Archive for January 29th, 2008

Praying for a cold snap … in Alberta

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

No I don’t particularly enjoy walking to work when the temperatures are in the minus 40 Celcius range, as expected tonight. This morning was cold enough, and it was only -32C.

However part of me is relieved that a cold period seems to have settled into the western Canadian provinces. That may sound like a really masochistic thing to say, but I have a reason.

As explained in this news article, a couple of years ago hungry hordes of mountain pine beetle(MPB) crossed the Rockies from B.C. into Alberta, and have been happily munching through huge areas of lodgepole pine forest in an epidemic of biblical proportions.

Forest management agencies have been trying to deal with its spread, and forest entomologists have been studying the question of how it will fare in its new habitat. A burning question is whether the MPB will be able to survive at epidemic levels in Jack pine, an alternative to lodgepole pine, its favoured host. That is a real concern to a lot of foresters in Saskatchewan’s boreal forest, where we have lots of Jack pine but no lodgepole. There seems reason to believe that MPB might do OK in Jack pine, despite the thinner phloem layer where the insect over-winters.

Apparently what it takes to really reduce the MPB from epidemic down to endemic levels is a good old-fashioned cold snap. I’ve heard varying estimates, e.g. two weeks of -35 to -40C weather, five days of -40C weather, etc. I’ve also heard that the cold snap must occur early in the winter before the insects have become winter-hardened.

A problem is that in recent years the prairie provinces have experienced warmer than average winters, whether due to anthropogenic global warming, as many scientists believe, or other causes as suggested by the climate change sceptics. Whatever the reason, if the current cold snap lasts a few more days, it should set back the MPB epidemic, and that would be a good thing.

Of course since the MPB hasn’t yet reached Saskatchewan, it would be nice if the cold snap were restricted to Alberta and B.C. Would that be too much to ask?

UPDATE 2008-01-30: I woke up this morning to the news that a 3-year-old Saskatchewan child died of exposure and searchers are looking for her 1-year-old sister. I hope that no-one misinterprets my concerns about ecosystem health with flippancy about the serious consequences of our cold winters. Keep safe people.