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CRyOfRONT: News and Views from the Far North

Reversal of roles – balmy Far North and freezing Ireland: a climate change and infrastructure update By Ken Johnson, NTWWA Director

It has been almost two years since the first Cryofront column in Western Canada Water reported on climate change, and water supply in the far north. With the record breaking weather in the far north and Europe over the course of 2010, and into 2011, it appears to be a good opportunity for an update. The record breaking warm temperatures across the far north are almost becoming an annual expectation as the predictions for climate change are coming to fruition – decades in advance of the anticipated timeline. There are some grim predictions for the health of polar bears this year as the ice pack has been particularly slow to form this winter, however there are also reports that the polar bear’s adaptive capacity is well beyond our expectations. But, what does any of this have to do with water? The ‘frozen’ season of the far north is one period during the cycle of the seasons that one would expect to see a minimal impact of climate change because frozen is a ‘stable’ condition, and water is more or less in the same state of ‘solid’ at -50 C and -10 C. However, several extraordinary ‘thaws’

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over the course of the 2010-11 winter are putting this whole theory on its head, and highlighting some consequences for municipal operations. It was 0 C in Iqaluit at noon on Tuesday, January 4, 2011, when the normal daytime high would be -22 C. Iqaluit city crews suspended municipal services on Tuesday morning, but resumed work in the afternoon. While temperatures in Iqaluit were hovering around 0 C on January 3, the thermometer reached a high of 8 C in Pangnirtung, which is 300 kilometres NORTH of Iqaluit. Pangnirtung set a record high temperature, shattering an old record of -3.7 C set in 2002. Iqaluit set new records with temperatures rising to +1.2 C on January 3, breaking the record of -1.7 C set in 1970. Nunavut’s unusually mild winter is connected to an especially cold winter in parts of Western Europe, which British newspapers have dubbed “Arctic” even though temperatures there fell only to -13 C at their coldest and are averaging around the freezing mark. Warm air and storms that normally head east past Atlantic Canada and on toward Europe were instead turning North and heading to Baffin Island. The warm weather introduced a lot of water onto the roads of Iqaluit making it difficult to keep them sanded. The roads were so bad because rain covered the previous day’s sand, then froze, so crews had to chip ice away Environment Canada weather map for with a grader before applying January 5, 2011 shows unusually warm temperatures in northeastern Canada more sand to the roads. The shutdown was unusual because Iqaluit’s policy governing storms is geared towards winter blizzards, not winter rainfall. In Europe, in particular Ireland, the rain-soaked island, was importing water in early January (2.73 million litres of emergency drinking water) from Scotland to help cope with taps that ran dry in hundreds of thousands of homes because a once-in-a-century freeze burst buried water pipes. Many districts of Dublin are experiencing overnight water shut-offs from 6:00 p.m. until noon, and city officials appealed to residents to cut down the number of times they flushed their toilets. In parts of Dublin restaurants had to close and some of those that opened are unable to provide tap water or coffee for customers. There were unprecedented scenes in Belfast as thousands of residents holding plastic containers formed lines to draw water from trucks at temporary supply points. Around 40,000 homes in Northern Ireland were without clean water for several days.


Buried pipe installation in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories with about 3.5 metres of ground cover for freeze protection

Ireland has an old system of water pipes laid only 60 centimetres beneath the ground. The depth was considered adequate to prevent freezing as temperatures rarely fall much below freezing in Ireland’s temperate climate. During the cold spell in December, the temperature dropped to -12 C on average and to -18 C in a number of locations, breaking all records. This reversal of roles and its interconnection on a global climate scale is amazing, and the fall out could be the application of Canadian ‘cold regions’ technology to parts of Europe in the near future.

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Spring 2011 | Western Canada Water | 25


Spring 2011 CRYOFRONT Column