John Atkinson, an area farmer and land owner, stands on a dike along the LaPlanche River near Amherst, N.S., on March 20, 2019. The area is at risk of being overwhelmed by rising waters that could sweep over the aging dike and turn Nova Scotia into a virtual island. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Nova Scotia is one 'perfect storm' away from being cut off from Canada

The event could occur at any time through a combination of stormy weather conditions, say emergency officials

"The water can go over this whole flat marsh," said the 67-year-old landowner, gesturing to the grassy lands near Amherst.

"If there were to be one perfect storm ... it would be very bad."

This is a potential ground zero of a Canadian climate change disaster, where sea-level communities face rising oceans and await word on a detailed plan and the funding to keep the narrow land link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick open.

The risk isn't decades away.

Rather, the event could occur at any time through a combination of stormy weather conditions, according to emergency officials and coastal geographers watching the area.

"The fact is that the right storm occurring at any spring tide at any time of year would be sufficient to put water over our dikes," explains Jeff Ollerhead, who teaches coastal geography at Mount Allison University in nearby Sackville, N.B.

A strip of eroding Nova Scotia coastline is shown in this undated handout photo.  (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Saint Mary's University)

Over the past 69 years, the sea level at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy has risen about 38 centimetres, even as the dikes and coastal land continue to subside.

The trend will accelerate under most international climate change scenarios, adding a third of a metre to water heights by 2050, according to studies.

Meanwhile, the frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms has tripled here over the past 25 years compared to the past century, according to a 2011 study.

Real Daigle, a meteorologist who provides estimates of sea level rise, said all it would take is a once-in-50-year storm at highest tides, with sustained winds gusting up to 80 kilometres per hour and low atmospheric pressure that adds 40 to 50 centimetres to the height of the water.

The one comfort is that the rapid pace of the Bay of Fundy tidal rise and retreat — versus areas like the Northumberland Strait, where tide rises are more gradual and sustained — would make the storm's arrival at the high tide in the basin an unlikely event, he adds.

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