Planning for climate change

By Marilyn Smulders - March 5, 2008

Master's students Amanda Kosloski and Sabrina Hood stand in front of a representation of Hurricane Juan. (Danny Abriel Photo)

In Sackville, N.B., and the surrounding area, the words Saxby Gale can still inspire shivers of terror.

The tropical storm struck overnight on October 5, 1869, leaving widespread destruction in its wake. Storm surges 1.8 metres tall, combined with a high tide, sent water rushing over the dykes at the Tantramar Marsh. According to the Canadian Hurricane Centre, many people and farm animals drowned in the floods and hundreds of boats were beached when the waters receded.

If a storm of the same magnitude were to hit today, “it would cause so much more damage,” says Sabrina Hood, a Dalhousie master’s student in planning. “The water would move in very quickly.” 

Ms. Hood, from Stanley, N.B., and Amanda Kosloski, from Richmond Hill, Ont., were each awarded $5,000 fellowships, offered jointly through Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Institute of Planners and Association of Canadian University Planning Program. They are conducting research to plan for climate change – Ms. Hood in the Tantramar region and Ms. Kosloski along Halifax Harbour.

The rural Tantramar region is just as vulnerable, and probably even more so, compared to 138 years ago. It’s where the TransCanada Highway connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia goes through, along with the CN Rail Line. The dykes—built by the original Acadian settlers to transform tidal wetlands into rich farmland—are virtually unchanged since the 17th century.

With the area at high risk because of climate change, the 22-year-old Dalhousie student is trying to determine what needs to be done: if dykes need to be reinforced or if salt marshes should be reclaimed. The Tantramar District Planning Commission is working on a rural plan and is interested in Ms. Hood’s conclusions.

“The area is unplanned – it’s mostly farmland – and planning is really going to take a role as the commission draws up its plan,” says Ms. Hood.

Meanwhile, Amanda Kosloski’s research is looking at how climate change might affect land use along Halifax Harbour, from the Macdonald Bridge to Woodside Ferry Terminal on the Dartmouth side. Should wharves be modified, sea walls reinforced or development restricted? She’s working with scientists from Natural Resources Canada and municipal planners with Halifax Regional Municipality.

Halifax Harbour may be vulnerable to rising sea levels. Nova Scotia is anticipating the high-tide mark on the Atlantic coast will be at least 70 centimetres higher by the next century: that’s a projected sea level rise of 40 centimetres coupled with the land subsiding by 30 centimetres. Melting glaciers, a melting ice cap and the fact that warmer water takes up more volume than cold are behind the predictions.

But climate change isn’t a far-off concept: significant weather events such as the spring flood of 2003, Hurricane Juan in September 2003 and White Juan in February 2004 indicate climate change is already affecting Nova Scotia.

“As planners, our job is to think ahead,” says Ms. Kosloski, a 26-year-old in the second year of her master’s degree. “We can have a hand in preventing potential problems.” 


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