Alberta’s climate is changing. Over the past century, the mean provincial temperature has increased by 1.4°C, with most of the increase occurring since the 1970s.
By the end of this century, our province will likely see an increase in average temperature of at least 2°C, about equivalent to a shift in temperature from Calgary to Edmonton. Depending on the global climate model and greenhouse gas emissions scenario used to forecast future climate conditions, this temperature increase could be as high as 4-6°C.
Most climate models also project a small increase in precipitation in our province. But because the projected warming will promote moisture loss from soil and vegetation, Alberta is likely to become drier overall, especially in the summer months. Precipitation patterns, the timing and amount of rain and snow, are also predicted to change and extreme weather events, like heavy rain and wind, are likely to become more frequent.
The final synthesis report provides a comprehensive overview of the Biodiversity Management and Climate Change Adaptation project, including highlights of research outcomes and key conclusions.
Alberta’s species and ecosystems will be affected by the predicted changes to our climate. In fact, some impacts of recent climate change on Alberta’s species have already been observed: the timing of important biological events, like plant flowering, have advanced up to two weeks in response to warming spring temperatures, and the northward expansion of white-tailed deer has been linked to warmer, shorter winters.
As climate change progresses in Alberta, our species and ecosystems will continue to respond. Species that are able to shift their ranges may do so, while others that are less mobile will need to adapt in place or face extinction. There will also be many species likely to benefit from climate change in Alberta, expanding their range or increasing in abundance in response. The Alberta landscapes we know today may also look different in the future as our major ecosystems respond to climate change. We may see a great reduction in the expansive boreal forest in the north if spruce trees are unable to regenerate after disturbances like fire, and our parkland region may slowly transition to grasslands.
We’re identifying how climate change may affect Alberta’s species and ecosystems in a variety of ways. Predicting the potential impacts of climate change on Alberta’s species and ecosystems is the first step towards integrating climate change into planning and decision-making in the province.
We’re also spending time in the field to better understand the relationships between today’s climate and Alberta’s biodiversity, including the ongoing survival of sensitive species like Burrowing Owls, Ferruginous Hawks and rare plants. Our field experiments are also examining potential conservation actions that could support these species as climate change progresses.
The potential implications of climate change on the Alberta we know today and on Albertans are far-reaching. Climate change adaptation involves anticipating the consequences, both positive and negative, of climate change, and responding to reduce the identified risks and capitalize on any opportunities. Essentially, it means incorporating knowledge about the potential impacts of climate change into today’s decisions. Even the most effective reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions will not prevent climate change, which makes planning for climate change all the more critical. Plus, climate change adaptation is something we can do right here, right now in Alberta.
We’re building on the knowledge about climate change impacts on Alberta’s biodiversity to outline and demonstrate relevant, scientifically-based ways of incorporating climate change into biodiversity-related planning and decision-making in the province.
Climate change will impact human communities as well. Albertans rely on native ecosystems to support their well-being; our ecosystems support important industries like forestry and agriculture and help provide us with clean water. As our ecosystems change in response to changes in climate, Alberta’s communities will be required to adapt. We’re developing an online tool to connect Alberta’s municipalities to the implications of climate change for their community and to effective adaptation strategies that support climate resilience.