Earlier this year the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report called AR6 Climate Change 2021 – The Physical Science Basis. The report goes through various changes that have happened, are happening, and are projected to happen to the climate and environment based on a variety of warming scenarios.
The report shows that many of the changes happening such as increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sea-level rise, warming surface temperatures, increased extreme weather events are all a result of human activity, mainly GHG emissions. The last 50 years have proven to warm and change at rates that haven’t occurred for thousands of years.
The report gives projected scenarios for global temperature increases of 1°C (present warming) 1.5 °C, 2 °C, and 4 °C when compared to the average global temperatures during 1850 – 1900.
Many of the changes occurring are irreversible on the human timescale and will likely take centuries to millennia to revert back to the way they were. Carbon pools such as the land and ocean function at a reduced capacity under higher warming scenarios. The only way to reduce warming and the rate of warming is to reduce GHG emissions. Even if emissions were to completely halt, warming will still occur for years after.
The global water cycle is likely to become more variable under warming conditions, with extremes becoming more severe under higher temperature projections. Precipitation events will become more intense as will droughts. Areas that may experience periods are high precipitation that is then followed by periods of droughts. The extremes will only become more extreme as the world becomes warmer.
The mid-to-high latitudes are expected to experience the greatest rates of warming with an increase in extremely hot days and a decrease in extremely cold days. Although the report focused on a global scale projected scenarios for different locations can be inferred from the information provided. Lake Superior located at mid-latitudes is expected to experience a multitude of changes throughout the rest of the century. Surface temperatures are projected to increase faster than water temperatures, due to the high heat capacity of water. Warmer waters, although nice for swimming can be detrimental to the many cold-thriving species that call Lake Superior home.
Many of the issues that were once thought to be immune to Lake Superior such as algae blooms are already becoming concerns. A warmer future will only exacerbate issues. This summer gave a glimpse into what could become the new normal. Wildfires blazed through many forests in Northwestern Ontario and brought cloudless skies and air quality issues. The drought throughout the summer contributed to the large number of fires burning and also caused concern for agriculture. Forest vegetation also suffered due to the dry conditions and because we live in an interconnected world, the results cascaded throughout the entire ecosystem. Water quality and habitat quality will likely continue to deteriorate under warmer conditions.
This summer, Northwestern Ontario experienced a large number of forest fires. The skies were cloudless, and the air reeked of a campfire for days on end. With climate-changing altering precipitation patterns, it’s projected that what we experienced this summer is only the beginning.
Most of the talk around wildfire impacts is around air quality. Throughout this summer in Thunder Bay, there were multiple air quality warnings which were coupled with low visibility and the smell of smoke. Air quality is a major concern with wildfires due to soot, ash, and other particles and compounds that are released into the air as a result of the burning forests.
Wildfires in western North America have made global headlines in recent years due to their size and level of destruction. These disasters displace residents and impact ecosystems. Wildfires are a natural disturbance and they can help regenerate ecosystems, but only to a point.
A warming climate is leading to more frequent, more severe, and larger forest fires that are causing more damage to ecosystems than regeneration. Air quality has always been a major concern with forest fires, but water quality issues due to forest fires are going to become more and more prevalent.
In Waterton Provincial Park in Alberta, Cameron Falls typically runs clear but after a large wildfire that was then followed by a large storm event, the clear blue falls turned to black. The blackness of the water is due to a large amount of soot, ash, burnt and burnt woody debris. Water levels become elevated with dissolved organic carbon, sediments, and toxins such as mercury that are found naturally in soils and tree trunks but become concentrated in the water when fires and storms come together.
In areas such as Fort McMurray where wildfires have nearly decimated the town, the wildfires have caused issues for drinking water facilities. When dissolved organic carbon and chlorine mix they can create carcinogens such as trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) that are often beyond the capacity of the facility to handle.
Researchers in Waterton have looked at sediments in the park and found high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the black muds that form after an event. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorous are precursors for algae blooms which have their own laundry list of negative impacts on oligotrophic aquatic systems.
Wildfires do have beneficial impacts on aquatic ecosystems through increasing coarse sediments and nutrients that are important for many fish species. Although increased nutrients and good habitat from large sediments are beneficial, mercury contamination can become a concern. As mentioned above, mercury stored in the soils and tree trunks gets released in forest fires and concentrates in the water. The increase in other nutrients leads to a plethora of other organisms such as invertebrates. Mercury bioaccumulates and fish such as trout and herring tend to have high mercury levels following wildfires due to feasting on the abundant invertebrates.
Many cities around the world rely on forest watersheds for their drinking water. Increasing intensity and frequency of forest fires are not only going to negatively impact air quality, but coupled with large precipitation events are also going to cause many problems relating to drinking water and aquatic environments.
