New maps highlight changes coming to Canada’s climate

A new series of maps made by climatologists at the Prairie Climate Centre highlights just how vulnerable Canada is to continued climate changes. The maps illustrate how temperature and precipitation are likely to change in the future under two hypothetical warming scenarios: a ‘low carbon’ scenario that assumes the international community will get together very soon to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions (known in the scientific community as RCP4.5), and a ‘high carbon’ scenario which assumes the opposite – that humanity will continue to emit more and more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere well into the future (RCP8.5). Presently, we are trending very close to the high carbon scenario.

Results
# 1: The maps show that all of Canada is projected to get warmer in the future, even under a low-carbon scenario

This result is important because it underscores the need for more climate change adaptation planning in Canada. It is of course urgently necessary that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the most dire climate change consequences, but we must also accept the reality that at least some climate change impacts are all but guaranteed.

Darker red colours illustrate regions that are expected to warm fast. This particular map shows how January temperatures will likely change under a low-carbon emissions scenario.
# 2: Canada’s Arctic will warm much faster than Canada’s South

At first blush it may seem unimportant that Canada’s vast Arctic is expected to become much warmer in the future – after all, temperatures in the high Arctic routinely dip below -40 °C. However, the Arctic is an important component of the global climate system. Sea ice and snow in particular help reflect unwanted solar energy back to space, so the continued loss of these shiny surfaces is amplifying planetary warming.

In some months, the Arctic is projected to warm by more than 12 °C by the end of this century. That’s way higher than the global average.
# 3: December and January ARE expected to warm much faster than the other months

Warmer winters may sound like a good thing. However cold winter days are vital. Cold temperatures help keep agricultural and forest pests and invasive species at bay. Cold winters are needed for winter roads, which are relied upon by tens of thousands of Canadians.

The month of December (above) is projected to warm much more than the month of June (below).

# 4: Southern Canada is projected to get much wetter throughout the spring, fall and winter months, but much drier in the summer

Wetter winters and springs will undoubtedly increase the risk of flooding in many areas, whereas drier summertime conditions can increase the risk of severe drought and wildfire.

 

There are many more more maps to explore, and that tell many stories about what climate change means for Canada. Browse all the maps here.

Data & Methods

These maps were produced from an ensemble (group) of 12 global climate models supplied by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium. These maps are called ‘delta’ maps (delta means change). They are produced by first finding average climate condition for a specific month in the future and then subtracting the average values for that same month in the past. In other words, these maps show the difference between current climate conditions and projected, future climate conditions. We used two 30-year future periods (2021-2050 and 2051-2080). Our “current” period was set to 1976-2005.

Important things to know about this climate model data

The daily climate model data we used was statistically generated from monthly General Circulation Model outputs. As such, there are some limitations on how this data can be used and interpreted.

Precipitation is much more difficult to model than temperature. The range of possible extreme precipitation events are (in many cases) much higher in real-life than in the modelled data. To address this problem we rely on using an ensemble of 30-year averages, which should approximate this natural variability.

In meteorology, the mean temperature reflects the average of all temperature measurements made in a day (typically the average of 24 hourly measurements). Because we only had access to the daily max and daily min temperatures, we defined (as is very common in climatological research) mean temperature as the average of the daily max and daily min temperature.

The climate model data is downscaled to a 10 km by 10km grid by statistically meshing the climate model data through a set of modeled and interpolated observed data produced by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Any errors or misrepresentations in the NRCan gridded dataset, therefore, are transferred to the downscaled climate model data. Misrepresentations in the interpolated historical data are possible when i) there are temporal gaps in the raw weather station data; ii) there are large geographic distances between weather stations; iii) there are mountains present; or iv) there are large contrasts in microclimate inside of a 10km by 10km region. In short, the climate model data we use is most prone to error over mountainous regions, rural regions across all of Canada, and all northern Canada.


by Ryan Smith

Climate change researcher

Prairie Climate Centre

 

The Prairie Climate Centre is committed to making climate change meaningful and relevant to Canadians. We explain and communicate climate change through maps, videos, reports, and web content like this. Sign up for our mailing list to stay informed about our work and about new developments in climate change science and policy. Help us move Canada from climate risk to resilience.