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Climate Atlas proposed as long-term planning tool

University of Winnipeg climatologist Danny Blair wants everyone to have accessible information through an easy-to-read mapping database called the Climate Atlas of Manitoba

A University of Winnipeg climatologist and a small team of researchers are working to develop high-quality maps they say will project what sort of climate agro-Manitoba is likely to have in the next half-century.

The Climate Atlas of Manitoba will be a set of accessible, easy-to-understand data, based and calculated on past trends and future probabilities, Danny Blair told his Ag Days audience in January.

“We want to produce clear and updatable maps online and associated data that will make it easier for farmers to understand recent trends and future probabilities,” he said.

It should help bring home an often baffling and perplexing message of climate change and its implications for how it will affect us, said the scientist who gave his Ag Days audience a talk on atmosphere science and global climate change.

Just as you can’t look out your window at local weather and draw grand conclusions about global climate change, you can’t plan around normal anymore because “it is normal no more,” he said.

“The past is no longer representative of what’s going to come,” he said, adding that the length of the growing season, number of growing degree days, spring soil moisture, summer precipitation, winter temperatures will become more and more variable under different global warming scenarios.

“We have to take that into account,” he said. And while there is talk now about the need for adaptation and readiness in new climate scenarios on the Prairies, the question that begs is, “Get ready for what?”

Difficult to interpret

The data to put the Climate Atlas together is actually available right now and free to download but the sheer volume and complexity of it makes it inaccessible and very difficult to interpret. Producers can’t be expected to have the time or expertise do this work he said.

“We need to put in farmers’ hands the tools they need to understand where we’re going from a climate point of view, just as we do from a market or financial point of view, he said, adding it would help inform business investment decisions to have a way of gauging climate conditions a decade or two out.

“They can’t go online and figure that out on their own, and I’m suggesting they can’t just go outside in their own backyard to make those big decisions. And those big decisions need to come from big data.”

The project is in its early stages and they have already put together some projections including anticipated days of fall frost over the next 50 years. It is a very interesting project showing things like a much-extended growing season across a large swatch of central Manitoba, he said. In as little as 30 years, Manitoba could experience as many as 30 days per year above 30 C, or more than double the number of those days right now.

That may make other types of production possible here, but that sort of prolonged extreme heat also holds potential for drought and other types of risks.

Early work

Blair cautioned his audience that this early work is also limited by the number of climate models they’re presently using, and is also based on worst-case scenarios, or highest outer limit of projected CO2 in the atmosphere if global emissions aren’t curtailed. There is the potential for many other better scenarios too and their aim is to make the Climate Atlas comprehensive.

But the project is presently as underfunded as it is ambitious. They’ve undertaken the work with a grant of $14,000 from the province and will need considerably more than that to do the work properly, he said.

He said there’s support for the project provincially but coffers are thin for making these kinds of investments.

“We’re talking about potential investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to do it properly and we’re getting dribs and drabs. But it just creates dribs and drabs of outcomes and that’s frustrating to me and to the audiences that I speak to.”

Last week the province announced it will establish a new task force to hold public consultations and evaluate existing provincial programs and policies such as production insurance to manage and recover from climate-related challenges such as flooding.

Manitoba’s farmers are saying existing agricultural programs don’t adequately address these climate-related challenges, especially as they become more common, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) Minister Ron Kostyshyn said in a news release.

About the author

Reporter

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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