Times & Transcript – Moncton, NB, October 17, 2000
A growing chorus of scientists is worried that Atlantic Canada lacks the tools it needs to monitor rising sea levels and predict disastrous storm surges.
Charles O’Reilly, chief of tidal analysis and predictions for Canadian Hydrographics Services Atlantic, expects sea level to almost double between 40 cm to 70 cm this century - with evidence that the range of tides are growing: the lows are getting lower, the heights even higher.
“This is going to have significant effects on the coastal community,” O’Reilly said in a recent interview. “And all we’ve got is one lousy tidal gauge in the Fundy coastal system.”
Canadian Hydrographics Service is the mapping and charting agency within the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Tidal gauges are used by oceanographers to collect regular daily data about the intensity and height of waves and tides. A measuring device, floating in a well accessible from the shore, transmits the data electronically via phone lines.
In the past, the region boasted a number of tidal gauges, but most have been removed with budget cuts. New Brunswick now has three: one in Saint John, one in Escuminac, and a gauge privately operated by Ports Canada in Belledune.
Researchers at Dalhousie University are now able to predict such surges using a computer model developed by professors Josko Bobanovic and Keith Thompson. The two were able to predict the height of the January storm surge in Charlottetown using information from that city’s tidal gauge, but no data was available for the Shediac Bay area.
“Moving from Saint John to the head of the Bay (of Fundy), you see a huge difference in the tide”, says Bobanovic. “Things do change in time, particularly with a dynamic area like Fundy.”
Bobanovic wants the models perfected to the point where it can predict the size of a surge anywhere in Atlantic Canada, but it would be easier to do that if more tide gauges were available to validate the model’s predictions. Right now, he’s running the model using data on past storms -- when there were more tidal gauges to measure the water’s height.
“It boils down to the question - what do we want to have, not only now, but in the future?” he says.
O’Reilly says in Metro Moncton, portions of Hall’s Creek and the surrounding area is the site of a significant flood plain and is “very susceptible” to massive flooding.
However - with a few exceptions, the most recent being the storm surge this January - Southeastern New Brunswick hasn’t seen the results of severe storm surges because of the dynamic nature of our tides.
“You could have 10-meter tsunami, but because it was low tide, you wouldn’t see it,” O’Reilly says.
O’Reilly points out that the provincial government has a stake in disaster mitigation, yet it’s never contributed to the installation of more tidal gauges in the Bay of Fundy.
Both the Emergency Measures Organization and the Sciences and Reporting Branch of the provincial Department of Environment say they don’t consider buying such instruments a provincial responsibility.
O’Reilly also suggests a gauge at the entrance of the Petitcodiac River would provide important baseline information about its behaviour, given the possibility that it could be restored, because more alterations of the river’s rhythms could affect the coastline.
Daniel LeBlanc of Petitcodiac Riverkeeper adds that tidal gauges could also be used to alert tourists about the expected intensity of the tidal bore - which would quell any disappointment if their expectations were more realistic.
“Taking it from the tourism perspective, I think it would benefit Hopewell Rocks and Shepody Bay as an added feature for interpretation,” LeBlanc says.
“On the Petitcodiac, one could be integrated into a new development on the public wharf.”