Theme A: Observed Earth System Change in Cold Regions - Inventory and Statistical Evaluation

Theme Lead: Sean Carey (McMaster University)


Theme A provides a synthesis of observed change to the Earth system within the CCRN study domain and establishes a foundation for more detailed analysis and modelling in subsequent Themes.  The key science questions are: 1) how have the hydrological, ecological, cryospheric and atmospheric components of the Earth system changed over the last several decades in response to climate warming, and 2) what are the collective large-scale trends and variability of the Earth system?

These questions are addressed at a range of spatial scales from: a) the local scale where the focus is on Water, Ecosystem, Cryosphere and Climate (WECC) observatories, other small to medium-sized basins, and permanent sample plots (PSPs); b) the biome scale where research focuses on overall change within each of the four major CCRN biomes; and c) the regional scale which focuses on the entire study domain of the interior western Canada, including the major river basins.

See the paper, Recent climatic, cryospheric, and hydrological changes over the interior of western Canada: a review and synthesis, which is a contribution to the objectives of Theme A.

An information brochure (see below) describes the observed climatic and environmental changes in western Canada along with some of the recent extreme events that have affected the region.

Work Package Descriptions

A1 Assessing Change at the Local Scale

This work package compiles inventories of observable change at the local scale at a set of unique, long-term WECC Observatories nested within each of the major CCRN biomes. All WECC observatories have long-term datasets including hydro-meteorological variables, remote sensing observations, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) topography, and soils, geology and vegetation characterization. Other small to medium sized river basins with archived hydrological data are also used as sentinels of hydrological change. In the Permafrost Lowland region, permanent sample plots (PSPs) with archived data provide additional data on ecological change.

Description of Activities & Milestones:

A1.1 Inventory of observable local-scale change (anticipated completion by April, 2014): Examine long-term data sets at the local-scale to quantify past and ongoing ecosystem change in the characteristics and extent of forests, wetlands and surface water since the 1970s through the analysis of aerial and satellite images.

A1.2 Statistical and meta-analysis of archived local data and environmental change (anticipated completion by April, 2015): Conduct statistical analyses of archived hydro-climatic records at the local scale to explore past changes in precipitation and other hydro-meteorological variables based on meteorological, remote sensing, ground-based and proxy data.

A1.3 Dendrochronological examination of local change (anticipated completion by April, 2015): Conduct statistical analyses of WECC and small/medium basin data to explore past Earth system changes based on meteorological, remote sensing, ground-based and proxy data.


A2 Assessing Change at the Biome and Regional Scales

This work package compiles and synthesizes change in the Earth system including ecological dynamics, structure and function and their integration with hydroclimatic state, fluxes and variability throughout each of the four major CCRN biomes, as well as for the major rivers and the entire region. Regional comparisons of change focus on gradients from the warmer south to the colder north and from the high mountains to the interior plains.

Description of Activities & Milestones:

A2.1 Inventory of observable change - regional/domain scales (anticipated completion by April, 2015): Evaluate available information on the changing Earth system at the regional scale in northwestern Canada, building on multiple data sources, including ground-based observations, remote sensing and re-analysis products.

A2.2 Documentation of extreme events (anticipated completion by April, 2016): Compile data on extremes for all regions and synthesis for each region and for the entire CCRN domain.