expected to rise up to 30 cm on the north coast of British Columbia and up to 50 cm on the north Yukon coast by 2050, mainly due to warmer ocean temperatures. This could cause increased sedimentation, coastal flooding and permanent inundation of some natural ecosystems, and could place low-lying homes, docks and port facilities at risk.
  • “The expected rise in sea level, caused by melting glaciers and the expansion of ocean waters as they warm, will affect parts of coastal British Columbia, particularly in the Fraser Delta and portions of Vancouver, Victoria and the Queen Charlotte Islands. The heavily populated Fraser Delta is one of the most vulnerable regions on the Pacific Coast since parts of the lowlands already sit below sea level and are protected from flooding by an extensive dyke system. Rising seas could drown tidal marshes, havens for waterfowl, shorebirds and salmon fry. They could also flood prime farmland, industrial and residential urban areas. The intrusion of salt water would affect groundwater supplies.
  • “Climatologists predict that winters in coastal British Columbia will be wetter and stormier. In a region defined by mountains, that means unstable slopes and more frequent landslides. Heavy rains can unleash “debris flows,” a sodden mixture of mud, gravel and boulders barrelling down steep mountain stream courses. In November 2006, torrential rains washed silt into Greater Vancouver’s water supply, making tap water murky and undrinkable for about two million residents.” (
  • See also:  Warming oceans signal fishery changes, study says – Technology & Science – CBC News

Other changes that may result from climate change include:

  • In winter, increased winter precipitation (more violent winter storms), permafrost degradation and glacier retreat due to warmer temperatures may lead to landslides in unstable mountainous regions, and put fish and wildlife habitat, roads and other man-made structures at risk. Increased precipitation will put greater stress on water and sewage systems, while glacier reduction could affect the flow of rivers and streams that depend on glacier water, with potential negative impacts on tourism, hydroelectric generation, fish habitat and lifestyles.  (This was evident in the winter of 2006-2007 as snow, rain, and wind severely damaged coastal BC, including Stanley Park)
  • Spring flood damage could be more severe both on the coast and throughout the interior of British Columbia and the Yukon, and existing flood protection works may no longer be adequate.
  • Summer droughts along the south coast and southern interior will mean decreased stream flow in those areas, putting fish survival at risk, and reducing water supplies in the dry summer season when irrigation and domestic water use is greatest. (The summers of 2005-2006, 2016-2017 were among the hottest and driest on record).
  • Glacial retreat in the Coast and Rocky Mountain systems could mean the large-scale loss of most alpine glaciers by 2050.  This would have ecosystem, water storage, hydro-electric energy, and tourism impacts.  There are about 15,000 glaciers in British Columbia. In 1985, they covered 28,800 square kilometers. By 2005, they covered 25,000, a loss of 3,000 square kilometers, or about 11 per cent.
  • warmer winters permit survival and spread of insects including pine beetles and mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus.
  • British Columbia has been dependent on snowpack to provide moisture through the spring and summer, but it may get more rain in winter, which would run off the land rather than melting slowly as snow does. Then early springs and hotter summers could mean the moisture dries up more quickly.  However, since those regions don’t usually have to rely on reservoirs, the ones they have aren’t adequate to offset the lack of rain. In fact, the shortage has prompted water restrictions in the province and instances of hydrological drought, which is when lakes, rivers and ground water supplies are depleted.


