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Climate Data in Action: Understanding Climate Change’s Impact in Newfoundland and Labrador

A headshot of Willa Neilsen, smiling, over a blurred background featuring a lighthouse. The CLIMAtlantic logo is in the upper left, with the Climate Data Canada logo in the upper right.
Willa Neilsen

August 24, 2023

This post was published in collaboration with ClimateData.ca as part of the Climate Data in Action series. To read the original post click here.

Introduction

For people living in southern Canada, climate change likely brings to mind heat waves, forest fires, increased summer temperatures, and rain storms. However, in northern regions of Canada, such as Labrador, the impacts of climate change have long been observed as a loss of cold during the winter months. Just this past winter, the Cain’s Quest snowmobile race and the Labrador Winter Games’ Labrathon, two of the province’s most popular winter events, were canceled due to mild winter weather conditions [4].

However, in more recent years, the changes in the summer have been noticeable as well. The summer of 2022 was unprecedented for hot temperatures in Newfoundland and Labrador; until this July of 2023 which saw consistent temperatures (including Humidex) of up to 40 ºC [1]. Home cooling systems were flying off the shelves all across the province as citizens struggled to beat the heat [2]. Heat waves like this are something relatively new in Newfoundland and Labrador, where most towns and cities are built for harsh winters. If the climate follows its projected course then this summer heat is something we should be prepared to deal with on a semi-regular basis, similar to the Maritime provinces further south [3].

Labrador MapWhat does the climate data show?

In Labrador, cold temperatures profoundly influence everyday life. The cold plays a role in health and safety, shapes the local flora and fauna (many of which hold cultural significance), guides outdoor and cultural activities, dictates infrastructure design, and determines transportation and energy consumption patterns [5]. Given this context, it’s often more intuitive for Labrador residents to perceive the effects of climate change as a loss of cold temperatures rather than merely an increase in warmth.

Located in central Labrador, Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s average historic (1991-2020) winter temperature was -13.2 ºC. In a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario (SSP5-8.5), models project winter temperatures to rise to -10.2 ºC by mid-century and -5.3 ºC by the end of the century. The table below summarizes both summer and winter temperature changes for a number of communities in Labrador, under the high emission scenario and across two future time periods.

Table 1. Projected seasonal mean temperature change for locations across Labrador, calculated using high emissions scenarios from ClimateData.ca.

Location Mid-century (2031-2060) Late century (2071-2100)
Summer Winter Summer Winter
Nain +2.0 ºC +3.4 ºC +5.8 ºC +9.6 ºC
Goose Bay +1.9 ºC +3.0 ºC +5.7 ºC +7.8 ºC
L’anse au Loup +1.9 ºC +2.6 ºC +5.4 ºC +6.2 ºC

How can this data be used?

Climate change is having noticeable impacts on local communities, as shown by recent data, which can help to make the connection between climate change and what people are experiencing. Some of these impacts are listed below.

  • Rising temperatures lead to shorter winters
  • Northern areas, such as Nain, are experiencing melting permafrost which damages:
    • Roads
    • Bridges
    • Trails
    • Sewage systems
  • Earlier spring melts and more rain during snow falls lead to:
    • Floods
    • More water runoff
  • There are changes in associated building costs, due to:
    • Higher cooling needs in summer
    • Less heating in winter
  • A later frost season and longer growing seasons might lead to:
    • New crops
    • More pests and diseases that can harm people and forests
  • Increasing abundance of plants and trees causes:
    • More maintenance for community roads and ditches
    • Changes in how towns are developed
    • Loss of traditional foods like berries due to more bushes (shrubification)
  • Ice is infrastructure for Nunatsiavut communities, and faster sea ice melting in Labrador affects:
    • Transportation
    • Cultural activities
    • Accessibility for Nunatsiavut communities who rely on ice
    • On the upside, a longer shipping season for far-off places.

When data is reflective of what people are feeling and experiencing, as seen in examples listed above, they are able to relate to it, and factor this into their decision making. One way in which CLIMAtlantic is working to make these connections between data and lived experiences, is through the use of infographics. In partnership with the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Government and econext, Willa Neilsen and Sepehr Khosravi, CLIMAtlantic’s Newfoundland and Labrador Climate Services Specialists respectively, are developing a series of infographics. This series will feature five infographics and take a deeper look at localized climate projections, available on ClimateData.ca, for increasing temperatures, precipitation, and storms, as well as rising sea levels, and our changing ocean. These variables were strategically picked to ensure the infographics cover all regions of Newfoundland and Labrador and their unique challenges due to climate change. Keep up with CLIMAtlantic online to see when these infographics are launched!

Mi’kmaw Moons

Mi’kmaw Moons

Alex Cadel, our Climate Services Specialist-Nova Scotia, explores the Mi’kmaw calendar from the perspective of the changing climate with data trend analyses relating to each moon.