The Telegram (St. John's)
Future storms at the government wharf
Feds leading the way in local climate-risk understanding
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).
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.