Check out provincial sites:

Alberta Climate Change

Climate Change Government of Saskatchewan

Manitoba Climate Change

  • Current models suggest that climate change could result in increased air temperatures and decreased soil moisture. Most scenarios suggest that the semi-arid regions of the Prairies can expect an increase in the frequency and length of droughts.
  • All three Prairie provinces, stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the shore of Hudson Bay, are vulnerable to drought.  As summer temperatures rise, the risk of drought across Alberta, Saskatchewan and even Manitoba will grow.  Alberta’s new normal could be drought.
  • Some of the potential impacts of these changes include:
  • Average potential crop yields could fall by 10-30% due to higher temperatures and lower soil moisture. However, higher temperatures could lengthen the growing season, and may increase crop production in northern regions where suitable soils exist. Crop production may need to shift to more drought-tolerant crops.  Dry-land farming may cease to be viable in southern regions, putting more pressure on limited water resources.
  • rivers are usually filled with glacial melt in the summers, but with much less glaciers and earlier melting, you might expect those rivers to be much lower, resulting in less water for irrigation when it’s needed. However, when storms happen, more sudden, more severe rainfall events can be expected resulting in major flooding.
  • Increased demand for water pumping and summer cooling, due to drought, and decreased winter demand due to higher temperatures, could push electrical utilities into a summer peak load position at the same time as hydropower production is reduced by decreased water flow. This could result in increased thermal power production with an increase in fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Semi-permanent and seasonal wetlands could dry up, leading to reduced production of waterfowl and other wildlife species.
  • “After Canada’s North, the southern Prairies are the region most affected by the shifting climate. Since the 1940s and early 1950s, the length of the growing season on the Prairies has grown by approximately 10 to 15 days. There is less snow cover and spring runoff begins earlier. Most climate change models suggest that the semi-arid zones of the Prairies will be more prone to drought as the weather warms. Grasslands and aspen parkland of the southern Prairies could expand northward, in tracts now occupied by the boreal forest.
  • “Glaciers along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, which feed rivers throughout the Prairies, have shrunk by an average of 25 percent over the last century, reducing downstream flows. Total glacial cover is nearing the lowest level in 10,000 years. If glaciers continue to shrink, it will exacerbate water shortages and drought, particularly in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.” (


Territorial websites:

Yukon climate change

NWT Climate Change

Nunavut Climate Change Centre

  • Temperature changes will be most notable near the poles — a rise of 6-10 degrees C within the next century is realistic.
  • “The Canadian Arctic is on the front lines of global warming. The North and its residents have been aptly described as the “early warning system for the entire planet.” Indeed, temperatures in the Western Arctic are among the fastest rising on Earth. Over the past 40 years, average temperatures in the Mackenzie Basin have increased by 1.5°C; by the second half of the 21st century, scientists predict temperatures in the Northwest Territories will be at least 5°C warmer than they are now.
  • “The very essence of the land of snow and ice is melting away. The polar ice cap has been shrinking at a rate of nine percent per decade since the 1970s, according to recent NASA estimates. If this trend continues, some scientists say the summer sea ice cover may completely disappear by the end of the century. Others say it could happen as early as 2050. Meanwhile, an ancient ice shelf tore away from Ellesmere Island in 2005, creating a 66-square-kilometre island. Scientists suspect the breakup was caused by global warming.
  • “Sea ice in the Arctic is not only shrinking in size, it is getting thinner. More open water means stronger waves lapping at the shoreline and causing destructive erosion, particularly along the Beaufort Sea coast. Erosion and rising sea levels are already threatening Tuktoyaktuk, a major shipping port in the Canadian Arctic.
  • “Much of the land in Canada’s northern reaches is underlain by permafrost, ground that remains frozen year-round. In recent years, melting permafrost has altered the landscape, turning parts of the hard tundra into swampy, shifting ground and increasing the risk of landslides. This is having a serious impact on many aspects of northern life, from the safety of ice roads to the instability of buildings, airstrips, pipelines and municipal water supply.” (
  • In the past 100 years, the Mackenzie district has warmed by 1.5°C and the Arctic tundra area by 0.5°C, while the Arctic mountains and fjords of the eastern Arctic have cooled slightly. Future winter temperature increases of 5-7°C over the mainland and much of the Arctic Islands and modest cooling in the extreme eastern Arctic are projected. Summer temperatures are expected to increase up to 5°C on the mainland, and 1-2°C over marine areas. Annual precipitation is expected to increase up to 25%.
  • These changes in temperature and precipitation would have dramatic effects on tundra and taiga/tundra ecosystems, reducing them by as much as two thirds. More than one half of the discontinuous permafrost area could disappear, with marked surface instability in the short term.
  • Wildlife would also be affected, with many species of fish and streams shifting northward 150 km for each degree increase in air temperature and High Arctic Peary caribou, muskoxen and polar bears running the risk of extinction.
  • Climate change would also extend the shipping season in the Arctic, while rising sea levels in the Beaufort Sea areas would endanger coastal infrastructure.


