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Forecasting the Forecast

Fishermen in this region are a resilient bunch and are more than accustomed to rough and harsh weather.

However, just ask any well-seasoned southwest Nova fisherman and they will tell you that the weather over the last decade has changed considerably from the way it used to be.

Sure, there have always been storms, but not to the same degree and frequency being witnessed today.

The global fishing industry is also taking notice of this weather trend as researchers are predicting fishermen around the world will face an influx of larger, more powerful ocean storms.

Many scientific studies this decade have suggested rising atmospheric and ocean temperatures, as well as a slowdown in atmospheric currents, will inspire more frequent and larger tempests, especially ocean and coastal storms.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change showed an increase in large storms is likely to make fishing more dangerous. Larger storms could also damage fish habitat and disrupt fish breeding grounds.

“Storms are a threat to fishermen’s safety, productivity, assets and jobs and to the health of billions of people around the world who rely on fish for their daily nutrition,” University of Exeter researcher Nigel Sainsbury said in a recent news release.

“Changing storminess could have serious consequences for vulnerable coastal communities around the world. Conducting research in this area is critical to support the adaptation of fisheries to climate change.”

One of the common observations you will hear from fishermen right across Atlantic Canada is how much warmer ocean temperatures are now than in previous years — and it is true.

The U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has said that over the past 10 years, the Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than 99 per cent of the global ocean. Recent studies indicate that the enhanced warming is associated with a northerly shift in the Gulf Stream.

Research has shown warmer ocean temperatures can help fuel storms forming in the atmosphere above, providing heat and moisture. Studies have also shown warmer air can contain more moisture, yielding larger storm clouds.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has reported that the waters of southwestern Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy have experienced significant warming trends — which seem to coincide with the remarkable rise in lobster landings over the last few seasons.

DFO has reported that there is clearly a relationship between temperatures and population, but other factors are also involved in the remarkable rise in lobster landings, including a decrease in groundfish predators over the same period.

So, what should the scientific community be doing to improve its ability to more accurately forecast the forecast — both in the short term and long term?

NOAA recently announced that it is now seeking ideas, recommendations and best practices from the weather industry and researchers on how to best develop a virtual Earth Prediction Innovation Centre (EPIC).

EPIC is aimed at creating a community earth system prediction model that is accessible to the public and uses innovative strategies to host and manage the modeling system. It will make it easier for scientists outside of NOAA to contribute to its forecast models, helping to improve its models by drawing from the strength of the research community.

The centre will leverage existing NOAA resources to accelerate advances to the Unified Forecast System, a community-based, coupled Earth system model designed to meet NOAA’s operational forecast mission to protect life and property and improve economic growth.

Despite your opinions of what is going on with governance south of the border, the U.S. appears to be taking the lead on this critically important topic through recent legislation.

The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 instructs NOAA to prioritize improving weather data, modeling, computing, forecasting and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.

The National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2018 instructs NOAA to establish EPIC to accelerate the use of community developed scientific and technical enhancements into the operational applications for numerical weather prediction.

Let’s hope that Environment Canada takes note of the EPIC project and is willing to work with its colleagues to the south in establishing a better weather forecasting for all. Lives depend on these forecasts each and every day.