The Telegram (St. John's)

Future storms at the government wharf

Feds leading the way in local climate-risk understand­ing

- BY ASHLEY FITZPATRIC­K afitzpatri­ck@thetelegra­m.com

Standing on the wharf at Flatrock on Friday, the view was all fog, gulls and small boats — a typical Newfoundla­nd harbour on an average day.

The public wharf can be a busy place, particular­ly when the food fishery is open and it’s a fine day on clothes. But when a storm is raging, the same spots go quiet, while they take a pounding.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) long ago recognized the exposure of coastal infrastruc­ture in the context of climate change, with the general expectatio­n of harder-hitting storms to come.

“There is a risk that climate change will result in damage and the need for alteration­s to DFO vessels, as well as coastal and Small Craft Harbours infrastruc­ture,” noted an assessment of risks from over five years ago, while study to better define and mitigate the risk is ongoing.

The feds maintain hundreds of pieces of coastal infrastruc­ture locally, from wharves to breakwater­s, slipways to lighthouse­s.

DFO Small Craft Harbours assets throughout the country have an estimated value of $2.1 billion, providing incentive to define and mitigate risks. But the initial recognitio­n of risk is key.

New highs for the high seas “Extreme sea level, it’s the combinatio­n of storm surge, astronomic­al tide and ocean waves. So usually devastatin­g disaster happens when storm surges happen together with large tide, and storm surge is really the trigger,” said Dr. Guogi Han, a senior research scientist in physical oceanograp­hy with DFO.

Based in St. John’s, he spoke with The Telegram this week and was asked why it’s worth local communitie­s looking to the future, in the same way as the federal department.

He pointed to sea level rise and what it could mean in a storm.

“For Newfoundla­nd and for Nova Scotia, the sea level rise will be above global average,” he said, looking at the outlook for 2050 and 2100, reinforcin­g an earlier report in this series.

And, he said, higher seas with the same storm surge bring added risk to infrastruc­ture.

Han has studied sea level rise and storm surge as it specifical­ly relates to Atlantic Canada and this province, contributi­ng along the way to the creation of the Canadian Extreme Water Level Adaptation Tool. The tool offers government prediction­s around relative sea level rise for specific Small Craft Harbours.

Available online, it also works for private planners and the public, offering the opportunit­y to identify general risk, plan and adapt (the line marked RCP 4.5 will give you the middle-ofthe-road prediction for any community with a Small Craft Harbour).

Stormy weather

Exactly how many storms will hit Newfoundla­nd and Labrador in five, 10, 50 years and how big they will be is not something that can be pinpointed right now, Han said. But when storms do strike, the difference from today will go beyond sea level rise.

“Let’s say if we don’t know the storminess will change or not, and we put that aside, because of warming, we are certain we will have less ice coverage around the Newfoundla­nd shelf and near the coast. So this actually will significan­tly increase wave height in winter time,” he said. “So assume that same storm coming by, a winter storm, and if there’s less ice coverage near our coast than we will get high waves and this will increase the risk of flooding and erosion.”

Targeted projects under the federal “Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Service Program” have contribute­d to DFO’S understand­ing of risks.

Han said he is interested in more satellite projects and moving toward real-time risk monitoring, with all projects helping more than just DFO.

 ?? ASHLEY FITZPATRIC­K/THE TELEGRAM ?? The view from the wharf in Flatrock on Friday afternoon. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been working towards better understand­ing climate change risks, specific to its own infrastruc­ture in small harbours like this one. The tools...
ASHLEY FITZPATRIC­K/THE TELEGRAM The view from the wharf in Flatrock on Friday afternoon. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been working towards better understand­ing climate change risks, specific to its own infrastruc­ture in small harbours like this one. The tools...
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