Theme 2: Coastal Ocean and Terrestrial Ecosystems

Coastal Oceans

The coastal ocean of British Columbia is highly productive, having historically supported abundant fisheries and more recently aquaculture. These ecosystems are under threat through a combination of over-harvesting and climate change. Particular threats include acidification and deoxygenation of coastal waters in response to changing patterns of coastal productivity, winds, and atmospheric CO2. It is vital that we develop and apply models to predict future changes in these coastal processes.

The CREATE program is training a new generation of scientists with expertise in modelling coupled physical-biogeochemical processes in the coastal zone. Students and post-doctoral fellows are learning how to develop and apply these models, developing expertise relevant to coastal ecosystem management on the local scale and planetary carbon cycle processes on the global scale.

Terrestrial Ecosystems

Global climate change will lead to a variety of changes to fundamental processes within BC ecosystems. Changes in annual and seasonal precipitation, air temperatures, snow pack, and streamflows will unleash a cascade of biophysical effects that will profoundly reshape terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and pose a challenge to the management of forest, rangeland, lakes and rivers for sustainable benefits. Climate and ecosystems also form complex feedback loops where changes in climate will effect changes in ecosystems that may feed back to further influence climate. Because of their size and complexity, current global climate models coupled with relatively rudimentary vegetation models containing only a few vegetation types, and thus cannot be used to predict ecosystem changes in any detail.

Students and post-doctoral fellows in the CREATE program are developing new tools for the prediction of ecosystem changes on the scale of British Columbia. This novel approach uses regional climate/dynamic vegetation models to incorporate small scale and vegetation feedbacks and thus more accurately predict future changes in BC's forest ecosystems, including changes in fire and insect disturbance regimes and nutrient availability. Simulations from these models are then used to assess the combined effects of climate and forest ecosystem changes on hydrological processes and freshwater ecosystems. Students and postdoctoral fellows receive on-site experience with forestry researchers and are be engaged in community discussions, allowing them to bring a comprehensive understanding of climate science to these community-based stakeholder discussions.