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Global warming

The New Climate Almanac

Continued from Page 14

True volatility obviously exacts a heavy toll on bridges, roads and buildings that haven't been designed for flash floods or a regular onslaught of hurricane-force winds.

But subtle changes are also shortening the lifespan of Canada's aging infrastructure — just the increased freezing and thawing as winter warms up can weaken concrete and pavement.

Given the billions at stake, Ms. Auld says, "insurance companies and municipalities are watching the weather like hawks." But thinking will have to change radically if the updating is to be done in time.

Michel Girard of the Canadian Standards Association says engineers, contractors and governments need revised building codes and road designs to prepare for the weather of the future — but the national data needed to create those standards aren't available yet.

Quebec has taken the lead, he says, by preventing new development in high-risk areas along the St. Lawrence, and by announcing plans to expand the province's culverts over the next several years.

But the Far North worries him most: With the melting permafrost, airport runways are sinking, and housing, which is already below standards in many communities, must be adapted to the changing weather.

"It's not acceptable," he says. "If we have new information, we need to use it." — Andrew Nikiforuk and Erin Anderssen

YEAR-ROUND ISOLATION

Last May, the largest helicopter in the world, a Russian Mi26, flew to Yellowknife to airlift a piece of heavy equipment to the Diavik diamond mine.

The winter road the mine was depending on wasn't solid, says company spokesman Tom Hoefer — the lake ice too thin for trucks to safely carry the "shovel" (which looks sort of like a backhoe, only much larger).

Instead, workers had to cut the 500-tonne piece of machinery into small pieces to fit into the helicopter and then reassemble it at the mine. Diavik also had to fly in fuel, cement and other heavy items it normally would have trucked in. The cost: millions of dollars.

This winter is colder, so frozen highways are open across the North. But climate change could mean hardship for many in isolated Northern communities.

When the swamps and lakes don't ice up, residents of places such as Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba can pay $16 for a four-litre jug of milk and double the normal price for gas. A single green pepper can go for $13. — Anne McIlroy

ZERO HOUR FOR THE AMAZON

For decades, people have wrung their hands over deforestation in the Amazon. Now, scientists fear that climate change alone may turn the massive rain forest into a baking desert. If droughts and forest fires intensify and the rain forest shrinks, it creates less rain, leading to more droughts and fires, and so on, in a vicious cycle. Just as in the boreal forests, the Amazon's burning trees will release stored carbon into the air, further speeding global warming. If the entire Amazon went up in smoke — which may happen within decades — it would release 100 billion tonnes of carbon, says Daniel Nepstad, who studies rain-forest droughts and fires. (Humans currently release about six billion tonnes a year by burning fossil fuels.)

"This," Dr. Nepstad says, "really is frightening." — Zoe Cormier

ALMANAC CONTRIBUTORS

Erin Anderssen and Ian Brown are Globe and Mail feature writers.

Laszlo Buhasz is The Globe's assistant travel editor.

Zoe Cormier and Dan Falk are Toronto science writers.

Tavia Grant is a reporter with the Report on Business.

Hannah Hoag is a science writer in Montreal.

Umarah Jamali is a freelance writer in New Delhi.

Mark Hume is a Globe reporter in Vancouver.

Michael Kesterton writes Social Studies for the Facts and Arguments page.

Charles Mandel is a writer living in Rothesay, N.B.

Shawn McCarthy is The Globe's energy reporter and Anne McIlroy is its science reporter, both based in Ottawa.

Tim McKeough is a Canadian writer living in New York.

Martin Mittelstaedt is The Globe and Mail's environment reporter.

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning science writer in Calgary.

Lisa Rochon writes on architecture for The Globe.

Peter Scowen is the paper's deputy features editor.

Paul Tadich is a Canadian writer in Moscow.

Julie Traves is a Focus editor.

Calgary-based writer Chris Turner's next book is titled The Geography of Hope.

Geoffrey York is the paper's correspondent in Beijing.

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