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Knowledge Gaps and Reasearch Needs
(A Canadian Perspective)
Although progress has been made over the past five years, many of the research needs identified within the Canada Country Study with respect to the potential impacts of climate change on water resources remain valid. For example, continued improvements are required in the understanding and modelling of hydrological processes at local to global scales, such as the role of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in controlling hydrological variability. From a regional perspective, studies based in the Atlantic Provinces, eastern Arctic, and high-elevation mountainous regions are still lacking. The same applies to studies of groundwater resources across most of the country, as emphasized in a recent synthesis for the Canadian Prairies.
A primary goal of impacts and adaptation research is to reduce vulnerability to climate change and, as such, there is a need for studies that focus on the regions and systems considered to be most vulnerable. In Canada, this includes areas presently under water stress, such as the Prairies, the interior of British Columbia, the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence basin and parts of Atlantic Canada, as well as regions where climate change impacts on water resources may have large ramifications for existing or planned activities. In some cases, studies may have to initially address fundamental knowledge gaps with respect to either processes or data (e.g., the paucity of data on groundwater use in most areas) before meaningful analyses of adaptation options can be undertaken.
Future changes in climate of the magnitude projected by most global climate models would impact our water resources, and subsequently affect food supply, health, industry, transportation and ecosystem sustainability. Problems are most likely to arise where the resource is already under stress, because that stress would be exacerbated by changes in supply or demand associated with climate change. Particular emphasis needs to be placed on the impacts of extreme events (drought and flooding), which are projected to become more frequent and of greater magnitude in many parts of the country. These extreme events would place stress on existing infrastructure and institutions, with potentially major economic, social and environmental consequences.
A relatively high degree of uncertainty will likely always exist regarding projections of climate and hydrological change at the local management scale. Focus must therefore be placed on climate change in the context of risk management and vulnerability assessment. The complex interactions between the numerous factors that influence water supply and demand, as well as the many activities dependent upon water resources, highlight the need for integrative studies that look at both the environmental and human controls on water. Involvement of physical and social scientists, water managers and other stakeholders is critical to the development of appropriate and sustainable adaptation strategies.
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