Preparing for Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in New Brunswick

Jessi Kershner
Posted on: 12/19/2010 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

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Jessi Kershner

Project Summary

New Brunswick, Canada has approximately 5,500 kilometers (km) of coastline and is vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased storminess. In response to this vulnerability, a three-year study was undertaken to forecast likely climate changes, anticipate physical impacts of these changes, and identify potential adaptation strategies.


In 2004, the Earth Sciences Sector of Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Institute of Planners co-sponsored five case study communities to help build capacity at the local government level for planning for climate change. Three of these case study communities are those already experiencing the effects of accelerated climate change impacts including rising sea levels and increased storm frequency and severity. One of these case studies, Impacts of Sea Level Rise and Climate Change on the Coastal Zone of Southeastern New Brunswick, is the focus here.

New Brunswick, located in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, has approximately 5,500 km of coastline and nearly 60% of its population lives within 50 km of its coast. In general, the coastal area is low-lying and drains poorly, making it vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding. In addition, many of the beaches are thin and the buffering capacity of the dunes is small, thus major storms can have significant effects.

Scientists and researchers began a three-year study in order to forecast likely climate changes, anticipate the physical impacts of climate changes in relation to sustainable management and community resilience, and identify potential adaptation strategies for New Brunswick communities. The project was divided into ten subcomponents, the first nine of which were research-based:

  1. Sea level rise and land subsidence
  2. Storm surge, wind, wave, and sea ice climatologies
  3. Storm surge and meteorological modeling
  4. Elevation surveys and flood-risk mapping
  5. Coastal erosion
  6. Ecosystem impacts
  7. Economic and community impacts
  8. Adaptation strategies
  9. Building adaptive capacity
  10. An integration of subcomponents 1-8, which provided information to help with future built environment planning, as well as species and habitat management in the coastal zone.


The overall research program was conducted by a senior scientist lead for each of the nine subcomponents listed above. The tenth subcomponent integrated the findings of the research studies to make the knowledge easier to use and serve as a tool for community decision-making.

To develop adaptation strategies and enhance adaptive capacity, researchers interviewed community members and held three focus group discussions to get community input on:

  • how people have historically adapted to sea level rise and storm surges;
  • what people’s experiences have been during the recent major storm events;
  • perceived future threats;
  • what measures (if any) have they taken; and
  • best practices that could be learned from community efforts.

Community members and researchers also visited different sites to discuss impacts and adaptation methods. Following this step, seven public information sessions and a two-day workshop were held in different communities to share research results and build relationships with community members. Overall, researchers found:

  • a lack of information on potential techniques and practices;
  • insufficient and/or unequal resources to address issues;
  • a lack of local governance and/or effective tools to help manage coastal development; and
  • an ineffective, complex, and inequitably applied regulatory process

In response to these deficiencies, researchers developed a decision-making framework to help stakeholders adapt to sea level rise and climate change. Specifically, the framework includes a process for choosing appropriate adaptation strategies for specific locations and has three objectives:

  • emphasize community involvement and empowerment;
  • create an approach applicable to local constraints and opportunities, but that is also transferrable; and
  • provide a decision-making tool that is understandable to a diverse group of people so they are aware of the range of available adaptation options.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The adaptation framework developed in this study can be used to examine the rationale of existing adaptation strategies, or used to create new ones. Overall, the framework emphasizes the importance of empowering the community. Details of the project, the recommended adaptation framework, and the final report can be found in the green sidebar.


Kershner, J. (2010). Preparing for Climate Change and Sea Level Rise in New Brunswick [Case study on a project of the Canadian Institute of Planners]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated December 2010)

Affiliated Organizations

Representing a membership of approximately 7000 planning professionals across Canada, the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) has been dedicated to the advancement of responsible planning since 1919.

The Earth Sciences Sector of Natural Resources Canada provides Canadians with the acquisition, interpretation, maintenance and distribution of maps, information, technology, standards and expertise concerning the Canadian landmass and offshore in the fields of geoscience, geodesy, mapping, surveying, and remote sensing.

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