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'Our incredible shrinking Island'

Don Jardine, project manager with UPEI’s Climate Research Lab, chats with senior research assistant Stephanie Arnold, Steve Arnold and Chris Buote, left, following a presentation at the Eagle Nest in North Rustico on Tuesday. Lab director Adam Fenech showed how sea levels that are rising quicker than anticipated will affect P.E.I., especially coastal communities.
Don Jardine, project manager with UPEI’s Climate Research Lab, chats with senior research assistant Stephanie Arnold, Steve Arnold and Chris Buote, left, following a presentation at the Eagle Nest in North Rustico on Tuesday. Lab director Adam Fenech showed how sea levels that are rising quicker than anticipated will affect P.E.I., especially coastal communities. - Mitch MacDonald

NORTH RUSTICO - P.E.I. could be shrinking at a faster rate than previously thought, say members of UPEI’s Climate Research Lab.

Lab director Adam Fenech showed how rising sea levels could affect P.E.I. communities during a presentation called “Our Incredible Shrinking Island” to about 40 people at the Eagle Nest on Tuesday.

Fenech said while it was previously thought sea levels would rise by about one metre over 100 years, research from the past two years now shows thermal expansion from oceans that are warming faster than anticipated is contributing to a rise of closer to two to 2.7 meters.

“For P.E.I., that means if you were to raise the sea levels a metre and a half to two metres, we would become three Islands. Because we’re so low-lying, we’re quite vulnerable,” Fenech told the crowd, also noting P.E.I.’s unique make-up of sandstone. “When you’re fighting against the wind and strong waves from the ocean, we’re not going to win that fight.”

Fenech said the research comes from a number of organizations, including the U.S. Geological Society, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, Rutgers University and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“They’re telling engineers they should now be planning for two to 2.7 metres, so almost two to three times for what we have been planning for,” said Fenech. “ “Now this is over 100 years, so we shouldn’t worry too, too much about it, but we should be planning for it.”

Fenech said P.E.I. is sensitive to coastal erosion, sea level rise and storm surges and that they’re all interconnected.

P.E.I. loses on average about a foot of coastline every year due to erosion, and no area of the province is further than 16 km away from the coast. While there is variability, with some areas actually seeing increased coastline, Fenech said last year even saw one area lose about four metres of coastline.

A visualization of what P.E.I. would look like with that increased sea level was also possible through the lab’s “video game” Coastal Impacts Visualization Environment (CLIVE).

The game allows individuals to fly over the province and increase sea levels to see which areas are most vulnerable to coastal erosion.

While the technology was toured through some P.E.I. communities about four years ago, Fenech said researchers wanted to bring it back through communities because of the new research.

He also described four options that can be used to try and combat the declining coastline.

Fenech said armouring coastlines, which the province discourages, is expensive and not a long-term solution.

He said others have tried to mitigate the effects by building their houses on stilts, while another option is to simply not build as close to the coastline as people have in the past.

Another option the lab is looking into is creating a “living shoreline” in some areas. The option is a natural and cheaper way of armouring shorelines through vegetation and haybales to create protection.

Fenech said the jury is still out on how effective those living shorelines can be, although expressed some optimism.

The next presentation will be held on Thursday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at Tyne Valley Fire Hall. The final one is in the Eastern Kings Community Centre in Bothwell on March 6, 1:30-3 p.m. Four more presentations will be scheduled this summer.

Mitchell.macdonald@theguardian.pe.ca
Twitter.com/Mitch_PEI

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