Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Potentially 'catastrophic' changes underway in Canada's northern Mackenzie River Basin: report

10.06.2013
Fund recommended to hedge against greatest threat: a breached oil sands tailing pond; Biodiversity in watershed covering roughly 20% of Canada compared to Africa's Serengeti; Alarm raised at melting of permafrost, ice that plays vital global climate role

Canada's Mackenzie River basin -- among the world's most important major ecosystems -- is poorly studied, inadequately monitored, and at serious risk due to climate change and resource exploitation, a panel of international scientists warn today.


Researchers have compared the Mackenzie Basin to Africa's Serengeti Plain, an area of comparable size. Both ecosystems harbor high biodiversity and biological productivity compared to others in their respective regions. There are some 45,000 biologically productive lakes in the Mackenzie Basin. Meanwhile, the ice and snow cover in the Mackenzie Basin provides a vital refrigerator-like cooling role, in weather and climate patterns throughout the northern hemisphere.

Credit: Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy

In a report, nine Canadian, US and UK scientists convened by the US-based Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, say effective governance of the massive Basin, comprising an area three times larger than France -- holds enormous national and global importance due to the watershed's biodiversity and its role in hemispheric bird migrations, stabilizing climate and the health of the Arctic Ocean.

The panel agreed the largest single threat to the Basin is a potential breach in the tailings ponds at one of the large oil sands sites mining surface bitumen. A breach in winter sending tailings liquid under the ice of the tributary Athabasca River, "would be virtually impossible to remediate or clean-up," says the report, available in full at http://bit.ly/13gc01K

"Extractive industries should be required to post a substantial performance bond which would be used to cover the costs of site clean-up should the enterprise fail financially or otherwise fail to fully remediate damage and destruction at the site in question," the report says. "The performance bond should be secured prior to site development and the commencement of operations."

Importance of the MacKenzie Basin (maps: http://bit.ly/T3zS2Q and http://bit.ly/1aVZTIt)

Researchers have compared the Mackenzie Basin to Africa's Serengeti Plain, an area of comparable size. Both ecosystems harbour high biodiversity and biological productivity compared to others in their respective regions. There are some 45,000 biologically productive lakes in the Mackenzie Basin.

Meanwhile, the ice and snow cover in the Mackenzie Basin provides a vital refrigerator-like cooling role, in weather and climate patterns throughout the northern hemisphere.

University of California Prof. Henry Vaux, Chair of the Rosenberg Forum, stressed that the average temperature in the Basin has already warmed beyond the 2 degree Celsius upon which nations agreed in Copenhagen as a limit not to be surpassed.

And, he noted, the World Meteorological Organization (2012) reported that ice cover in the Arctic between March and September of 2012 had been reduced by an area of 11.83 million square kilometers.

"To put that in perspective, Canada is about 10 million square kilometers in area; the area of Arctic sea ice that melted last summer was almost 2 million square kilometers larger," says Dr. Vaux.

The report, based on hearings conducted in Vancouver Sept. 5 to 7 last year, supported by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, says warm air now arrives in the north earlier in the spring and often persists longer into the autumn.

The Mackenzie Basin helps moderate climate by capping hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases in permafrost soils, which cover 20% of the Earth's surface. Deep permafrost -- in some places two kilometres deep -- can take 100,000 years to form.

In regions like the Mackenzie Basin, however, where average annual temperature is only slightly below freezing, permafrost is much thinner. Its melting will release massive quantities of methane (a greenhouse gas 21 times more potential per molecule than CO2) into the atmosphere.

Rising Arctic temperatures are already affecting the hydrological cycle of the Northwest Territories and other parts of Canada "and all signs indicate these changes will accelerate over time," according to the report.

Glacier coverage has declined by approximately 25 per cent in the last 25 years and in spring snow cover in the Canadian Rockies disappears about one month earlier.

Though these changes are already significant, "and in some cases border on catastrophic," the report says, climate simulations suggest increased warming will lead to even higher temperatures of a level not seen on Earth in more than 10,000 years. "Most participating stakeholders believe the region could adapt if the changes occur slowly," says the report. "However, rapid warming will make adaptation considerably more difficult."

