The Climate Barometer: Canada's highest temperature ever

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June 28, 2021

Our planet is heating up, causing tremendous upheaval for life as we know it.
Every Monday, The Climate Barometer from delves into
climate science and looks at what life on a changing planet will mean


We're one week into summer, and all hell has broken loose in Western Canada.

Remember, one of the most oft-cited consequences of climate change is that it will make bouts of extreme weather more frequent and more severe.

In the past few days, residents of B.C.'s Pemberton Valley have been told to leave their homes because of sudden flooding, and a state of emergency was declared in Alberta's Yellowhead County because of a wildfire that threatened properties there.

Almost all of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan face at least a high wildfire risk as of Monday, based on Natural Resource Canada's fire danger index, and pockets of extreme risk can be found as far east as northwestern Ontario.

It's all because of the combination of prolonged dry conditions and a "heat dome" that has shattered dozens of temperature records.

That includes the greatest heat record of all. On Sunday, just hours after Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told that a new all-time high temperature for Canada could be imminent, the mercury hit 46.1 in Lytton, B.C. Before that, the highest temperature ever recorded in this country was 45 C, in two Saskatchewan communities in 1937.

South of the border, all-time heat records are falling in Oregon and Washington state, a region of the U.S. where many are normally able to get by without air conditioners.

Eventually, the heat dome will collapse and colder temperatures will move in, leaving the West with temperatures closer to normal for this time of year.

Getting to that point will take some time, though. Scrolling through the fire danger maps, we see that by Wednesday, the vast majority of Alberta and most of Saskatchewan will face an extreme wildfire risk that will carry through until the weekend.

These conditions are an aberration, to be sure -- but they're going to become less and less of one as climate change continues unchecked.


Taking a look at stories about the environment that caught our attention this week
  • We looked last week at heat islands -- the urban areas where temperatures are even warmer than in surrounding neighbourhoods -- and their connection to environmental racism. Since then, researchers at Ohio State University have unveiled what they say is the first study to calculate exactly how much heat these spaces would lose if they were to have more tree cover and other forms of shade.
  • Is Canada's largest national park in jeopardy? UNESCO reported in 2017 that Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta was deteriorating by 15 of its 17 benchmarks. Now the UN body is back with a new draft finding, warning that oilsands tailing ponds upstream of the park are growing, and no action has been taken to ensure the sustainability of Wood Buffalo's water. These and other issues could lead to the park being listed on UNESCO's roster of endangered World Heritage sites.
  • If you're reading this newsletter, then you've probably found yourself in a debate or argument over climate change at some point. Maybe your conversation partner did not see climate change as a serious problem, and you wished you could do a better job of illuminating them. Maybe you were talking to someone who seemed open to changing their views, but needed more information than you had at hand. Journalist Isaac Saul put together a primer on the centuries of climate science that have led to our current crisis. It's a great read for anyone looking to better understand the underpinnings of the issue as it stands today.

An in-depth look at an important climate issue

Pay attention to climate news long enough, and you'll start to hear a lot about tipping points.
The Amazon is nearing a tipping point, on the other side of which it is no longer a forest but a savanna.

Some said another tipping point was reached last year when the melting of Greenland's ice sheet passed the point of no return.

The phrase "tipping point" has also been applied to the ongoing mass extinction, the possibility that forests could start to emit more carbon dioxide than they take in, and many other environment-related catastrophes of recent years.

In the world of climate science, though, it isn't just a colloquialism. There, "tipping point" refers to an irrevocable event – the reaching of a point of no return. A sheet of ice that has melted so much that there is no way it can be brought back. A species population decline that cannot be negated by conservation efforts.

And these tipping points can feed off each other. German scientists warned in June of "domino effects" that may leave the fates of Arctic ice sheets, ocean currents and the Amazon forest intertwined. If one falls, the scientists say, there's a good chance it will take the others down with it – and the warmer the planet gets, the more the risk of this happening increases.

The good news, to the extent there is any, is emerging evidence that tipping points are not a "blink and you'll miss it" phenomenon. A study published in the journal Nature in April said that once a tipping point threshold is crossed, there is still a short window in which the planet can avert the worst-case scenario.

Lowering the global temperature could allow us to pull back from the tipping point, the study concludes, potentially saving the ice sheet, forest or other ecosystem at risk from collapsing – and saving all of us from the devastating consequences.

Don't get too excited, though. The scientists behind the study say it only gives us a "tiny bit of wiggle room," not carte blanche to push the planet toward those points of no return.



CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin shares his exclusive insights

Extinction isn't just a threat for plants and animals – it's also a danger for bacteria.

By analyzing fossilized fecal matter from 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, American scientists were able to determine which species of bacteria were lurking in the human body all that time ago.

More than one-third of the species they found had never been seen in the modern world, meaning they'd been driven into extinction at some point in the past two millennia.

Scientists say that our improved nutrition and sanitation practices helped wiped out these species – but as CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin explains in this week's Riskin Report, the bacteria now living in our guts are plenty dangerous themselves.



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