Yukon climate warming twice as fast as elsewhere, research says

Yukon is warming faster than the planet and therefore facing serious challenges, says a comprehensive new report on climate change in the territory.

New report summarizes 'significant and problematic' change in territory's climate

'I think the North in particular is important for all the climate of the globe, because once things start to change here, they can change very rapidly,' said report author John Streicker. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

A comprehensive new report on environmental change in Yukon says the territory's climate is warming faster than much of the planet, and that's not likely to change any time soon.

The Northern Climate ExChange at Yukon College compiled research and findings from different sources, in an attempt to offer a thorough "evidence-based" assessment of how the territory's climate is changing. The report has been funded by the Yukon government.

"What we thought we should try and do is pull it all together into a document that gives high-level conclusions about what's going on," said John Streicker, the report's author.

According to the report, Yukon's annual average temperature has increased by 2 C over the past 50 years, meaning Yukon has warmed twice as fast as southern Canada or the planet as a whole. It also found Yukon's winters have seen the most change, going up an average of 4 C over the last half-century.

The rate of change is expected to continue for at least the next 50 years, and may increase, according to the report.

The temperature increase has also coincided with more precipitation, especially in summer, although the report acknowledges that precipitation trends are historically more variable.

Significant and problematic changes

Part of the highway on the Yukon/Alaska border was washed out after heavy rains swept across southern Yukon in June 2012. (submitted by Matthew Carpenter)

Streicker admits a warmer Yukon may sound appealing to some people, especially if it brings milder winters and longer growing seasons for farmers. But he said there's more reason for concern.

"There are more challenges that climate change will bring here in the Yukon than there are benefits," he said.

"The changes overall are significant and many of them are problematic."

Some of those problematic changes are already apparent in Yukon, Streicker said, pointing to more frequent and dramatic flood events, and melting permafrost.

"Wherever you've got infrastructure like roads or buildings on top of that permafrost, that's a problem," he said.

Streicker believes the risk of wildfire is also increasing in Yukon, but the data is inconclusive. The report says fire data needs to be collected for many more years in order to be certain of any trends.

The report was reviewed by several organizations, researchers and government departments, as well as the Council of Yukon First Nations. The intention is to update it frequently, with new research and findings.


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