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FWIW to Canucks

Canadian meteorology is not a passtime that many people are likely to delve into, but it's still interesting to take note of a report made by The National for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

In essence, the report was a somewhat in-depth look into the effects of climate-change on Canada's "breadbasket" prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. If one has happened to be in the habit of keeping track of the national news over the last decade or so, it's no great shock to know that there have been a somewhat inordinate number of dry-seasons since the late nineties. Ground-water levels have been lower than they would ideally be, due in part to a series of shorter, warmer winter periods. The result of the season change has been less snow and ice being deposited on the Prairies before Spring - which might seem like a good thing from the perspective of a Canadian city-dweller. The side-effect of this has been that when the Spring thaw comes into affect, there is less melt-water being deposited into the soil, and the hotter temperatures have resulted in slighly higher levels of evaporation; all of this results in drier fields, which resulted in lower crop-yields during the affected years, and, of course, some areas were more greatly affected than others.

The interesting aspect of the CBC report was not necessarily the news of dry-years on the Prairies though. What was striking was the combination of this fairly common knowledge with two other observations - one of which has only been in the possession of family farmers, the other only to a handful of ecologists. The first observation, made by the increasingly marginalized family farmers, is that streams - as opposed to rivers or irrigation canals - have been coming increasing close to drying-up over the last decade or two. This happenstance hasn't been of much interest to city-dwellers or large, corporate farms, for the former recieve their water supplies through reservoirs and irrigation canals and the later can employ their greater capitilization capabilities to make use of large-scale irrigation schemes to compensate for local hydrological deficiencies. The family farmers, on the other hand, are more dependant on local sources for water, and their crop yields have suffered as those sources have dried under the affects of glacial retreat.

Secondly, it was made apparent through interviews with local ecologists that the Prairies are subject to periodic 'super-droughts' that last ten to fifteen-years, or perhaps more. By examining core-samples taken from old-growth trees that have lived through the last few hundred years on the plains, it becomes fairly obvious that such 'super-droughts' have a tendancy to re-occur every eighty years. Canadians of non-Aboriginal ancestary have only lived through one such period: "The Dirty 30's" during the Great Depression. Unfortunately, this means that there are few if not no farmers alive with experience in dealing with these cyclical drought periods, and, even if there are, there is no accumulated history of practical experience in dealing with such situations - European settlers have only been in the praries for a little more than one-hundred-and-ten years.

To make this somewhat long exposition short, three things have been observed: Springs in the Prairies are drier as a result of slightly warmer and shorter Winters, local springs and streams have been drier as a result of glacial erosion, and it has been seventy-six years since the last cyclical 'super-drought'. Now, as we should all be at least unconciously aware, Canadian farmers are capable of coping with any one of these challanges for a fairly long period. Over the last decade, they've largely proven capable of handling two such problems at once by taking countermeasures, taking second-jobs, filing for mortages, and being creative in general. The question becomes, how well can the Canadian breadbasket handle three problems at once, and how well can the rest of the country cope if the plains are hit by ten years of enervation?

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