But calm water can be contained easily enough. The real question is what would happen when extraordinary weather is thrown in the mix.
“I think that we had known that climate change was an issue; perhaps it wasn’t as much of an issue until Hurricane Juan hit in 2003,” says John Charles, a municipal planner with HRM and another force behind the 2010 report.
The storm struck in September 2003 causing significant damage, with part of its eye passing directly over Halifax Harbour. Water levels reached 2.1 metres, with waves as high as nine metres, the report says.
Had the storm hit at high tide, the waves and surge could have reached even higher.
“I think if you can call anything a motivation [for our research] it was the impact of that hurricane that we saw along the coastline,” says Charles.
What their research found is that, when a hurricane like those we have today is combined with the projected sea level rise, the storm surge could cause water levels more than 20 per cent higher than during Juan.
With climate change taken into consideration, following the IPCC’s sea level rise projections, water levels could rise by as much as 2.67 metres, the report found.
This scenario, like all the others in the 2010 HRM report, assumes that the storm climate is unchanged, that storms are neither stronger nor more frequent due to climate change.
“In the long term it is something to be concerned about but it’s something we can plan for,” says Charles, who has recently gotten involved with research on the economic impacts of sea level rise in Halifax.
“If we have that sort of [hundred-year] planning horizon, then we can make intelligent choices right now.”
Listen to John Charles: