Evaluation of Climate Change impacts on Transportation Systems

Regions: North Slave Region

Tags: physical sciences, climate change, transportation, infrastructure

Principal Investigator: Ford, James D (2)
Licence Number: 16188
Organization: McGill University
Licenced Year(s): 2017
Issued: Dec 10, 2017
Project Team: Dylan Clark (Research Assistant, McGill University), Dr. James Ford (Primary Investigator, McGill University), Dr. Nathan Debortoli (Post Doctoral Research Assistant, McGill University)

Objective(s): To develop critical scientific methods for quantifying transportation vulnerabilities and adaptation opportunities, filling knowledge gaps about transportation vulnerabilities and opportunities for action.

Project Description: This proposed project will develop critical scientific methods for quantifying transportation vulnerabilities and adaptation opportunities, filling knowledge gaps about transportation vulnerabilities and opportunities for action.

Designing and implementing an Arctic vulnerability and adaptation index for transportation systems and infrastructure is crucial to improving the understanding of how climate change may affect livelihoods in Northern communities, as well as Canadian security and emergency preparedness.

By implementing the indices, the research team will address critical knowledge gaps about where and how Northern transportation infrastructure is vulnerable under various climate models and outlines paths for adaptation given community and regional resources. This knowledge has potential inform policy makers at community, regional, and national levels prioritize adaptation initiatives, plan for future security and emergency risks, and develop initiatives synergistic with regional capacities.

Consistent with the work in this area, vulnerability is seen as a function of exposure to hazards or environmental changes, sensitivity of infrastructure and social systems to these changes, and adaptive capacity to manage them. The approach of evaluating Northern transportation systems will identify and examine potential exposure of transportation systems and infrastructure (ports, runways, power generation, off-road use, etc.) using various projections of climate change impacts using various climate change scenarios. The research team will then use social variables such as community household income and amount of subsistence hunting, as well as infrastructure data such as runway elevation and heading, port elevation, and community power generation capacity, to examine sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Based on the previous and ongoing work, and interviews with experts and community stakeholders funded by the grant, these variables will be combined to create a vulnerability index.

As an example, a small piece of the index we are proposing to develop may state that if a port is less than one meter above current sea level (exposure), if there is high demand for port access based on community fuel capacity (sensitivity), and if there are relatively few economic resources in the community (adaptation), then there is a high vulnerability under high climate change projections, where sea level rise is 1.2 meters. Using this technique, the research team will examine how projected environmental conditions over the next century may interact with current transportation systems. Through the index the team will produce community level maps and regional analysis depicting where the greatest needs for adaptation are and what the most common challenges will be. Additionally, the research team will develop an understanding of regional changes to transportation systems, such as increased shipping traffic near Northwest Passage communities or increased demand for fuel in rapidly growing communities, this knowledge will provide a foundation for result interpretation as the team ask what the implications of the vulnerability index are.

Throughout Canada, transportation infrastructure and systems are susceptible to environmental shifts driven by climate change, particularly in the Arctic where temperatures are increasing at twice the global average. Arctic communities are uniquely dependent on limited transportation systems, such as summer shipping, air transportation and off-road transportation. These systems are vital to community food access, healthcare, fuel, and electricity. While climate change is expected to influence many of these systems, including likely benefits in short and medium timeframes, specific vulnerabilities and adaptation opportunities are not well understood.

This proposed project will fill these knowledge gaps to create a transportation vulnerability index for the Inuit Nunangat, quantifying the vulnerability of transportation systems in each of the 53 communities, characterizing potential benefits under various climate scenarios, determining security and emergency management risks, and identifying local and regional adaptation opportunities. Uniquely, the project will focus on both social and physical variability in the Arctic. Drawing from the research teams experience in the region and interviews with regional and national level officials in transportation related departments, future social shifts and potential changes to northern transportation systems will be examined beside future climate scenarios and vulnerability indices. This work will highlight current adaptation initiatives, future adaptation opportunities, and gaps. By evaluating various climate projections (1.8°C to 3.7°C global temperature increase), the research will produce a window of best and worst case scenarios into the coming century. This research will assist government bodies and policy makes in prioritizing resources and energy in coming decades.

As demonstrated by past work and government funded projects, the research team consistently conduct high quality research and produce policy relevant reports and articles. Results from this proposed project would be delivered to the transportation sector and research community through a variety of targeted policy briefs, reports and articles. Result dissemination would include a specific report to Transportation Canada that would comprise of a detailed analysis of security and emergency management risks under the projected scenarios, as well as an outline of anticipated changes to marine, air, and off-road transportation systems in the North and a discussion of adaptation pathways. This report would highlight findings from the index projections as well as a discussion of implications based on the interviews with government officials at regional and national levels. The research team also anticipate producing two to three journal articles from this work. One peer-reviewed publication would focus on the method of model development and vulnerability assessment as well as an overview of regional findings. As discussed previously, the Northern vulnerability and adaptation index is a new tool the research team are developing that will be used and promoted through this project. Another anticipated publication to come out of this research would be transportation specific and would be an academic focused version of the aforementioned report to Transport Canada. A final potential article would specifically examine the adaptation gaps and opportunities as highlighted by this project. The research group also regularly participates in academic conferences and community and regional knowledge sharing. As results become available from this project the team would engage Northern stakeholders as well as the transportation and academic communities to receive feedback.

The research team will share publications with the Aurora Institute. The team will also ensure that interviewees and participating departments are provided with results.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from December 11, 2017 to December 31, 2017.