Forest fires are heating up
“A spark can light a raging inferno,” says University of Alberta wildfire expert Mike Flannigan. Fire has always been an essential part our ecosystem, but now they are becoming more dangerous. 2017 was devastating in western Canada; British Columbia experienced its worst fire on record, almost 900,000 hectares went up in smoke. In 2016, one of the most destructive fires in the country swept through Fort McMurray, destroying nearly 2,500 buildings forcing the evacuating of 90,000 citizens. It was the costliest disaster in Canadian history.
Wetter winters mean more grass grows in the spring, and prolonged summers with higher temperatures intensify the fire season. Hot, dry weather turns the grass into a flammable fuel source turning our forests into a powder keg ready to burn. Flannigan describes what we’re facing, “The warmer we get, the more fire we have. The more fire we have, the more greenhouse gasses that are released. The more gasses that are released, the warmer we get. A vicious cycle.”
WATCH: Into The Fire
These fierce fires are burning deeper into the soil where most of the boreal’s carbon is locked. Jill Johnstone, University of Saskatchewan professor, says “These forests are part of the lungs of the planet. The boreal forest stores about 50% of the global carbon that is in the soil.” As fires become more intense, this carbon is released in a plume of smoke straight into the atmosphere continuing the warming cycle.
More drought means less food to eat
California, the sunshine state, has been gripped by a multi-year drought. As winters have become shorter, the snowpack has shrunk. Less snow means that come spring; less water melts into the rivers and valleys where the farmland is located.
WATCH: Running on Empty
California’s agricultural industry has been devastated. Much of North America’s produce is grown here, and many of California's citizens are complaining that they're exporting their precious water to feed others. Geologist Nick Eyles predicts that in the future they'll want water from their northern neighbours, in return for fresh produce. “Water for vegetables; it may come to that,” says Eyles.
Canada's grey jay and other wildlife in trouble
Climate change is already impacting the wildlife that lives in the boreal forest across Canada. Here's just one example of the many species that are in trouble.
WATCH: What Trees Talk About
The grey jay is a plucky little bird that stays here all winter long. It uses trees — like a refrigerator — to stash morsels of food for winter. But warm winters are spoiling their larders early. By spring there's nothing left to feed their hungry chicks.
New diseases coming from the south
Others species are invading areas that are newly habitable due to the warmer weather. The deer tick is infiltrating Canada — and it carries a harmful disease.
Cases of Lyme disease have been reported across Canada, in areas where it was never thought to exist. The disease can cause initial symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and fever, but chronic infection can lead to arthritis, heart problems and neurological impairment.
With warmer winters, ticks mature faster and begin biting their hosts, white-footed mice, earlier. Once bitten, the mice carry the Lyme disease bacteria for life. The deer tick has moved further north; studies show that the tick’s range is expanding by 45 km every year. Eighty per cent of Canadians east of Saskatchewan expected to be living in high-risk areas by 2020.
Climate change is opening the door to other diseases which may make their way into Canada in the future. As conditions warm, mosquitoes previously only found in the tropics are finding their way north carrying with them dengue, zika, yellow fever and chikungunya viruses.
Melting ice is revealing long lost secrets from our past
Ice packs and glaciers around the globe are melting at unprecedented rates causing ocean levels to rise. But the thaw is also revealing the lost history of Arctic populations. In Canada's Yukon, the receding ice is exposing archaeological relics have been protected for thousands of years and preserved in incredible detail.
Without climate change, archaeologists would not have been able to find artifacts or understand the people that used them. Archaeologist Dr. Martin Callanan studies these remarkable finds. “It’s its own special field,” he says. “But there is an immediacy to this research because climate models suggest that in the next decade's many sites will be lost to melting and decay.”
WATCH: Secrets From The Ice
From increased fire and drought to the loss of iconic species, Canada is entering a period of change.