Regional Geography of Canada: Natural Hazards
|Natural Disasters, Earthquake, Geography, Hurricane, Nature
Table of Contents
In recent years, Canada is among the many countries that have experienced a rise in the occurrence of natural disasters. They cause immediate loss of lives and property and they are a blow to the economy. This paper will a review the most occurring natural hazards, as they present a perfect case of the interaction of human and physical geography. The physical geography of the country, its expansive nature, makes it vulnerable to natural hazards. Canada stretches across six time zones and borders three oceans. It has a wide variety of weather patterns. There are chillingly cold regions and some that experience heat waves, there are regions with arctic weather and others are moderate. The landforms also have a huge variety: forests, mountains, plains and mountains (Public Safety Canada, 2015). With all those, the occurrence of natural hazards is inevitable for the country.
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The most common hazards that occur in the country are floods, earthquakes, landslides and avalanches, and hurricanes. This paper seeks to address these hazards with a critical analysis that details the frequency of occurrence, the regions which they are most probable to occur and the severity of each in terms of losses and destruction caused. It is important that this information is known and shared as it would be of great help in the assessment preparedness and mitigation practices that could be employed to help alleviate the devastation associated with these hazards.
Floods are the most frequently occurring hazards in the country. They are also considered the leading cause of natural disaster damages. Their occurrence is at any time of the year and is not restricted to specific regions in the country. The vulnerability is slightly increased for places that are close to water bodies such as rivers (Public Safety Canada, 2015).
Floods occur when water exceeds the banks of a river, or the levels rise beyond the shorelines of dams or lakes. The sudden melting of winter snow and hail during the spring thaw and the rainfall that occurs during this time are a leading cause for a sudden increase in surface water that easily leads to floods. It could be just the amount of surface water or there could be other reasons such as ice jams.
The second most common cause of flooding is heavy storm rainfall. The western Canada region is most vulnerable to this due to its mountainous nature. Flash floods could occur as heavy rainwater flows fast on the mountain slopes. The occurrence and devastation of floods have both been on the rise in recent years with the five most common severe Canadian floods occurring since 2010. It is notable that The Manitoba and Alberta areas have been in four of these cases.
Example of flood occurrences over a long period of time include the Manitoba’s Red River flood of 1997 and the Alberta foods of 2013, both of which are spring thaw cases. The 2013 flood in Toronto in which a storm dropped 126mm of rainfall in less than 3 hours caused massive flash floods in the Don River Valley. The damages were in excess of $940 million (Mettler, 2018).
Earthquakes have contributed to the loss of more than a million lives in the world in the 20th century. Canada is prone to both large magnitude and small magnitude earthquakes with the small magnitude occurrences having a high frequency as depicted in figure 1 below.
Fig 1. 197 earthquakes recorded between June 15 and June 16, 2018. Reprinted from Natural resources Canada, 2018, Retrieved from http://www.earthquakescanada.nrcan.gc.ca//index-en.php
More than 50 earthquakes that have an intensity that can be felt occur in Canada over a year. Sensitive equipment record over 14,000 minor earthquakes over the same period of time. The West Coast is seen as the most vulnerable and is always at risk of a high magnitude earthquake. This is due to the presence of a boundary of tectonic plates in the Pacific coast. In the South, there is the movement of the North American plate Southwestwards. Although the speed is in centimeters per year, it causes enough forces to cause earthquakes along the fault lines.
Damages caused by the earthquakes vary in severity even for quakes with the same magnitude on a Richter scale. Eastern earthquakes are observed to be more destructive, due to ground conditions and other factors. Earthquakes with a magnitude of 7 and above are major earthquakes.
Landslides and Avalanches
They are generally classified based on their magnitude and the nature of debris involved. They can also be classified based on the speed of flow and the distance that they cover. There are several types that Canada experiences which are rock avalanches, snow avalanches, debris avalanches, rockslides, flow-slides, and slumps.
