How Will Climate Change Affect Manitoba?
Manitoba’s central location in North America and our northerly latitude means we will face earlier and more severe changes to our climate than many other parts of the world.
Predictions suggest that we will see warmer and wetter winters along with longer, warmer and drier summers. Precipitation is likely to vary more from year to year. Extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and intense storms are projected to increase in frequency. These conditions will have dramatic impacts on our ecozones, our lifestyles and our health.
- While climate change is predicted to result in fewer deaths related to extreme cold events during the winter, warmer summer temperatures will likely increase the occurrence of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods can lead to higher incidences of sickness and loss of life.
- Increased wind erosion due to drought along with more frequent and intense forest fires would increase airborne particulates, exacerbating nasal, eye, throat and respiratory problems. Allergies and asthma may be aggravated by higher CO2 concentrations which can boost the production of ragweed.
- Drinking water supplies may become contaminated if heavy rainfall events and floods result in bacteria, sewage, fertilizers and other organic wastes being flushed into waterways and aquifers.
- Warmer weather could expand favourable habitats for disease and speed pathogen development rates. Mosquitoes, ticks and fleas may spread vector-borne illnesses such as West Nile and Lyme diseases to areas where they were not prevalent before.
- Increases in natural hazards and extreme weather events could lead to increased economic, health and social stress.
- In the north, warmer temperatures could enhance tourism opportunities and reduce operating costs. On the other hand, milder temperatures will shorten the winter road season that Northern communities depend on to transport food and other supplies. Moreover, runways and other infrastructure built on the permafrost are vulnerable to shifting because of melting permafrost from warmer temperatures.
- Sea-ice will likely change in extent, thickness and predictability. This could disrupt fish species, affect the length of the fishing season, and put safety at risk for those who use the sea-ice as a hunting platform.
- The coastal zone along Hudson Bay is moderately sensitive to physical changes such as flooding, erosion, beach migration, and coastal dune destabilization as a result of sea level rise. However, these effects would be lessened as the earth’s crust continues to rebound from ancient glaciers in that region.
- Polar bears, seals and whales, which are significant tourist attractions and also contribute to the subsistence diets of many northerners, are particularly sensitive to climate change.
Over time, animal populations are capable of adapting to new conditions, but the current changes to our climate are happening too quickly for all wildlife to adjust.
Manitoba’s north is a rich tapestry of animal life, including some of the world’s most distinctive mammals, millions of migratory and resident birds, a vibrant ice-edge community, and some of the world’s major fisheries. Even a small increase in average temperature could seriously affect these creatures.
- The health of polar bear populations is already declining due to earlier ice break-up onHudson Bay. Because they have a shorter period on the ice, the bears have less opportunity to hunt their primary food source, seals, before their annual fast onshore.
- While seals may experience reduced predation, they will also be affected by habitat degradation or loss as a result of melting sea ice.
- Arctic cod eat phytoplankton. Reductions in the extent of sea ice could harm this food source, leaving the cod population without enough food. Phytoplankton also provides nutrition to narwhal and beluga whales. On the other hand, decreased ice cover could enhance primary production in open water and as a result, food supply might actually increase.
- Melting sea ice will open up marine shipping channels through the Arctic which would negatively impact marine ecosystems through increased noise and pollution.
- In the winter, Manitoba will likely experience more flooding. This is because warmer temperatures would increase rain-on-snow precipitation and the frequency of winter thaws.
- The risk of flooding in the spring is predicted to continue, while there also exists the possibility of greater flood risk with increasing climate variability
- Summer river flows are expected to decrease as a result of the declining water supply from snowmelt and glacier runoff.
- More frost-free days would yield a longer growing season, lessen cold stress and reduce winterkill and open up opportunities for new crops. On the other hand, crops could be exposed to more damaging winter thaws, while warmer winter temperatures could decrease the amount of protective snow cover.
- Drought and flooding caused by climate change could increase soil erosion due to wind and water. Loss of protective snow cover would increase the exposure of soils to wind erosion during the winter, while more frequent freeze-thaw cycles could also increase soil erosion.
- Warmer temperatures could lead to increased crop damage from heat stress, as well as an improved breeding environment for a variety of weeds, insects and pests. Droughts, floods and storms could affect the reliability of water for irrigation.
- There would be an increased likelihood of severe drought and increased aridity in semiarid zones of Manitoba.
- Drought and heat waves would affect livestock operations.
- While warmer temperatures, longer growing seasons, and higher CO2 concentrations could result in enhanced forest growth, these benefits could be offset by increases in the frequency and intensity of forest fires, insect outbreaks and extreme weather events.
- Our forest ecosystems will be affected as warmer temperatures are expected to gradually push the forest’s ideal habitat northward. There are concerns that some species would be unable to keep up with the rate of climate change. Some limiting factors include soil conditions, methods of seed dispersal and habitat fragmentation.
Predictions and analysis on this page were excerpted from:
Prairie Regional Adaptation Collaborative
Government of Canada Adaptation Platform
Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN)
Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007
Canada in a Changing Climate: Sector Perspectives on Impacts and Adaptation 2014