Climate Change – Ministry of the Environment (Province of Ontario)

  • Ontario could experience anywhere from 3-8°C average annual warming by the latter part of the 21st century, leading to fewer weeks of snow, a longer growing season, less moisture in the soil, and an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts.
  • Other impacts of climate change could include:
  • more days when heat stress and air pollution adversely affect people’s health;
  • likely increases in the frequency and severity of forest fires; and
  • changes to aquatic ecosystems and alterations to wetlands.
  • As well, water levels in the Great Lakes could decline to record lows by the latter part of the 21st century, reducing shipping capacity.
  • “Low water levels are a major concern along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, the urban and industrial heartland of Canada. (One-quarter of Canada’s population lives in the Great Lakes region and nearly half of the country’s industries are based there, while more than 70 percent of Quebec’s population lives along the St. Lawrence.) Climate models predict that by 2050 lake levels could be lower by more than one metre.
  • “Lower water levels would have a significant impact on a variety of economic activities, from hydro power production to tourism. Maintaining navigability on the St. Lawrence Seaway could require more dredging. Shipping costs would increase as ships would have to make more trips with lighter loads. Wetlands could dry out, affecting wildlife and fisheries. Water quality may deteriorate as warmer water temperatures create a favourable environment for microbes and algal blooms.” (


  • Quebec is the most aggressive province in terms of combating climate change:  Québec: A leader in the fight against climate change!.
  • If carbon dioxide levels were to double, Quebec would experience average temperature increases of 1-4°C in the south and 2-6°C in the north. Precipitation would likely remain the same or decrease slightly in the south, while increasing 10-20% in the north.
  • Likely consequences include:
  • lower water levels in the St. Lawrence River, which will affect shipping, navigation, and the marine environment of the river; and
  • positive effects on agriculture, including a longer growing season and the extension of agriculture further north.


Check out provincial websites:

How is Climate Change Affecting New Brunswick?

Climate Change Nova Scotia

PEI Climate Change

Climate Change Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Climate change in the Atlantic region has not followed the national warming trend of the past century, and, in fact, a slight cooling trend has been experienced over the past 50 years. This trend is consistent with projections by climate models.
  • Atlantic Canada is particularly vulnerable, however, to rising sea levels, whose impacts could include greater risk of floods, coastal erosion, coastal sedimentation, and reductions in sea and river ice.
  • Many coastal communities are within a few metres of sea level — a rise of up to a meter in sea level would have dramatic consequences.
  • Other potential impacts include:
  • loss of fish habitat;
  • changes in ice-free days, which could affect marine transportation and the offshore oil and gas industry; and
  • changes in range, distribution and breeding success rates of seabirds.
  • “On the East Coast, climate change may intensify an existing problem of rising sea levels due to the sinking of the Earth’s crust. Much of Nova Scotia, for instance, is steadily subsiding. Sea levels at the Bay of Fundy are rising by about 40 centimetres per century. More than 80 percent of the coastlines of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island — including the cities of Charlottetown and Saint John, N.B. — are considered moderately to highly sensitive to flooding and erosion caused by the rising sea. Coastal bluffs are retreating, some up to 12 metres in a year. Tidal salt marshes, which are critical ecosystems, could be submerged as well as dykes protecting areas that are currently below the high tide mark.
  • “Tourism will bear the brunt of the changing climate if popular natural attractions, such as coastal dunes on the north shore of Prince Edward Island and icebergs along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, are altered. The combined effects of rising sea levels, decreased sea ice and increased wave action could ruin the dunes. Icebergs, which normally melt in warmer waters near the southern fringe of the Grand Banks, would disappear farther north. This would be bad news for tourism operators in Newfoundland, but likely welcomed by the oil industry, which must maintain expensive engineering on its offshore oil production platforms to deal with iceberg collisions.” (
  • See also:  Bad weather is ‘new normal’: roundtable – New Brunswick – CBC News