Slumps are caused by the gradual disintegration of the ground. They are frequent in the Prairies at the Cretaceous shales. Other parts with soft rocks and sediment in Canada are also prone to slumps. Other types of slides have a devastating effect and the mass, volume, and speed with which the debris flow could make avalanches and unstoppable force. Lada clay, which sips into river channels at the St. Lawrence lowlands contributes highly to flow-slides experienced in this region. A flow-slide in Ontario occurred in 1993 and blocked the South Natio River. The day event would have been catastrophic hadn’t it been predicted and residents of nearby villages evacuated (Public Safety Canada, 2015)
Rock falls occur when pieces of rock break off and fall down a steep slope. Snow slides are common. They are sudden downslope flows of snow which carry with it vegetation, rocks, and soil. They are common in the British Columbia Mountains, Alberta, and Yukon during winter. Quebec, Newfoundland, and Labrador are other areas that experience snow slides. They rarely occur in the other provinces apart from a few isolated cases (Gauthier, 2012). The biggest ever known landslide in Canada was at St. Alban, Quebec in 1894. The flow was estimated to have carried with it 185 million cubic meters of debris.
These are storms with violent winds coming from a tropical cyclone. These winds could have speeds exceeding 118 km/h. They are devastating as they could last as long as 30 days. Most of the hurricanes that originate from the Caribbean and go through the Atlantic coast hit Canada if they were strong enough. This makes Atlantic Canada the most vulnerable to these hurricanes. Nova Scotia gets an average of one hurricane every three years. Hurricanes that move through the United States could, however, affect parts of Quebec and Ontario. Land hurricanes are of lower magnitude though due to the resistance they encounter when traveling.
Hurricane severity is given in categories with category one being the lowest rank and category five the highest. Hurricanes are less of a problem in Canada than the other mentioned hazards. Canada is not likely to ever experience a hurricane of category 3 or above. The water temperatures in the Canadian waters of the Atlantic are way too cold to support winds of category 3 (or higher) hurricane (Dangerfield, 2017) The Canadian Hurricane Center has in one occasion recorded a category 4 hurricane, Hurricane Ella, that didn’t hit the land. It occurred south of Halifax, Nova Scotia. A recent example is Hurricane Mathew. Its remnants hit Nova Scotia and the damage is estimated to be equal to or greater than $7.6 million.
Other less common Natural hazards in Canada include storm surges, tornadoes, and wildfires. Canada recorded the worst Tornado in 1912, at Regina, that caused damage by creating a swath through the city. 28 people died. Tornadoes will mostly occur in June and July in the afternoons and late evenings. Wildfires are common in Western Canada as a result of the many lightning strikes that the region experiences. They last long and cause a lot of damage. They are only considered less severe as they mostly occur in remote, forested areas where human life is not threatened.
Floods, earthquakes, landslides, avalanches, and hurricanes have been established as the most common natural hazards in Canada. It is as a result of the geographic aspects that the Country has. This study has successfully shown what areas could be affected by specific hazards and the reasons. Historic examples have also been highlighted. They should serve as a lesson on what to expect now and in the future. It is not possible to change some, probably all, of the Geographic aspects of the country that contribute to the occurrence of these disasters. It makes it hard then, to prevent the occurrence, or even predict when and where a hazard is going to hit.
It is, however, possible to be prepared and mitigate the effects of the natural hazards. The Canadian government creates awareness and invests in the studies of these natural occurrences. It has been seen in the past that whenever a hazard is predictable, the government will make efforts to evacuate people from the area likely to be affected.
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From this study, it can only be recommended that further effort is put in the study of the geographical factors that contribute to the occurrence of natural phenomena that cause destruction. Enough measures and policies should be put in place to protect people and property from the damage caused by manageable hazards such as floods and rock falls. There should be more efforts concentrated on educating the general public on the likelihood and effects of occurrence of these hazards. This can be done based on already collected data on the most likely areas to be affected by certain phenomena.
- Dangerfield, K. (2017). Hurricanes in Canada: How often they hit and who is at risk. Global News.
- Gauthier, D. (2012). Avalanche. The Canadian Encyclopedia.
- Mettler, C. (2018). Floods in Canada: On the Rise. Fresh Water Alliance.
- Natural resources Canada. (2018). All earthquakes of the last 30 days. Natural resources Canada.
- Public Safety Canada. (2015). Natural Hazards of Canada. Public Safety Canada.