Salmon. Photo © Northwest Power and Conservation Council, via flickr and Creative CommonsRiver levels in southern B.C. are low, and their temperatures are warmer than normal. Fish are seeking shelter in deeper, larger, cooler pools wherever they can. With fish pooled in creeks and rivers, disease spreads more readily, and predators have an easier time making their catches of the day.

Returning salmon, of course, can’t choose to spend their final months hiding out in cool pools. Their biology drives them to reach their gravel beds of origin in time to spawn. While they may rest in deeper pools en route, the imperative sends them away from shelter into whatever channels contain enough water to allow them to fight their way upstream, no matter the water’s temperature.

Warm water causes fish to use more energy and tire faster. Warm temperatures can change freshwater chemistry, affecting the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water and available to fish and other critters. More »

Blue camas, buttercups and spring gold bloom in a south Vancouver Island Garry oak meadow. Photo © Monique Keiran

When I first moved here, one winter many years ago, a long-time area resident gifted me with a list of some of her favourite outdoor spaces.

She rattled off the names of parks and trails that she enjoyed. Then she let slip the name of a small hilltop Saanich park.

“For spring wildflowers,” she said, adding, as if no explanation were needed, “It’s original Garry oak meadow.”

The following April, I found my way there. The day was damp and blustery. Watery-looking sunlight filtered through evergreens towering along the path. Not far into the woods, the sound of traffic from the busy roadway behind dropped off.

I climbed the hill and stepped out of the trees. Blue camas, buttercups and spring gold carpeted the ground. A few gnarly, naked oaks stood guard. Beyond some rocky outcrops, I found a patch of fawn lilies. A few satin flowers lingered on.

“So this is a Garry oak meadow.”

Shooting stars - pink and white. Photo © Monique Keiran

In the years since, the small farms that once bordered the park have bred single-families dwellings and townhouses instead of sheep and horses. Ivy, blackberry, Daphne laureola and other invasive plants choke the lower forested slopes, while other non-native plants invade the south-facing meadows.

But the greatest threat to this quiet, little jewel remains ill defined and uncertain, as it does to special places everywhere. Scientists predict that, over the next decades, the seasons here will feature greater extremes. Hotter, longer, drier summers will anchor the year, with frequent, intense storms punctuating the other seasons. How changing climate and its attendant baggage will affect Garry oaks and their attendant plants, microbes, insects and other critters remain unknown. Whether this Garry oak meadow will survive also remains uncertain….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist.

Myrtle warbler. Photo © zenbenscience, via creative commons & flickr

While we await the region’s autumn rains, the rest of the country prepares for winter. After last year’s ordeal, flocks of Snowbirds east of the Rockies are preparing their escape routes.

Some will visit our region. Others will head south.

Our behaviour mirrors a time-honoured tradition begun by our feathered friends eons ago. Scientists recently established that the region’s migrating birds are at heart northern residents that, like their human counterparts, head south to avoid harsh winters.

For years, scientists believed migrating birds first started leaving southern territories to travel northwards across and between continents because of intense competition for space and food in the crowded tropics. After all, most songbirds in the Americas, including those that don’t migrate, live in the South American tropics, and most migratory species have close tropical relatives.

But that theory is now turned upside-down, geographically speaking. After analyzing the family trees and territorial origins ofsparrows, warblers and blackbirds—which together make up the largest group of North American songbirds—scientists found that long-distance migration was twice as likely to arise among bird ancestors from temperate regions than among ancestors from the tropics.

The majority of the species started migrating by moving their winter ranges southwards.

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

View of the Columbia Icefield from the visitor centre. Photo © Samantha Marx ( via creative commons and flickr

When you stand on the new Glacier Skywalk, just off the Icefields Parkway in Jasper National Park, you can look down into the depths of the Sunwapta Valley 280 metres beneath your feet and up at the heights of the Continental Divide around you.

Nestled among these peaks is the Columbia Icefield, a massive complex of ice that first formed more than 10,000 years ago. Six kilometres long, almost a kilometre across, and in some places 300 metres thick, it feeds eight major glaciers and three major river systems.

One of these is the Columbia River. This waterway stretches 2,000 kilometres, from its Rocky Mountain headwaters, through eastern B.C. and four U.S. states. It drains a region the size of France, and now encounters 14 dams along its length, including three in this province.

The river is the subject of an international agreement on shared river management. On September 16, 1964—50 years ago this Tuesday—Canada and the U.S. ratified and implemented the Columbia River Treaty….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….





Heat wave. Photo © Steve Harris, via creative commons and flickr

The Environment Canada website for the Victoria forecast pronounced “Be prepared for … HEAT!” Normally the notices above the daily weather predictions warn of coming high winds, storms, freezing temperatures, thick fog, or heavy rains. This last week, however, it cautioned us to expect a heat wave.

Caution, indeed, is needed when so many studies document a link between high temperatures and aggression. Aggression can range from snappish impatience at home, at work, or in line at the grocery store, to road rage, verbal abuse and violent crimes such as assault, rape and murder.

