Ocean levels are rising: Why British Columbians should care

Jenny Cameron / April 4, 2019

Annual mean temperatures in the Northeast Pacific Ocean.

It’s not only the atmosphere warming – but our oceans as well.

A report released earlier this week by the Environment and Climate Change Department says there are significant changes to the oceans as a result of the warming of the atmosphere. Canada is also warming at twice the global rate.

Dr. Blair Greenan, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, says we are seeing global sea level changing, whether that be because of greenhouse gas emissions or the movements of the earth’s plates.

“For most of the west coast, by the year 2100, we’re projecting, under a high emission scenario…that sea level will rise in the range of 25 – 75 cm, depending on your location on the west coast and if we were to follow the mitigation strategy to produce our greenhouse gas emissions following what’s in the Paris agreement.” – Dr. Blair Greenan, research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The report says, “Projections of sea-level change are important for forecasting risk to populations, for infrastructure planning and maintenance, and for habitat management.”


One concern for BC, if this trend continues, is our marine life.

Dr. Greenan says the acidity of our oceans are changing which is making it harder for shellfish to produce their shells because of the increase in ocean temperatures.

“It is heating up the earth’s oceans and that may have strong implications for the base of the food chain in the ocean and/or things like the agriculture industry on the west coast.” – Dr. Blair Greenan, research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Due to human activity, the ocean has taken more than 25% of CO2 – a trend that is expected to continue.

Marine life could be affected along the BC Coast from rising temperatures


Adaptation is going to be necessary for BC’s coastal infrastructure because of rising sea levels.

Areas in the lower mainland, like RIchmond, Delta and Ladner, may have to spend billions.

“You look at a place like Metro Vancouver, where you have a lot of people living, essentially at sea level… and they estimate billions of dollars to protect those people living in those low-lying coastal communities.” – Dr. John Clague, professor in Science at Simon Fraser University

The reports says, “One of the most serious consequences of sea-level rise is its effect on extreme coastal water-level and flooding events.”


  • Greenhouse gases. which are warming up the earth’s atmosphere, are warming the upper part of the ocean, causing the water to expand and rise.

  • The melt water from glaciers and ice sheets running into our oceans, due to increase temperatures.

  • The earth’s crust on BC’s coast is generally moving about 1 millimetre downwards every year, therefore a rise in sea level will happen regardless of climate change


Canada emits 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and Dr. Greenan says Canada can make an impact – even just by showing global leadership.

He says the report is consistent with other reports that have come out over the last few years.

“What the report has shown us is that we’re going to experience a warmer future and the amount of warming is going to depend on what we do as a global society.” – Dr. Blair Greenan, research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The carbon dioxide we have already put in our atmosphere is, and will continue,  to impact our earth’s climate for generations to come. Dr. Greenan says it’s up to society to decide what road we will choose to go down.

“It might not seem like a lot for one individual – in terms of a global effort, but any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will make some difference in the total amount emitted.” – Dr. Blair Greenan, research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada

There is going to be adaption to our coastal communities to make these areas more resilient to storm surges. Dr. Greenan says it’s a combination of us reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and planning for the future.

He says other reports in this series will do assessments of potential impacts of what was found in this years report.