February 18, 2022

Expert says Vancouver storm damage a climate change ‘wake-up call’

The damage sustained to Vancouver’s scenic seawall during a storm last week could be a sign of things to come as sea levels continue to rise due to climate change.

“We know that we are vulnerable,” Ian Stewart of the Vancouver Park Board told CTV National News. “We are looking at… long-term solutions.”

During a fierce Jan. 7 storm, high winds and extreme tides battered the popular Stanley Park Seawall, transforming sections into rubble. Littered with upturned and broken chunks of concrete and debris, much of it remains dangerous and off-limits to visitors, robbing the city of part of what is supposed to be the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path.

Experts say seaside cities like Vancouver are increasingly vulnerable as climate change causes ocean levels to rise.

“Our coastal infrastructure is designed assuming that the sea is stable,” Simon Fraser University earth sciences professor John Clague told CTV National News. “When you begin to elevate that surface, it begins to cause problems.”

Clague specializes in geological hazards like tsunamis, earthquakes and floods. While high water extremes in Vancouver used to be rare, Clague says the city can expect them to become more frequent and damaging in the future.

“As the climate warms, those water levels are going to rise, and they’re going to impact that coastal infrastructure,” he explained. Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of kilometres of coastline could be affected.

In 2021, the world’s oceans reached record warm temperatures for the sixth straight year. According to a report commissioned by the B.C. government, sea levels in parts of the province could increase by half a metre by 2050. While there are varying estimates as to how fast sea levels will rise, it is widely seen as inevitable, and coastal cities like Vancouver are being urged to prepare for potential impacts.

“It should be a bit of a wake-up call to people that this is kind of the new normal,” Clague said of the damage left by last week’s storm in B.C.

When it comes to the iconic Stanley Park Seawall, the Vancouver Park Board says plans are already underway to make it stronger and more resilient.

“We are exploring all and any solutions to the changing climate and sea-level rise,” manager of park development Ian Stewart said.

The Vancouver Park Board estimates it will still be weeks before the seawall is repaired and fully reopened to visitors.

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