A fisherman hops across an ice floe in Cambridge Bay while fishing for char in 2015. Climate warming is threatening food sources in the North, says a U of A researcher. (Paul Colangelo)

Food insecurity grows as oceans warm, ice sheets melt, says U of A researcher

UN study documents implications of warming oceans, fast-melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica

A landmark study about the impact of global warming on the Earth's oceans, permafrost and glaciers paints a bleak picture of environmental devastation.

But an Edmonton professor who was part of the research team says the report carries an equally chilling message about sustaining our food sources.

"For me what really stands out is the impacts of climate change on the ocean and cryosphere in terms of human health," Sherilee Harper told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

The cyrosphere is the part of the earth's surface where water exists as ice.

"The impacts that climate change is having on the ocean and cryosphere are actually really important for everyone, no matter where you live."

Harper, an associate professor of public health at the University of Alberta, was one of the lead authors of the UN-backed Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, released Wednesday.

The report is the culmination of two years of work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was compiled by more than 100 authors who crunched 7,000 academic papers.

The study documents the implications of warming oceans, fast-melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and shrinking glaciers.

Harper, speaking from Monaco where the report was finalized Tuesday, said she is especially struck by the looming impact on the quantity and quality of food sources as the oceans continue to warm.

 

"That ... impacts things like catch potential for fish. It impacts the quality of our seafood as well and that can impact food security, especially in coastal areas where seafood consumption tends to be high," she said.

"It also impacts things like food safety. Shellfish poisoning or things like that are projected to increase due to climate change."

Harper's main research focus is the association between weather and Indigenous health in the context of climate change.

While spending time in the Arctic, she has seen the effects of climate change on the land and the ice — and how they affect people.

"That impacts people's ability to go out on the land and to go hunting and fishing and bring food home and put it on the table," she said.

"The impacts of climate change on food security through the ice and through the thawing permafrost are really visible. Those impacts are very, very clear."

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