Climate Watch Shorts: How an unpredictable climate is changing life in Ontario

By Tim Alamenciak - Published on Jun 15, 2016
Climate change is increasingly becoming a local issue.



The climate has already changed. In the fields, farmers are reporting longer growing seasons, more volatile weather and extreme heat. Our cities are planning to cope with increased rainfall, severe flooding and punishingly high summer temperatures. Winter temperatures hit record highs in 2015-2016, with each week reaching new heights. 

Climate scientists talk in terms of decades, centuries and millennia, but changes can be seen in cities and counties across the province. Climate Watch Shorts is an examination of our changing climate and how people are adapting to it.

Join host Nam Kiwanuka on an exploration of the province's changing climate.

The caribou islands

Wolves have recently appeared for the first time on the Slate Islands, a caribou hotspot on the north shore of Lake Superior. The new predator is giving researchers a rare chance to study how an expanded wolf population will affect caribou in Ontario.

Wildlife rescue


The province's animal rescuers work tirelessly to save injured animals found on roads and fields. The effects of climate change and an increasing population in Ontario mean their yards are filling up quickly, and they're scrambling for resources to do their work. We visit the rescuers and find out more about what they do.

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Fighting with fire


Climate change is leading to hotter, drier summers and creating the ideal conditions for forest fires. Joshua Johnston, a forest fire research scientist with the Canadian Forest Service, is studying wildfires with an eye toward the future, when fires are likely to be more frequent and intense.

The Ojibway Prairie Complex


Nicknamed "The Garden of Rarities," the Ojibway Prairie Complex is a five-park system in Windsor home to some of the province's rarest species. The park system is made up of tallgrass prairie, an endangered ecosystem type that used to cover 23 per cent of North America. Less than half a per cent of the original tallgrass prairie remains and the border city is home to one of the largest areas.

The view from the roof


The end of the government's MicroFIT program this year marks the conclusion of an era of solar development in Ontario. We get the perspective of solar installer Sean Flanagan, owner of Flanagan and Sun, on what is driving renewables.

The changing hunt


Wolves are survivors, but climate change is affecting the prey available to them and the way they hunt. Shorter, warmer winters mean there's less ice for the wolves to cross to hunt beavers. Populations in Ontario remain strong, but climate change is altering their way of life.

The monarch butterfly's decline


Monarch butterfly populations have been declining for the past 20 years. Its habitat is being decimated, and during its annual migration, it faces threats from storms intensified by climate change. We visit the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory to find out more.

Redrawing the grid


The Nanticoke coal-fired power plant once generated enough power to supply millions of homes. It was shut down in 2013 and has a bright future as a solar farm. We look at plans for the future at Nanticoke, as well as a distributed solar project in Guelph, to get an idea of how the grid is changing.

The record keepers


Lake ice is one of the most accurate indicators of climate change. Priests at a Shinto temple in Japan have been keeping track of the ice in Lake Suwa for more than 500 years. York University researcher Sapna Sharma tells us what she learned from their story and what her team is studying today.

The larva lab


The insect lab at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. is home to the most important insect research happening in the country. Researchers breed and send insects all over the world. They are looking at how dangerous invasive species like spruce budworm are responding to the changing climate.

Manufacturing snow


The changing climate has affected ski hills in Ontario and elsewhere. At Blue Mountain, they've had to make more snow artificially and have invested heavily in equipment to do so in order to compensate for fewer cold, snowy days. They've also expanded their summer offerings on the mountain. We look at how climate change is reshaping an essential part of Canadian winters.

Data rescue


When the Donald Trump administration took over, Canadians sprang into action to save valuable climate change data. Fuelled by experience under the Conservative Party of Canada, science historian Matt Price knew they had to act quickly. We look at the University of Toronto's data archiving mission and what data means for our understanding of climate change.

The carbon capitalists


Pond Technologies, a finalist for the Carbon X-Prize, has a vision to turn emissions into algae. By bubbling carbon dioxide through water, the company feeds algae, which can then be turned into biofuel and bioplastics. We visit St. Marys, Ont., to see the finalist for the $20-million prize in action.

Preparing for the storms to come


Shorter, more intense storms mean more runoff. The infrastructure to handle that - sewage pipes, treatment plants and holding ponds - is being improved, but will it be enough to cope with the effects of climate change?

Moose in decline


Every year, nature lovers flock to Algonquin Provincial Park hoping to catch sight of moose. Wildlife photographer Steve Elms has been visiting the park since childhood, and each year moose sightings become rarer. The moose population in Ontario has declined 20 per cent over the past decade, according to research from the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. We visit the park to see the changes firsthand.

