Zooming in on climate change impacts

A new atlas outlines climate change scenarios from a local perspective

A map included in the new online climate atlas of the Prairie Climate Centre depicts the average number of +30 C days between 2051 to 2080 if a high carbon future unfolds under a ‘business-as-usual’ carbon emissions scenario.

Municipal officials and planners can now catch a glimpse of the future for their jurisdictions under different climate change scenarios.

A new climate altas released by the Prairie Climate Centre (PCC) outlines how living and growing conditions in Western Canada might be affected, including a worse-case scenario showing desert-like summer heat enduring for weeks by 2080.

The online series of interactive maps and graphs show how precipitation, temperature and other climactic conditions would change in 60 years depending on whether current global societies pursue a ‘high-carbon future,’ meaning no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and in a ‘low-carbon future,’ resulting from “immediate and drastic steps” taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In a high-carbon future, where carbon emissions have risen and the full projected impact of global warming felt, the maps show the number of days per year when temperatures on the Prairies would be equal to or greater than 30 C could triple or quadruple from current levels.

The maps present “a long stretch of climate data” from 1950 through to 2100, with two periods including 2021 to 2050 and 2051 to 2080 encapsulated, and were developed to provide tailor-made, high-quality climate information to make sense of climate change, said Danny Blair, science director at the University of Winnipeg speaking to the Manitoba Planning Conference in Brandon May 19.

They were developed to present this information in a way that is relevant to localities, he told the gathering of municipal leaders and planners.

Until now, most information presenting climate change has been a global picture and that’s tended to limit our capacity to grasp it, Blair said while speaking to the Manitoba Planning Conference, a gathering of planners and municipal leaders May 20.

“This isn’t about rising sea levels… it’s about us. It’s about Brandon. It’s about Gladstone. It’s not about Bangladesh.

“We wanted to translate the difficult science of climate change into a format that people can understand and make it relevant to people where they are, localize it, and make it visual.”

Researchers hope the maps quash the tendency to see the potential for warmer winters under global warming as something to cheer without considering the correlating likelihood that it will also come with very long, hot, dry summers, he said.

“People sometimes applaud this because it means less psychological stress and heating bills,” he said.

Yet, what they ignore is that a far hotter summer will follow, bringing with it debilitating heat and drought.

Relevant data

To develop the maps, Blair and colleague University of Winnipeg researcher Ryan Smith used 12 global climate change models using terabytes of information complied by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria. The wide-scale-resolution models are based on geographic locations no closer than 120 kilometres apart and can therefore zoom in and provide climate projections for every locality in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta at a distance of 10 kilometres apart.

The data can project what both temperatures and precipitation levels are now, what they’re expected to be, as well as freeze-thaw cycles and frost-free days.

“They’re data-rich maps that are relevant to your home. You can zoom into your RM and see what it says,” Blair said.

“This is tailor-made high-quality global climate information delivered to your backyard.

“We can make you a report for every RM.”

Informed decision-making

The project is designed to inform policy and decision-making within the planning community, said other speakers at the conference.

Climate models forecasting wetter springs followed by drier summers mean we will need to change the way we design infrastructure to manage water resources, said Hank Venema, planning director with the Prairie Climate Centre.

“We have to plan for more precipitation in spring and fall and less in the summer. How do we move the water budget from one season to the other? That’s the fundamental issue,” he said.

Venema also spoke of the liability associated with continuing in a business-as-usual fashion, designing infrastructure that doesn’t account for the extremes of climate change.

Insurers now pay very close attention to this issue, he said.

The Prairie Climate Centre is a collaboration between the University of Winnipeg and the International Centre for Sustainable Development. It was launched in Winnipeg in 2015 with funding support from the province of Manitoba. Insurer Great-West Life is also a funder.

How to use the Prairie Climate Atlas

To use the atlas, go to climateatlas.ca and once the intro is done, click on the thermometer icon on the left-hand side of the page to bring up a map of the Prairies. Then click on Communities at the top of the page; select Municipal Zones from the drop-down menu; and use your cursor and the plus sign button (in the lower right corner) to zoom in on your county or municipal district. Finally, use the Near/Far Future and Low/High Carbon buttons at the bottom of the page to see projections for the number of days when the temperature will be 30 C or higher.

Scrolling down the page between the map and icons, will bring up precipitation projections (first for winter, and then spring and fall). Once again, you can select the Near/Far Future and Low/High Carbon options.

Continuing to scroll down (or clicking on the snowflake icon) will bring up the projections for the number of frost-free days.

To learn more about the Prairie Climate Centre log on to prairieclimatecentre.ca. The site includes an animation showing how the annual number of +30 C days changes from 1981 to 2095. The animation was compiled using output from an ensemble of climate models running the RCP8.5 scenario, which is akin to a ‘business-as-usual’ carbon emissions scenario.


About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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