Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Harbour rising: Halifax’s harbourfront in 2100, come hell or high-water

Between ice age dynamics and global heating, Halifax Harbour is rising faster than most coastal waters around the world and putting billions worth of buildings at risk.

As the eye of Hurricane Dorian spun around Halifax Harbour like a cocoon, it could have been any other grey day in Nova Scotia—were it not for the building floating in the water in Herring Cove. The large boathouse was home to Thomas Reyno's three boats, two tubes and 45 years worth of memories. Now it more closely resembled an apple bobbing in the water.

"Never seen anything like this, just floatin' around," says Glenn Falcony in a video of the spectacle at Herring Cove, taken from behind a pair of windshield wipers in early September.

However, for Jamie Rouse, the owner of Boondocks Restaurant out in Fisherman's Cove, after his own close encounter with the water, the power of the sea no longer surprises him.

During a comparatively mild storm in January of 2018, Rouse and his son-in-law were standing on the boardwalk near Boondocks when the wooden slats beneath their feet started to move. "We got off of that pretty quickly," Rouse says, and "just basically came inside and watched it rip apart. It wasn't until the morning that we saw the extent of the damage."

What was left of Fisherman's Cove's boardwalk near the mouth of Halifax Harbour was a splintered mess. One half was embedded beneath the deck, and the other ripped up and shoved into the parking lot recall Rouse and Earl Gosse, a board member of the area's development association.

"It got shoved all the way over almost to the road, and that was lifting up concrete," says Gosse, "big concrete blocks, you know, a base—and they were down in the ground so it pulled them up."

The Canadian Hurricane Centre reported wind speeds during Dorian of up to 130 km/h, while those recorded on the night of January 4, 2018 were a comparative whisper at barely over 50 km/h. For Fisherman's Cove, however, the devil was in the timing. Dorian arrived around low tide, when there was much less water for the wind to push around. While the January storm coincided with a spring tide, a higher-than-normal high tide that had swelled the harbour's surface nearly two metres above the usual high-water mark.

Imagine if the tide timing was different during Dorian. With water levels in the year 2100 expected to rise by 1.5 metres, or more, on a good day Fisherman's Cove would be completely underwater. (See interactive Fisherman's Cove comparison of 2002 and 2100 below, or get larger version here.)