The fisher's perspective


Fish in Ontario's lakes and rivers are changing with the climate. Warm water fish like smallmouth bass are seeing conditions shift in their favour, while cold water fish like lake trout face temperatures in which they cannot survive. A warming shift of just 1C could dramatically change the fisheries in Ontario.

Snowmobiling in a changing climate


Snowmobiling is essential to tourism in rural Ontario, but the trails are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. Warmer temperatures make it difficult to keep snow on the ground and it's not feasible to make snow across all the trails. We check in with the Haliburton County Snowmobile Association to see how they're adapting.

The changing icewine season


To make icewine, grapes need to be exposed to temperatures around -8C. Climate change means cold temperatures are occurring later in the season, opening up the potential for the grapes to be damaged by storms and wildlife. We speak with icewine producers and find out how they're coping with the changing climate.

Conservative roots


The Conservative leadership race has revealed rifts within the party on the subject of climate change. Candidate Michael Chong's plan for a price on carbon drew boos at an Ottawa-area debate last year, while Brad Trost was cheered for saying he didn't think global warming was a real problem. We look at how Conservatives are discussing climate change.

Skating on thin ice


Backyard rinks are a big part of winter life in Ontario, but warmer winters mean less time for the ice to freeze. We speak with Wilfrid Laurier University professor Robert McLeman, who discusses RinkWatch, a project that is crowdsourcing data on backyard rinks. We also speak with volunteers who maintain the ice year after year and struggle against unpredictable temperature swings.

Farming in a changing climate


New discoveries from Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, located in Niagara, helps farmers deal with the changing climate. With longer, hotter summers come more frequent droughts and new kinds of pests. We look at how Vineland is helping farmers handle the changing climate.

The mushing season


Tanya McCready and Hank DeBruin, owners of Winterdance Dogsled Tours in Haliburton, wait every year for the heavy snows their 150 dogs need to run. Climate change is leading to shorter winters and more rain. Tanya and Hank say that the season used to last 12 weeks but now just lasts 10 or 11. They're looking for other ways to supplement lost income and have been considering putting snow-making machines on their trails. 

The driver's dilemma


The electric car, a pillar of Ontario's climate change action plan, is still a tough sell among hardcore car enthusiasts. The vehicles lack the rumble of a gas engine and the power of high-end supercars. But car culture is changing. Join automotive journalist Matt Bubbers and Plug'n Drive's manager of outreach Ron Groves as they explore the future of cars.

Measuring changes in Lake Simcoe


Lake Simcoe is one of the province's largest and climate change is profoundly affecting its waters. Road runoff from storms is increasing the level of salt in the lake, threatening freshwater organisms. Water temperatures are warming, squeezing out cold-water fish. We join the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority aboard its research vessel Hexagenia to see the changes firsthand.

Living off the grid


Blakeney Malo and Jackson Franchetto generate their own power and grow their own food at a farm in Rockingham, Ont., northeast of Bancroft. Their lifestyle is an extreme example of conservation and highlights what it takes to cut the cord completely. From solar panels to pigs, they run a completely self-reliant homestead. We visited their farm to find out what it takes.

Buried contamination in the north


At an abandoned military base in the northernmost part of Ontario, warming temperatures could have a disastrous effect on material left over from the Cold War. Locals who worked at the base, which was decommissioned in 1965, remember dumping chemicals right into the ground. Now, as the permafrost disappears, people in Peawanuck are worried about contaminants damaging the environment.

Melting permafrost


Permafrost is an underground layer of soil or rock that stays frozen all year round, but in recent years it’s been thawing. In some parts of the north the thaw has created sinkholes and is disrupting the natural order of life. The full force of climate change is visible at Polar Bear Provincial Park in Ontario's far north.

The elders' perspective


Indigenous communities who have fished, hunted, and lived in Ontario’s north for generations have a unique understanding of how their environment is changing. Elders pass down environmental knowledge that simply doesn't exist anywhere else. The government and researchers are starting to recognize the value of what elders know and are launching projects to gather traditional knowledge.

Polar bears on the brink


When the ice in Hudson Bay melts each spring, northern Ontario becomes home to nearly a thousand polar bears, but scientists are noticing extreme weight loss among that population. Between 1984 and 2009, the average weight of a male polar bear in the region dropped by 45 kilograms, while females were 31 kilograms lighter. A shorter freeze-up season means less time to access vital food sources, and that puts Ontario's polar bear population at risk.

The seed collectors: Planting forests for the future


The federal government is undertaking a research project to test whether southern species of trees can survive in Ontario's changing climate. Their research may help plant forests today that will thrive in 20 or 30 years, when the province has hotter, longer summers and shorter winters. Seed collector Brian Swaile takes us inside the fight to save Ontario's forests from climate change.

