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Global warming affects small isolated communities

Crosswind poses a major risk for landing airplanes safely
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Global warming has led to a surge in extreme weather conditions in developing countries, such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, Canadians are also experiencing the impacts of climate change — especially in Northern Canada.

Andrew Leung, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Environmental Science at UTSC, recently completed a longitudinal study that utilized historical data from 1971 to 2010. This data shows how wind speed and wind direction have changed and the subsequent consequences for the operation of airports in the Hudson Bay area.

Leung says that wind speed and wind direction are important in deciding the manner in which a pilot conducts the landing and takeoff of an airplane, and his research investigates the critical wind speed at two metres above the ground.

Leung says, “If the wind exceeds 10 knots, the plane has to land into the wind. If less than 10 knots, the plane can land into the wind or with tail wind.”

Due to changing climactic patterns, “melting of ice takes place earlier and faster in spring, but the freezing of ice comes later in late fall,” explains Leung. Melted ice does not come back because the replenishment takes place later and, therefore, on an ever-smaller scale.

The study’s findings indicate that large amounts of sea ice result in slower wind speeds, and decreasing levels of sea ice result in increasing wind speeds.

“Crosswind is wind blowing across the runway that does not align with the runway orientation,” explains Leung. “Airports in Toronto and other big cities have multiple runways, such that pilots can land in another runway when crosswind is hitting the [assigned] runway.” However, crosswind can pose a serious risk for safe landing in communities with smaller airports.

In addition, because of the isolated geographical location of communities in the Hudson Bay area, they are dependent on air transport to bring in necessities. The importance of air travel is further enhanced by the lack of a sea route in the winter months.

The human cost of climate change has been felt by Northern Canadian communities, such as in August 2011 when a Boeing 737 crashed while attempting to land in a village at Resolute Bay, Nunavut, resulting in the death of 12 people. While the pilot in the incident was responsible for the crash, the wind speed and wind direction were also partly responsible. Leung notes that the impacts of climate change are already felt and will only become more averse if the melting of ice continues.

Leung expresses an interest in continuing to investigate the impacts of climate change in the Hudson Bay area; he will be investigating fog occurrences in the region.

Leung’s research is currently under review for publications in academic journals.