Consideration of potential effects of climate change and resulting hydrologic impacts on mine developments

CIM Edmonton 2004
Anil Beersing, Getu Biftu, Nathan Schmidt,
Abstract There is general agreement among scientists that global surface temperatures have been increasing during the past decades and may continue to increase over the next several years. The effects of a predicted rise in the Earth’s surface temperature include increased average global evaporation and precipitation. However, predictions of changes in climate at a watershed scale or even a regional scale are either unknown or less reliable than global predictions. It is also unclear how climate changes will impact stream flow regimes locally. Although there is still considerable uncertainty in predicting hydrologic changes for specific watersheds, it is nevertheless necessary to consider such changes and the risks associated with various magnitudes of change during the planning and environmental assessments of mine developments.

There are two reasons to consider climate change and its hydrologic impacts by the mining industry. First, there is the potential for direct consequences for mine developments, such as increased risk of interrupted water supplies, more severe design criteria for impoundment structures because of increased magnitude and/or frequency of flood events, etc. Second, there is the potential for indirect consequences through institutional policy changes enacted to cope with climate change.

There is, therefore, a critical need for scientific information on the potential and magnitude of region-specific climatic and hydrologic changes. This paper provides a review of up-to-date studies related to climatic and resulting hydrologic changes in general and as applicable in the Oil Sands Region, in particular. The paper identifies gaps in our current understanding of the watersheds processes that may be affected, discusses some options to mitigate the impacts of potential hydrologic changes on mine developments, and provides recommendations on how climate change may be incorporated in future environmental assessments.
Keywords: Climate change, Hydrologic Changes, Mine developments, Oil Sands Region, environmental impact assessment
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