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Long term impact of weather on coastline
Coastal climate

(September 7, 2000, Gazette)

By Trina Simms
SPARK correspondent

Living on the Avalon Peninsula means living with the weather. The rain, the fog, the snow, and the storms that this area constantly experiences are very familiar. But how does our coastal climate affect life on the Avalon in the long run? That is a question that Dr. Norm Catto of the Department of Geography is attempting to answer.

Dr. Catto, an associate professor, is the editor of Quaternary International, the official journal of the International Quaternary Association, and a member of the Environmental Studies Board at Memorial. In cooperation with Dave Liverman of Newfoundland Provincial Mines and Energy and Don Forbes of the Federal Geological survey of Canada, he is working under funding from the Climate Change Action Fund to study weather patterns in the Conception Bay South area.

This federally-funded project is designed to assist in the study of the effects of climate change and variability on the environment and to assess its results. Dr. Catto and his colleagues were awarded the grant in June. However, research in the Conception Bay area has been ongoing since 1982. Dr. Catto has been involved since 1989 when he first came to Newfoundland.

As Dr. Catto points out, the study is not designed to support scientists, rather it is a result-based venture that serves to bring together information on climate and weather patterns that has already been collected. It involves compiling and analyzing the data on storms in the area from several different sources. These include aerial photographs, topographic maps, and interviews with residents of CBS. Along with this existing data, Dr. Catto and his colleagues - who have been both undergraduate and graduate students here at Memorial - are also involved in extensive field work.

“We’re going out and monitoring the beaches. We’ve mapped and measured the beaches as they currently exist, in detail, and that gives us a picture of what the beach system looks like right now. Then we go back in the day after a storm occurs and we’ll map and measure in the same areas again.”

From this type of work, Dr. Catto can suggest how storms of given wind velocities and direction will effect the coastline based on how they have in the past. This information will certainly be useful to the residents of CBS. As a result of this research, people can be given rates and hard facts about the direct impact of climate on coastal morphology.

The results of the research are quite astounding. It appears that our coastline is decreasing quite rapidly.

“Our best estimates right now are that sea level is rising at least two mm a year, maybe as much as six mm a year, which is fast,” said Dr. Catto.

This is the kind of information that Dr. Catto believes is important to communicate to people.

“If nobody tells you what the likelihood of coastal problems, like erosion and flooding, is, then you don’t know. It’s our job as scientists to present this information so that they can make a decision.”

The Conception Bay South area is an ideal spot for this type of research as it is a very diverse area. It is not rural, nor is it urban. It has a wide variety of economic interests, and a variety of lifestyles. The development pressure on the area means that it is important to know how the land will react to storms in the future.

Ultimately, Dr. Catto’s research is for the benefit of the residents of the CBS area. As a result of his work, the people of that area will be properly informed with regard to present and future development possibilities and outcomes.

According to Dr. Catto, “From a scientific standpoint, we know the coastline very well ... we have almost 60 years of aerial photographs to study. What is missing is that the information is not getting from scientists to the people who have to live with the consequences. If I don’t communicate this information to the town council of CBS, I may as well have been working on the planet Venus.”