Skip to main content

Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium: the name says it all

October 06, 2023

Francis Zwiers

Since 2010, statistician and climatologist Francis Zwiers has been the director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium (PCIC). Under Zwiers's leadership the institute has almost doubled in size to about 25 staff and increased its budget by more than 250%. But the main change since its founding in 2008, Zwiers says, is that PCIC has expanded beyond its early project-to-project work and is now recognized as an authoritative climate service provider with national impact that is focused on users but also produces and publishes a substantial amount of innovative climate research. 

Helping understand and predict climate risks 

“We are a regional climate service centre at the University of Victoria that provides practical information on the physical impacts of climate variability and change in our region and also produces climate information products that are used across Canada,” Zwiers explains. “We collaborate with climate researchers and regional stakeholders to produce knowledge and tools that support long-term planning and risk management across Canada.” 

In fact, for scientists, engineers and planners at all levels of government and community, PCIC is one of Canada’s leading sources of evidence-based information on future climate change and impacts at the scales that are relevant for climate change adaptation. 

“The work that engineers and planners do is place-based,” Zwiers says. "They focus on communities, buildings, roads and bridges, etc, that are in specific places – so the challenge we try to tackle is to provide information that is as specific as possible for the place that is of concern. “Along with data portals, publication libraries, analysis tools and more, PCIC reaches a broad audience via scientific briefing papers that incorporate current peer-reviewed research findings into reports easily accessed by other scientists and the public. One such report, just as an example, expands on Jain et al’s “Observed increases in extreme fire weather driven by atmospheric humidity and temperature” in Nature Climate Change (2022).  

“[Jain et al’s] work underlines the importance of rising temperatures and relative humidity in the occurrence of extreme fire weather,” the briefing says, “and is consistent with attribution work on wildfire risk conducted at PCIC. These studies, led by PCIC, detected an anthropogenic influence on extreme fire risk.... Understanding the key drivers of fire weather will help the scientific community to better understand how extreme fire weather will change in the future. This understanding, in turn, will be helpful for informing fire management plans.” 

Working with governments to foster resilience 

PCIC scientists, Zwiers explains, have always had close interactions with multiple federal departments: Environment and Climate Change Canada, naturally; with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to help assess how future river flow and river water temperature may affect salmon in their freshwater habitat; and with the National Research Council to study how climate-sensitive building design criteria may change. 

Long-standing partnerships with provincial government agencies include the ministries of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, Transportation and Infrastructure, Forestry and now also include Emergency Management and Climate Readiness. As well, PCIC collaborates extensively with regional and local governments, and with BC Hydro and Power Authority, a Crown corporation responsible for generating, purchasing, distributing and selling electricity. Because the province of BC relies on hydroelectric power, the agency has a deep, pressing and growing need for the best hydrologic modelling for future water resources and availability. 

“BC Hydro needs authoritative modelling of basins across the province,” says Zwiers. “PCIC is an independent source of information, as well as collaborating with BC Hydro’s own hydrologic team.” In fact, he recently briefed the Crown Corporation’s executive team on climate change. 

One more example, of many, of an extensive collaborative service is the Western Arctic Weather Data service. Observations of weather and climate variables such as temperature and rainfall for the Northwest Territories and Yukon are collected in a PCIC-maintained database. On an interactive map, users can zoom and pan to a region, filter based on observation dates, weather element, observing agency, region and more. The list of agencies that provide data to PCIC for this program runs to more than two dozen, including the federal Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada and the Geological Survey of Canada; the regional Northwest Territories departments of Transportation and Environment and Natural Resources; Yukon Abandoned Mines, Yukon Water Resources, Yukon Wildland Fire Management; Ekati Diamond Mine; and many others in the private and public sectors. 

“The Western Arctic portal is a recent addition to the collection of services we provide,” Zwiers says, “but we also have a long-established portal for BC that provides access to weather data from almost 7000 locations across the province.”  

That portal is an important part of the province’s “Climate Related Monitoring Program” (CRMP), which is led by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy and coordinates across basically all agencies that collect weather data in BC. PCIC has the mandate to gather that data all in one place, make it public and utilize it for purposes like climate mapping.  

Zwiers says, “the BC and Western Arctic services are unique in Canada in terms of facilitating access to weather data from multiple sources all in one place.” 

Training Canada’s - and the world’s - climate professionals 

“The importance of our relationships with the users of climate information has become increasingly obvious as concern has mounted about the role that climate change plays in the occurrence and intensity of disasters like wildfires and floods,” Zwiers says. “And that makes another facet of PCIC’s work more timely and impactful: training of world-calibre scientists and professional development for engineers and scientists in the field.” 

In 2022, just as one example, PCIC provided a workshop for the Canadian Water Resources Association and the Canadian Society for Hydrological Sciences on working with future climate projections for hydrologic modelling. The online session introduced some of PCIC’s climate projections that are available for use in hydrologic modelling and introduced core concepts related to temperature and precipitation projections developed at PCIC, among other modelling topics. As with many PCIC educational sessions, the recording from this workshop is publicly available.  

A global reputation for engaged climate service and research 

PCIC’s stellar reputation attracts first-rate researchers. At any time, the roster might include statisticians like Zwiers, regional climate impacts specialists, an expert team of hydrologists, training and engagement specialists, a climate mapper, climate data specialists, programmers and IT experts. Many are early in their careers and bring fresh eyes, ideas and unique skills to the consortium for several years, then apply their expanded skill sets around the world in the private and public sector and in academia. Clearly, PCIC is a place to grow a career as well as the world’s knowledge about climate impacts – and how to manage them.