"If vegetation and wildlife patterns are modified by climate change, then indigenous peoples' subsistence lifestyles are at risk. The effect of long-term climate change on communities, however, will also be determined by other factors, including lifestyle choices made by the region's inhabitants. Although socio-economic patterns and determinants are not well understood, it is possible that subsistence lifestyles will not be feasible in the future."

Though the total number of Arctic people living on substance lifestyle is unknown, it is estimated that about 30% of people in Canada's Northwest Territory (population: 42,500) have a diet that includes at least 50% "country food."

Says the report: "The Mackenzie River appears to be less well studied than most other major rivers of the world," and threats beyond warming temperatures include "unrestrained development, lack of attention to environmental protection and a lack of will to acknowledge and recognize the lifestyles of the Basin's indigenous peoples."

Eight principle findings and conclusions, Rosenberg Forum report

The ecologic, hydrologic and climatologic regimes of the Mackenzie River Basin are at risk from planetary warming. The area is ecologically fragile and could become more so.

The Mackenzie River Basin is a globally important resource. Its biological, hydrological and climatological properties affect the welfare of people throughout the Western Hemisphere and, to some extent, globally.

The Mackenzie River Basin is less studied than many of the other large basins of the world. The ambient environment of the Mackenzie is changing relatively rapidly. These two factors mean that management of the lands and waters of the Basin will have to occur in the face of significant uncertainties.

The Basin is fragmented jurisdictionally, making holistic management of its resources nearly impossible. Overarching authority for the management of the Basin should be vested in a strengthened Mackenzie River Basin Board (MRBB), authorized by the Mackenzie River Basin Transboundary Waters Master Agreement of 1997. A reinvigorated MRBB will need significantly more financial support and will benefit from the advice and counsel of an independent International Science Advisory Committee.

The reinvigorated MRBB should manage the Basin adaptively and holistically. This will require a perpetual, robust and adequately funded monitoring program that should be the responsibility of the Canadian federal government.

Adaptive management and the precautionary principle need to be employed assiduously in managing scientific uncertainty in the Mackenzie River Basin.

Extractive industries should be required to post a substantial performance bond which would be used to cover the costs of site clean-up should the enterprise fail financially or otherwise fail to fully remediate damage and destruction at the site in question. The performance bond should be secured prior to site development and the commencement of operations.

There are a number of value issues that must be addressed forthrightly and transparently. They involve the interplay of two distinctly different cultures within the Basin – issues related to rates and types of appropriate economic growth, and the oversight and regulation of extractive industries and hydroelectric development.

###

About the Mackenzie River Basin

Originating in part in the Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies, the Mackenzie is Canada's longest river, covering a distance of about 4,250 km.

It pours 10.3 million liters -- enough to fill four Olympic swimming pools -- into the Arctic Ocean every second, along with 100 million tons of sediment per year. That's estimated to be slightly more than the St. Lawrence River discharges into the Atlantic.

The Mackenzie Basin includes three major lakes (Great Slave, Great Bear and Athabasca, which together contain almost 4,000 cubic km of water) and many major rivers, including the Peace, Athabasca, Liard, Hay, Peel, South Nahanni and Slave.

The Mackenzie Delta -- where the river meets the Arctic Ocean -- is increasingly subject to storm surges from the Beaufort Sea and salt water intrusion due to three factors: reduced nearshore ice, sea levels rising at accelerated rates, and more frequent severe winter storms.

Complex challenges confront this immense territory rich in natural assets: forests -- vital habitat for wildlife and for birds that migrate as far as South America -- deep stores of trapped carbon, and vast deposits of oil, natural gas and minerals.

Slumping of the land due to melting results in the discharge of sediments to rivers and allows perched ponds and lakes to drain. Tributary river courses and groundwater flows can alter, leaving spawning areas disrupted. Melting permafrost can also severely damage drainage facilities, roads, buildings, and pipelines.

Terry Collins | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.rosenberg.ucanr.org

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut

nachricht Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>