Top Five Craziest Things Climate Change Recently Did in Canada

melting permafrost canada

Climate change “has moved firmly into the present” as “evidence of human-induced climate change continues to strengthen” and “impacts are increasing across the country,” concluded a recent in-depth U.S. government report.

With no equivalent in Canada of the U.S. team of “300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee” to prepare a report on climate impacts in Canada, DeSmog Canada has made its own report. And by report, we mean a list of… the top five craziest climate change impacts in Canada. Drum roll please….

Mind Altering

In Canada’s north, where average Arctic temperatures have increased at almost twice the global rate, dramatic changes amplified by human-induced global warming are underway. 

The warming climate is altering the way of life for Nunatsiavut Inuit communities along the coast of northern Labrador – communities only accessible in the winter by plane or snowmobile. Earlier springs and later winters are interrupting the Inuit’s ability to “hunt, fish, trap, and visit cabins,” researchers report. The changes are increasing mental stress, family strife, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide ideation and amplifying previous trauma.

One Nunatsiavut resident told researchers:

“We are land people, so if we don’t get out then, for our mental well-being it’s like things… it’s like taking part of your arm away. It’s like you are not fulfilled. There is just really something missing.”

A new documentary about these communities and the research by the Inuit Mental Health and Adaptations to Climate Change (IMHACC) project was met by a tearful reaction at its recent premiere, reported CBC North.

Winter Flies

The rapid Arctic warming may also be “at least partly responsible” for our recent wild winters, says Jennifer Francis, climate scientist at Rutgers University. The research is developing, but her team’s theory is that the warming Arctic is disrupting the jet stream causing it to become wobbly, resulting in weather patterns sticking around longer in one place. 

The winter without snow in 2012 and the bone-chilling cold Polar Vortex of 2014 “occurred during these very wavy jet stream patterns,” but “the waves of the jet stream were located in a different place,” Francis told DeSmog Canada.

Other recent climate research says the extreme Polar Vortex winter was caused by heavy precipitation in the western tropical Pacific Ocean. A natural cycle amped up by climate change induced the extra large waves in the jet stream, concludes Tim Palmer, a climate scientist from the University of Oxford.

It is not a simple story,” Francis said. “The rapid Arctic warming is clearly having an impact on the larger circulation, but it is not the only game in town.”

The warm winter in 2012 was also followed by a hot and dry summer. It brought drought to central and eastern Canada, starved baby puffins off the coast of Main and New Brunswick and induced the perfect storm of conditions to infest one small Ontario farming town with houseflies.

In our home, we’re killing an average of between 60 and 100 flies a day. My children are finding it hard to deal with when playing outside or even having dinner,” one resident of Beamsville, Ont. told the St. Catharines Standard.

10 Million and Counting

In 2013, 25 years of smooth sea scallop farming at Island Sea Scallops suddenly came to an end. Years of dealing with a 10 per cent mortality rate, suddenly hit 90 to 95 per cent, CEO Rob Saunders told DeSmog Canada from his office in Qualicum Beach, B.C.

Over 10 million scallops died from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 batches. It was an unprecedented die-off and Saunders attributes their deaths to an increasingly acidic ocean. Saunders’ tests reveal the pH balance of the water used in his nursery dropped from the average of 8.2 to 7.2.

Some uncertainty still remains as to the cause of the die-off, but scientists have shown the growing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing the acidity of the oceans and inhibiting “the development and survival of larval shellfish.”

The Vancouver Aquarium’s records show the pH level in the Vancouver harbour has dropped from 8.1 in the 1970s to a low of 7.3 in 2001. And shellfish farmers up the Pacific Coast have been reporting massive die-offs for almost a decade.

A lot of people criticize me, saying you can’t prove it and of course I can’t, but the correlation is pretty strong,” says Saunders.

Islands Scallops along with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans are undertaking a research project to determine the root cause of the massive scallop die off.

This year, Island Scallops introduced a new heartier species of scallop and quickened harvest rates, “because we don’t expect the animals to live for two years,” said Saunders. The pH level is up a bit to 7.6, but Saunders is still seeing a 40 to 50 per cent mortality rate.

Am I feeling desperate – absolutely,” said Saunders “If you want to maintain a coastal industry, then we are going to need some help – we are going to need some help now, not two years from now.”

Semifrost

In 2010, the Quebec Arctic village of Salluit saw its roads bend and fire hall sink from the thawing permafrost. Across the Arctic, from Dawson City, Yukon to Iqaluit, Nunavut buildings erected directly on frozen ground are sinking from the thawing permafrost, costing millions in repairs.

The north’s entire infrastructure is under threat because “pipelines, electrical transmission lines and railways are only as strong as their weakest point. If one section is destabilized, the entire supply could go,” writes Cleo Paskal in 2009 article.

Permafrost covers 24 per cent of exposed land in the Northern Hemisphere and “large-scale thawing of permafrost may have already started,” concludes a 2012 UN report.

The melting permafrost threatens to cause organic matter locked under the ice to thaw and decay, releasing vast amounts of methane and carbon dioxide. The methane release from just the East Siberian Sea could unleash an “economic timebomb” costing $60 trillion, researchers estimate.

Ticked Off

A disease is growing in Canada by the hundreds each year all thanks to climate change. In many parts of the country that were once disease free, doctors are miss-diagnosing it, leaving people sick for years.

Blacklegged ticks carrying Lyme disease have increased by tenfold in the last twenty years. Carried on the backs of migratory birds, the warming temperatures have expanded the tick’s range across southern Canada. In 2010, its range covered 18 per cent of inhabited areas of eastern Canada, but researchers expect it to expand to 80 per cent by 2020.

Lyme disease is on the rise in Canada, yet diagnostics, treatment and public awareness are largely inadequate,” says the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation’s website.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May's private members bill to create a National Lyme Disease Strategy to improve public awareness, prevention and sharing best practices just came back from committee and will likely pass this summer.

Image Credit: Exposed permafrost in the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories. Photo by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.