Global warming effects in region could be varied

FORT FRANCES—Global warming, so hotly-discussed in the news and political circles of late, will have direct consequences on Northwestern Ontario, though not all of those impacts are fully understood yet.
That was the message delivered by Terry Marshall, an aquatic specialist with Northwest Science and Technology of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, in a presentation to members of the Fort Frances Sportsmen’s Club last Tuesday night at the East End Hall.
Armed with a Power Point presentation, Marshall began by discussing the general warming of the Earth.
The Earth’s climate has remained “remarkably stable” since the last ice age ended 10,000 years ago, he said. But in the last 100 years, there’s been a one degree Celsius increase in the average temperature of the planet.
“This is a massive temperature change,” he noted.
In North America, we can expect an average temperature increase of four-five degrees C over the next 40 years, Marshall warned, adding this is to be particularly evident in daily maximum temperatures, rather than the minimums.
Here in Northwestern Ontario, we will experience “more and longer drought periods,” and “heavier rain events,” which means it won’t rain often, but when it does, it will rain hard.
This could cause more spring flooding—and a drying of the watersheds in the summer and fall.
“Water’s going to become a more important commodity, even here in Northwestern Ontario where it’s everywhere,” Marshall stressed.
Winter likely will see an increase in the frequency of mid-winter break-ups and ice jams, as well as a decrease in ice cover—45-60 days less.
“We’ll see a decline in snow depths,” he added, similar to what the region has experienced so far this winter.
Forest fire season also will be affected.
“We’re probably a month earlier now than we were back in the ‘60s,” Marshall said, referring to the start of the forest fire season in the region.
“We’ll see more fires, starting earlier, and also more forest burned,” he noted.
“For the MNR, it’s really frightening. We’re going to require a lot of additional resources,” he said, including firefighters and helicopters.
By 2040, the MNR could require a 100 percent increase in resources in order to properly deal with the increase in forest fires.
“We have to be prepared,” he warned.
The change in climate will have another, different effect on the forests of the north, Marshall said. “We’re going to have a shift in the composition of our forests,” he explained.
By 2040, it’s possible there won’t be any black spruce left in Ontario while the jackpine is expected to decrease dramatically over that same period.
“They’ll phase out gradually,” he said. “Our forest cover in this part of the world . . . is going to shift to high grass, not tress.”
These changes obviously will affect wildlife populations. And in fact, a major decrease in the number of moose already has been recorded in the region.
The warmer temperatures will result in warmer surface water on local lakes in July and August, resulting in reduction in water levels and a change in the lakes’ thermal structures.
It’s difficult to tell how that will affect the fish populations in those lakes.
“In some instances, that change could be productive,” said Marshall. With a longer summer comes a longer growing season.
“There’s a lot of unknowns here yet,” he admitted.
There also is the potential for a shift in the geographic distribution of species of fish.
For example, 50 years ago there were no smallmouth bass in the Kenora area because it was too cold. Now they can be found north of Kenora.
Marshall also cited the example of the rainbow smelt, which is not native to the region, but which spread throughout the lake and river systems of the northwest from Lake Superior in just a few dozen years.
Other fish will lose habitat as the lakes become too warm for them to survive.
To deal with this, anglers will have to “re-focus fishing on populations improved by climate change,” and “reduce fishing on species whose productivity is compromised.”
One member of the sportsmen’s club asked if what Marshall was presenting was simply a worst-case scenario—unlikely to occur to this extent.
“There’s virtually no debate on the direction of climate change, though there is some debate on the magnitude,” Marshall replied.
“There’s profound implications for many things that are important to us,” he added, including forests, wildlife, fish, and water resources.
“If we stop burning fossil fuels today, we’re still going to have an increase in greenhouse gases,” he warned. “It’s not like closing a door. It will slowly ease.
“If we take only minimal action as we’re doing today, this is what we can look forward to tomorrow.
“We have to make some major, major changes to change this,” Marshall stressed.