In Summary …

  • We tend to think of climate change in strictly negative terms.  However, there could also be positive aspects.  An independent federal policy advisory agency called the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) has tried to consider a range of possible impacts, risks and opportunities.
  • The Degrees of Change diagram summarizes the impacts of climate change on Canada in eight distinct categories, including such subjects as water resources and communities and infrastructure. What emerges is a unique picture of what could happen as average annual global temperatures increase up to 5°C higher than they were prior to industrial times.
  • Our future will depend on how we anticipate and plan for the risks and opportunities associated with climate change.
  • Read the section in your text entitled, “Global Climatic Change,” 4CE pp. 300-303 / 3CE pp. 294-303.  We have already discussed some of these issues.  However there is much more information here.

About global warming:

An interesting case study:

Global climate change is transforming Kakadu National Park

Kakadu National Park, Australia’s premier National Park, is being transformed by global climate change. Using advanced statistical analyses of historical sequences of aerial photography, Professor David Bowman, from the University of Tasmania, and his research team were able to show that woody plants have proliferated in the last 50 years within Kakadu’s savanna landscape and have transformed sections of treeless floodplains into tracts of scrub.

Such marked increase in woody cover is surprising given concerns about the impact of hostile fire regimes on the Park and the legacy-effects of an irruption of feral water buffalo that was finally brought under control by a sustained control programme in the 1980s. However, the analysis is consistent with a number of previous related studies undertaken by Bowman’s team. The cause of the expansion is related to a trend of increased rainfall in northern Australia and possibly the ‘fertilizer effect’ of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, which favours growth of woody plants over that of tropical grasses.

The increase in woody vegetation has accelerated over the last 50 years because woody patch growth increases in a compound fashion. Such a non-linear pattern of woody increase has contributed to the erroneous belief that buffalo were the cause of the woody growth on the previously treeless floodplains – in fact the analysis showed that the buffalo control programme merely coincided with the dramatic expansion of woody plants.

The study is important as it shows the pervasive effects of global change on regional ecosystems. The expansion of woody plants is degrading wildlife habitat quality of Kakadu National Park’s iconic wetlands, particularly for water-birds that need treeless conditions. The upside, however, is that the park is capturing carbon in the woody growth. However, these effects may be transitory, as the IPCC’s recent climate change assessment has identified the Kakadu freshwater floodplains as being at risk of destruction due to sea level rise during this century.

Source paper: Bowman, D. M. J. S., Riley, J. E., Boggs, G. S. , Lehmann, C. E. R. & Prior, L. D. (2008) “Do feral buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) explain the increase of woody cover in savannas of Kakadu National Park, Australia?” Journal of Biogeography, doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2008.01934.x.

Some Interesting Research …

Monks’ diaries aid understanding of 500 years of climate change
The Associated Press.  Date: Monday Jan. 17, 2011 12:46 PM ET

LONDON — Centuries-old monks’ diaries are helping scientists understand and predict climate change, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that historical written records on weather from the past 500 years broadly match modern computer simulations of European climate patterns.

The findings will help lead to more accurate European climate forecasts in the future, lead researcher Gabi Hegerl said.   “The climate models seem to be working quite well for the past, so we should expect that — at least when it comes to temperature — they will do well for the future,” Hegerl said.