Saving energy: Breakthroughs in how we store renewable power


How does renewable energy work when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing? Energy storage is a key piece of the renewables puzzle. Many turn to chemical batteries to store power, but Toronto-based Hydrostor has a different idea: inflate bags under water to store energy for use during days when renewables don't generate as much. President and CEO Curtis VanWalleghem take us inside Hydrostor's demo plant.

The birder's view: Signs of a changing climate


Birders are seeing the effects of climate change firsthand. The Audubon Society says nearly half of North America's bird species are threatened by climate change and one-third are at risk of extinction. Backyard birders are seeing changes in the behaviour of species that they track, and they're sharing that information instantaneously with mobile phone apps. Videographer Sean Liliani finds out what they've been witnessing.

Previous Episodes

Why climate change is bad for beaches


Hotter summers may mean more days at the beach, but climate change is also increasing factors that lead to E. coli contamination. More frequent severe storms can cause contamination from agricultural runoff and sewage. The water quality at Durham Region's 14 beaches is monitored weekly for E. coli contamination and swimmers are notified of any risk. We speak with the experts on water quality to find out how climate change is affecting Lake Ontario's beaches.

How the urban heat island effect makes record-setting heat worse


Dense metropolitan areas can be as much as 3C hotter than rural areas because of the amount of buildings, asphalt, people and cars. This phenomenon is called the urban heat island effect and it has the potential to make rising temperatures even more dangerous. By 2100, Toronto will experience 65 days in a year where the temperature exceeds 30C. But there are ways to combat the effect. Green roofs replace hot black shingles with cool plants, creating green space and alleviating one factor that contributes to the heat in the city.

Accounting for climate changes


The costs of climate change are mounting. The July 2013 flood was the most expensive natural disaster in Ontario history, causing more than $940 million in damage in the city of Toronto alone. But it's not just disasters that businesses need to consider - shorter winters and hotter summers are having effects on the balance sheet as well. Accountants are starting to prepare their clients for the pressures of climate change, which are being felt by businesses large and small. Leslie Woo of Metrolinx discusses how the transit agency has been preparing for the changing climate.

How Georgina Island plans for a changing climate


The Chippewas of Georgina Island in Lake Simcoe have developed a climate adaptation plan that is serving as a model for communities across Ontario. The First Nation received funding for a three-year climate study in 2012 and has since been collecting the memories and observances of elders, known in research circles as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Like many communities, Georgina Island is struggling with the effects of climate change today. Milder winters mean the community's ferry runs longer and the lake ice is weaker, both of which have ripple effects throughout the island.

Why Ontario’s tick population is booming

Summer tick season used to be a problem only in the southern part of the province, but tick populations are moving northward as the climate grows warmer. By 2020, more than 80 per cent of the people in eastern and central Canada could be living in areas where there’s a risk of catching Lyme disease, an infection caused by bacteria carried by blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. We spoke to a parasitologist at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph about what led to the ticks’ migration and how it is affecting people and their pets. 

How Ottawa has fresh tomatoes in (almost) every season



While the weather outside is changing and unpredictable, it's always summertime inside Bob Mitchell's Ottawa-area greenhouse. At most times of the year, consumers can access local, fresh produce, which means  less need for emissions-heavy imports. Inside the glass walls of his greenhouse, Mitchell is insulated from the more frequent storms and heat waves brought on by climate change. The tomatoes pass taste tests, too — John Taylor, chef and owner of Taylor's Genuine Food and Wine, praises the taste and consistency of Mitchell's tomatoes, which he uses in is signature stacked tomato salad.

Why Prince Edward County is the perfect spot for wineries


Prince Edward County's growth as a wine region is closely intertwined with climate change. Declared a Designated Viticultural Area in 2007, the region has gone from one vineyard in 2000 to more than 40 today. Climate change is making growing seasons longer in Ontario, making the climate more hospitable for grapes. But the changes also threaten to introduce new pests. Wine producers in the County work together to adapt and grow. Meanwhile, climate change elsewhere opens up opportunities for Ontario wines. While things in this province are becoming more hospitable on average, elsewhere droughts and wildfires threaten long-established vineyards.

Up close with Ontario's violent storms


The most expensive natural disaster in Ontario's history was a rain storm. In just a few hours, storm clouds dropped 125mm of rain in some parts of the province in 2013. Climate change is leading to more frequent and more severe storms. Storm chaser Mark Robinson isn't content from watching the devastation from afar — he travels the province and the world chasing some of the most severe weather events imaginable. 

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