Canada’s coastal communities in race against time

Sea level maps show Canada’s coastal communities are in race against time

From the slow-paced, tree-lined streets of downtown Charlottetown to the modern, western architecture of metro Vancouver, Canada’s urban waterfronts are a beacon for condo developers, tourists and everyone in between.

But even in best-case scenarios for global warming, a new series of interactive maps that illustrate the impact of rising sea levels suggest Canada is facing a mind-boggling challenge to keep such popular and often historic neighbourhoods from becoming lost at sea.

John Clague, an earth sciences professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, says thanks to global warming, our oceans are getting an average of 3.3 millimetres higher every year, up from 2 mm a year in the latter half of the 20th century.

Related: Freezer malfunction melts arctic ice samples used in climate change research

The United Nations predicts the world’s oceans will be at least one metre higher by the end of the current century. After another 100 years, it could be four times that.

“I call it a disaster in slow-mo,” said Clague. “It is really a huge problem. It’s a global problem and the cost of dealing with this or not dealing with it, depending on what happens, is enormous.”

The U.S.-based organization Climate Central has created interactive maps (http://bit.ly/2j3lJu3) that show how Canadian cities could look if the average global temperature rises between one and four degrees Celsius by 2100. All of the scenarios are based on no mitigation efforts taking place, although some areas do already have existing dikes or protections.

The world has already passed the one-degree threshold. The Paris climate change accord aims to stave off 2 degrees by the end of the century, but the United Nations warned last week the world has committed to only one-third of the emissions cuts necessary to meet that goal.

The Climate Central maps show that in Charlottetown, the harbourfront will be at risk at two degrees. At four degrees, homes several blocks from the waterfront would become oceanfront properties. Lennox Island, a First Nations community off the northwest coast of P.E.I., could lose its bridge to the mainland in the best case scenario. At worst, the entire island disappears beneath the sea.

In Halifax, the harbourfront, port and rail lines could all be submerged. The city of Charlemagne, Que., east of Montreal, could lose entire neighbourhoods to the St. Lawrence River at two degrees, while at the four-degree threshold, the birthplace of singer Celine Dion has almost no dry spots at all.

Related: Climate change could impact fish

The problem could well be most dire in Vancouver, said Clague.

“Metro Vancouver is the most vulnerable urban area in Canada to sea level rise,” he said. “We have about 250,000 people living within about a metre of mean sea level.”

At two degrees, hundreds of homes and businesses in North Vancouver would be underwater, as would large parts of the False Creek waterfront. At four degrees, famed Stanley Park becomes an island and the Vancouver neighbourhoods of Mount Pleasant and Fairview become a sea of blue.

Richmond, B.C., is only one metre above sea level now, but director of engineering John Irving said Wednesday the city has been preparing for sea level rise for years. Between building up existing dikes and building “superdikes” that are more than 50 metres wide, the city is getting ready as fast as it can, he said.

In most communities, flood prevention is in the early planning stages, focused largely on preventing new development in high-risk areas and building dikes around existing areas to try and keep them from harm.

Then there are the costs: Clague said in the Fraser Delta area alone, it would cost a projected $10 billion to build up against coastal and Fraser River flooding.

The Fraser Basin Council in 2016 found 71 per cent of its existing dikes were vulnerable in the event of a major coastal flood or on the Fraser River.

The cause of rising sea levels is twofold. Global warming is happening twice as fast in the Arctic as it is in the rest of the world, and sea ice is melting at a rapid pace. In addition, the oceans are warming up and warmer water takes up more space.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vernon woman baking for those in need amid COVID-19

Crystal Hedlund launched a GoFundMe page to generate funds for baking materials

Okanagan distillery hands out thousands of sanitizer bottles, needs help in COVID-19 fight

Okanagan Springs is donating hand sanitizer to help fill COVID-induced shortages

WATCH: Vernon neighbourhood holds COVID-19 cookware concert for solidarity

Residents came outside to clang pots and pans in a show of solidarity amid the coronavirus pandemic

‘Corona Busters’: Vernon man drives vintage ambulance in appreciation of health-care workers

Rob Newport says he aims to make people smile during the COVID-19 pandemic with Ghostbusters-themed ride

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

‘Tremendous’ response from blood donors has supply keeping pace with demand

About 400,000 of Canada’s 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis

Morning world update: Cases surge past 600,000; positive news in Germany

Spain suffers its deadliest day as Germany considers April 20 to possibly loosen restrictions

VIDEO: Penguins roam empty halls of Vancouver Aquarium

COVID-19 has forced the Vancouver Aquarium to close access to guests – leaving room for its residents

67 more B.C. COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Vancouver region

Positive tests found in Surrey, Langley long-term care facilities

Most Read