Climate change is a wicked problem that isn’t going anywhere. The impacts are far-reaching for human and environmental health. Many impacts of climate change are still to come and our systems currently don’t have the capacity to cope with the changes expected to come. Clean water is essential for life and wildfires threaten communities that rely on forest watersheds.
When I was driving back from a short trip to Kenora, I saw an RV with the words, “cycling4water” written across an RV. As someone who loves to cycle and is in the Water Resource Science program water at Lakehead University, I was immediately intrigued. I did a quick google search and came across their website. I sent an email asking if I could meet up for part of their journey. The goal of the trip is to cycle from sea-to-sea-to-sea. The Cycling4Water team began their journey in Dawson City, Yukon, and will finish their trip in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If weather permits the team will then head to the Northwest Territories to complete the Dempster Highway.
The team was quick to respond to their email and gave me the location of where they were staying so I could meet them for the journey out of Thunder Bay. At 7:30 am on a grey Friday morning I met the team where I was welcomed with big smiles and open hearts. The team had a big day ahead of them and decided on a tag-team approach where groups of two would alternate 30km sections of the journey to complete the ride before it got dark. On Friday morning Mike, Gabe, and I set off for their 40th Day of the journey. I led them out of town and onto Lakeshore Drive. The ride was full of conversation. We talked about water issues and shared about our lives. We made a quick stop at Wild Goose Beach to take a couple of moments to take in the lake and check out the sleeping giant. My time with the group came to end once we reached the end of Lakeshore we said our goodbyes and took a couple of pictures and I was off to bike the 35km back home.
The team was inspired to cycle across Canada to help raise money to build wells in African villages. Many preventable deaths are caused due to water-related diseases. The RV has quotes about the dire reality that many developing nations face such as “Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases”. The team is composed of four cyclists, Mike, Gabe, Rob, and Timo, as well as Lyndon, who drives the RV and helps, keeps track of the logistics. All of the team members have spent time living in developing nations and they couldn’t imagine losing one of their children or grandchildren to a preventable death caused by a lack of clean water. Globally one out of nine people don’t have access to clean disease-free drinking water and a child dies every 2 mins due to a water-related disease. Their journey is inspired to raise money and help provide clean-accessible drinking water to villages in developing nations by building wells.
Many villages are located a good distance away from any source of surface water. Women and children typically have to walk at least 5 kilometers every day just to retrieve water. This time commitment of walking and other domestic duties often leaves women and girls unable to attend school and pursue an education. While the four men are cycling, Lyndon finds time to run at least 5km every day to bring awareness to the difficulties of providing water for families, something we often take for granted in Canada.
The group is doing an incredible feat by cycling almost 10,000km across Canada. And with climate change, water issues are only going to become more and more prevalent. The goal of the team is to raise enough money to build 65 wells (the average age of the group). The team decided to focus on wells because of the relatively low maintenance and skill needed to manage and upkeep a well. Each well costs $8500 and can provide clean water for life for a village of 1,000 people. For just $8.50 (the cost of some fancy coffee drinks), you can provide clean disease-free water for a person’s life.
Feel free to donate or reach out to join the team or have them give a talk. They’re doing amazing work and inspiring others to tackle challenges and issues one pedal stroke at a time. Tackling an issue like clean water can often feel delibating, but focusing on a particular issue and creating actionable steps such as a donation of $8.50 can ignite change and engage in more conversations and projects to help create a better world.
After attending one of Such a Nice Adventure’s level 1 Lake Superior starter course, I quickly became interested in learning more about paddling adventures on the lake. The instructor Zack Kruzins, has co-published with Darrell Makin, a guide about kayaking the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (LSNMCA). I found a copy at Wilderness Supply and dove right in.
The Paddler’s guide is more than just a paddling guide. The book begins with some geological, ecological, and human history of the LSNMCA region. Throughout the book the “leave no trace” way of traveling is echoed as well as the importance of being a steward of the lake. There are many sensitive ecosystems and untouched areas throughout the LSNMCA and it is important to keep them that way.
A paddling guide wouldn’t be complete without tips about camping and navigation especially when considering the large personality that is Lake Superior. The lake can change from calm to wavy in a matter of minutes and it is paramount to plan for the worst.
With regards to areas to paddle, the book is split geographically, with different bays, islands, or provincial parks having designated sections. Each section is not only trickled with interesting spots and campsites but stories and narratives about different events or spots are included.
The book is a great read for those wanting to tackle their next adventure, but it is also good for those wanting to learn more about the area. Zack and Darrell write in a concise and engaging way that draws the reader in. The book invites readers to use the stories and information to create memories of their own while exploring the relatively untouched LSNMCA.
The book includes ideas for trips that range from the entire length of the LSNMCA, to day trips for beginners. There is something for everyone. I know I can’t wait to check out more of the LSNMCA in the upcoming years.