The link even shows up in our language. The words “temper” and “temperature” share the same Latin origin, temperare—meaning to restrain. In that wonderful way the English language molds and changes words and their meanings, the definition of temper—anger—has deviated from the original definition. In fact, temper (anger) often has little to do with restraint.

Common expressions reinforce the link between heat and aggression in English. “Tempers flare,” “a hot temper,” “hot under the collar,” “hot headed,” “short fuse,” “slow burn,” “let off steam,” and “smouldering resentment” come to mind.

Psychologists and sociologists who study how heat influences emotions and behaviour believe high temperatures exacerbate already near-boiling levels of stress in people, bringing them that much closer to losing control.

Heat is, in itself, a stressor. It makes people physically uncomfortable, leading to impatience. It can also lead to dehydration, which affects energy levels and the brain’s ability to function and reason. The combination of discomfort and dehydration interferes with a person’s ability to regulate emotions. It causes the brain’s fright–fight–flight centre to react to even mild events, and short-circuits the reasoning part of the brain that would normally temper (restrain) temper (anger).

And that’s looking at heat’s effects at an individual level. Warming temperatures and climate appear to also affect peace and wellbeing across entire societies….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Sooke reservoir, March 5, 2014. Photo © Capital Regional District

We can relax. The Sooke Reservoir is filled to capacity—once again, and at last. The series of storms that recently charged across the region did the honours. Together, they dropped 83 per cent of the rainfall we typically see in all of a March in the month’s first nine days, and ended the region’s latest winter dry spell.

A full reservoir means we now face summer with only the usual limits on water use. Years of summertime water restrictions have trained many of us to turn blind eyes to brown lawns and dusty vehicles.

Managing water is key to ensuring enough remains to go around in coming years. Last year’s hot, dry weather provided a taste of what climate-change models predict for the coast in coming decades—longer, warmer, drier summers, and more more-intense storms, particularly in winter. Although we cannot control when, where or how much rain falls here, we can to some extent control what happens once it hits the ground.

Two measures in B.C. that relate to that concept come to mind….

Read the rest of this editorial at the Victoria Times Colonist….

Bottled water. Photo © Steven Depolo, creative commons

Waves breaking on the Ogden Point breakwater, Victoria, BC. Photo by Stewart Butterfield.

Someday, our hilltop house may be waterfront property. It won’t happen soon—certainly not this century, and maybe not even this millennium. However, if global warming continues, the surf may indeed break at the bottom of our driveway.

Nature Boy can’t wait.

When I point out the timelines don’t work with his schedule, he says, “Did you ever in a million years think we would live in a house that’s worth what our house is worth now?”

If he’s that excited about sea level rising in the next 200 to 1,000 years, it’s just as well he wasn’t around 11,000 to 13,000 years ago. Bison fossils on the San Juan islands and Vancouver Island suggest lower sea levels at the time created a landbridge from Victoria to the mainland. The link would have allowed plants, bison and other animals to spread here from the mainland at the end of the last ice age.

But the ice age is over, and climate is changing again. Last year marked the 36th year in a row in which global temperatures outpaced the 20th-century average. It was also the 10th warmest year since 1880, when people first started recording temperature.


Continue reading this editorial in Victoria’s Times Colonist newspaper….


Other sources include:

Sea-level rise in 21st Century

Sea-level rise and Vancouver flood protection upgrades

Canadian Arctic glaciers

Joint Victoria–Saanich–CRD meeting, November 21, 2012

Saanich Climate Change Adaptation Plan

Victoria Climate Change risk assessment

High-altitude krumholtz in British Columbia, photo by Kevin Teague
Information Forestry, December 2012

British Columbia is home to some of Canada’s highest-elevation forests. In the very highest of these—growing at treeline in or near the true alpine—evergreens hug the ground, twisted and bent by wind and snow pack, with vertical leaders repeatedly pruned by severe winter temperatures, ice, and wind. Many models that predict how changing climate will affect species distribution assume temperature limits both growth and spread of these forests. As global temperatures rise with climate change, these models forecast the forests will straighten, grow tall, and colonize ever-higher slopes.

However, a recent study by Natural Resources Canada Research Scientist Eliot McIntire suggests these assumptions need re-examination. McIntire and colleague Alex Fajardo, of the University of Montana, tracked growth at high-altitude treelines in the Chilean Andes and Montana’s Rocky Mountains. Basal tree cores at the sites show tree growth and colonization up the slopes improved for most of the past 200 to 300 years. This corresponds to a period when global temperatures were just beginning to climb to today’s levels out of the very coldest decades of the last millennium.

“Synchrony between temperature and growth and temperature and recruitment clearly occurred during that period in both regions,” says McIntire. “Then, during the past half-century, it was lost at all sites.”

In fact, any improvements in growth that had occurred have since disappeared or reversed.

This decoupling of temperature and high-altitude growth and recruitment rates may indicate that the world is entering a period in which temperature no longer drives growth and colonization at treelines, McIntire says. Other factors, such as availability of water, may now be the main constraints.

The findings suggest climate models may need to be modified to separate high-altitude growth and recruitment drivers if they are to capture what is really going on under British Columbia’s—and the world’s—highest forest canopies.

© Natural Resources Canada 2013