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 Upcycling of PET Bottles: New Ideas for Resource Cycles in Germany
25.06.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Betriebsfestigkeit und Systemzuverlässigkeit LBF

nachricht Dry landscapes can increase disease transmission
20.06.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

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: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>