Scientists looked at harvest records and weather-station archives from the 17th through 19th centuries, but older data were hard to come by. Using European monks’ diaries dating back to 1500, scientists looked for evidence about whether the writers experienced warm or cold summers and winters. The monks’ musings were then compared to computer simulations for the relevant time periods. The computer simulations took into account various influences on the weather, such as volcanic activity, variations in the sun’s temperature and — more recently — an increase in greenhouse gases.

Hegerl said the researchers’ findings suggest that greenhouse gases and current human behaviour are “definitely going to shape the climate in a significant and visible way.”  The work was carried out in conjunction with academics at Justus-Liebig University of Giessen in Germany and the Universities of Bern in Switzerland and Madrid, Spain. The Natural Environment Research Council, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the European Union also supported the research.

    Christians and Climate Change …

Read “Mitigating Climate Change” in your Text (4CE p. 339).  What can you do personally?

Worth reflecting on …

Sir John Houghton, former IPCC council member and Christian layperson, describes the dramatic changes that climate change will bring to Africa.  How will Climate Change impact Africa? – YouTube

2. In an online article entitled, “Climatology Reveals Creation Clues,” Susan Hanks Mowen profiles Kevin Birdwell.  Here are some interesting excerpts:

“By day, climatologist Kevin Birdwell seeks answers to mysteries of human history via climatological records. By night, he uses that research to enhance his teaching at a Christian college. Studying ancient weather at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee intrigues Birdwell “because it reveals so much about the intricacies of Earth’s ability to support life.” And, the way these discoveries affirm the Christian faith stimulates his enthusiastic pursuit of more new evidence.

“Some people think climate change is a modern phenomenon, but it’s not.” Birdwell’s passion and curiosity become contagious as he discusses one of the great mysteries of climatology. “Around 4,100 years ago a major discontinuity appeared when the entire tropical climate system around the world appears to have shut down. The land around the Mediterranean Sea used to have a lot of trees, but it became mostly rocky hills. Egyptians saw the Nile dry up and the Sahara grasslands where hippos once roamed turned into the Sahara Desert. The Old Testament mentions of major droughts such as the one of Joseph’s era (Gen. 41-47), among others, seem consistent with this paleoclimate evidence. Dramatic climate change provides a powerful time marker in Earth’s history.”

“Archaeology uncovers additional evidence for the Christian faith. “During the ice age, at least 11,000 years ago, sea levels were as much as 200 feet lower, which means a lot more land was exposed. Humans likely settled along those coasts, which are now under water.” Exploration of such inaccessible areas is costly, but if it takes place, Birdwell believes scientists will gain some significant Bible-affirming data about human history.

“Such discoveries often validate the Bible’s statements. The more I get into the study of climate and its history, the more I find out about human history and how it fits into the biblical story.”

“To further enhance his knowledge and goals, Birdwell is currently working toward a University of Tennessee (UT) Ph.D. in geography with specialties in climatology, environmental geography, and air quality. “I have talked about divine design evidences with professors and fellow students. Although many of them are committed to a naturalistic viewpoint, several have been impressed with the data I present,” Birdwell said. “One of the most-encouraging comments I received came from an evolutionary biology major who said he would have to think about these matters. Given his depth and perspective, that meant a lot.”

“Climatology continues to provide evidence for God’s wisdom and power, increasing Birdwell’s appreciation for the creation and Creator. And, that appreciation keeps him busy sharing with others how science fits with Scripture.”

Read the whole article (and more) at  Reasons To Believe : Climatology Reveals Creation Clues

Feel free to discuss this quote on the course discussion site …

To review …

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This page is the intellectual property of the author, Bruce Martin, and is copyrighted © by Bruce Martin.  This page may be copied or printed only for educational purposes by students registered in courses taught by Dr. Bruce Martin.  Any other use constitutes a criminal offence.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved

La Nina:  By NASA image by Jesse Allen, using AMSR-E data processed and provided by Chelle Gentemann and Frank Wentz, Remote Sensing Systems. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons