Saturday, January 1, 2011

BAY OF FUNDY: Coastal areas sinking

Bill Clarke/Tribune
Winds and high tide caused waves to roll high at Inch Arran Park in Dalhousie earlier this month. 
Wood and debris was thrown into the park. Some seaside roads were closed in the area after the storm.

Published Wednesday December 29th, 2010
Changing climate | Areas along ocean a concern
The Daily Gleaner

Weather experts say New Brunswick is already experiencing the punishing realities of climate change, particularly rising sea levels and damaging storm surges.
Recent storms have caused more than $50 million in damage and untold grief for home and cottage owners, but coastal expert Robert Capozi warned that floods and surges are a fact of life under the new "coastal realities" dictated by the earth's changing climate.

"What's happening in New Brunswick is there is a sea level rise that is occurring," said Capozi, coastal and marine planner for the provincial Department of Environment.

"It is not a phenomenon that's going to occur in the future. It is happening right now. There are significant projections that even since 2006 have become reality,'' he said.

"Just in terms of sea level rise, the projection over the next 100 years is for about 20 centimetres of sea level rise along our eastern coast."

Capozi said the problem of a rising sea level is compounded by the impact of more severe and more frequent storms and a sinking coast line.

"The coast of New Brunswick is subsiding - it is sinking into the water," he said.

"Compounded with the rising sea levels, that's why I think the severity of the impact of onshore winds during a storm surge is even greater today."

Vicious wind, rain and snowstorms this month caused flooding from the Bay of Fundy and streams, rivers and lakes in southern New Brunswick and in this region.

On the province's eastern coast, along the Northumberland Strait, a higher-than-usual tide was whipped by 100-kilometre per hour winds into a storm surge that wiped out dunes, beaches and severely damaged wharfs.

New Brunswick's most famous beach, Parlee Beach, and a popular dune preservation area, the Irving Eco-Centre: La Dune de Bouctouche, were heavily damaged by one of the surges.

"The thick, concrete barriers at the Pointe-du-Chene Wharf were being pushed around like Lego blocks by the surge," said longtime Shediac resident Bob Pert.

Capozi said we need to get used to changing landscapes.

"We will see movement of localized features," he said. "They are fairly significant.

"If you look at some of the dune and coastal wetland complexes in New Brunswick, they definitely react to the local conditions.

"Where you might have a dune that was 100 feet a couple of weeks ago, it may now be down to 30 or 40 feet wide now. People are becoming more aware of the fact that the coast is a living entity and it is shifting."

Ernie MacGillivray, the province's director of emergency services, said New Brunswickers have to learn to adapt to the new climate realities.

"We can't build a sea wall around New Brunswick and we know sea levels are rising," he said.

"Personally, I am contracting a bigger rain gutter for my house. The one I have now couldn't handle the heavy rains and dumped water into the basement.

"At a personal level, at a community level and at a government level, this is something we all have to look at."

According to a recent Environment Canada report, since the Saxby Gale in 1869, the sea level in the Atlantic region has risen more than 30 centimetres.

By 2100, the sea level at the head of the Bay of Fundy will rise another 80 centimetres, with nearly 50 centimetres due to the rise of oceans worldwide, and the remainder because the crust of the Atlantic region is slowly sinking.

Environment Canada has warned that rising sea levels will amplify storm surges and flooding throughout Atlantic Canada.

They have mapped out the most vulnerable areas. They include the upper Bay of Fundy, areas such as Beaubassin (which suffered $1.6 million in damage in a storm surge in the winter of 2000), and much of P.E.I.