Banner Photo Credit: Balanced Environmental

Oceanography and Climate Change

As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, coastal communities need to adapt to rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and the resulting threats from floods, storm surges, summer drought and unusual weather events. Howe Sound is no exception.

Rising water temperatures are already being recorded in the area, while a new annual pattern in stream flow is increasing the risk to human settlements and sensitive ecological habitat alike. Shorelines have been altered by human activity over decades of development and industrialization. Berms, dikes and seawalls amplify wave energy causing further erosion along the Sound, making them a poor defense against a shifting climate and increasingly volatile weather patterns.

A promising alternative to these wall-like barriers has emerged in the Green Shores approach, which works with nature to fortify coastlines using native vegetation. Restoring coastal areas to a more natural state is seen as a valuable tool to protect homes and businesses from rising waters, and may increase the ability of local species to adapt to the realities of a changing climate.

The District of Squamish is also bracing for the increased threat of flooding and storm surge by developing a new Integrated Flood Hazard Management Plan that considers the Green Shores approach and establishes flood levels for new developments.


 “During the sequestration of carbon dioxide, trees, marine algae and seaweeds use photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into biomass, organic matter used to fuel the plant. … The total value of carbon sequestration is approximately $6 million per year.” 

– Sound Investment: Measuring the Return on Howe Sound’s Ecosystem Assets (Michelle Molnar, 2015, David Suzuki Foundation)

Ocean Watch Rating Legend

Ratings are meant to provide the reader with a visual snapshot summary about the subject.  Subject ratings were assigned by the Coastal Ocean Research Institute based on application of the criteria to the information in each article.

1) The status is healthy according to available data, 2) the trend is positive if known, 3) some data are available, and/or 4) actions to address or mitigate are well underway and are known to be effective. Actions should be taken to maintain positive status and/or trend.

Status, trend, data, and/or actions provide contradictory or inconclusive information. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend and avoid negative status and trend.

1) Impacts or issues are high risk or have resulted in a low or vulnerable status, 2) improvements are uncertain, minor, or slow, and/or 3) actions to address or mitigate are non-existent, vague, or have low effectiveness. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend.

Not rated due to the nature of the article, or there are not enough data to produce an assessment.

Snapshot Assessment

Oceanography and Climate Change

Ocean Warming


Following record years for increasing ocean temperatures worldwide, Howe Sound is showing signs its waters are also warming. Warming can mean major change and lack of data specific to Howe Sound causes local uncertainty.

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Armoring of Howe Sound’s shoreline puts homes, businesses and ecosystems at risk from ocean levels rising due to climate change. Research and education in Howe Sound has started but change is slow. The Green Shores approach can be useful, restoring coastal areas to a more natural state, using vegetation to reinforce coastal areas to preserve aquatic ecosystems, preventing erosion and protecting communities.

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Stream Flows


The last few years have seen a deviation from historic seasonal stream flow patterns, with increasing rainfall causing high flow in winters and summers affected by record lows. Such seasonal shifts can impact migration patterns of aquatic species such as salmon and pose increased flood risk for human settlements and facilities in Howe Sound. We lack data for most of the streams in Howe Sound and lack information on specific impacts.

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Squamish Flood Planning


Rising sea levels due to climate change are expected to increase the flood threat for the District of Squamish and Howe Sound. The community is responding by developing an updated flood response plan that works with nature to protect communities and economic activity. Risks due to sea level rise are significant and the fundamental problem of human settlement on the flood plain remains despite much planning and mitigation.

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OHI Score for Coastal Protection


Howe Sound scores 73 out of 100 for coastal protection. A healthy ocean provides protection of our coasts from storm damage by living natural habitats, such as salt marshes and coastal forests.

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OHI Score for Carbon Storage


Howe Sound scores 70 out of 100 for carbon storage. A healthy ocean provides long-term storage of carbon in natural marine and coastal habitats, such as salt marshes and coastal forests.

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