Climate Change Graphics Boutique

This post contains many climate data sets presented in graphical form about Central Alberta, the Sylvan Lake watershed, and the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.

Click on any graphic to enlarge it.

Two PowerPoint folders containing these graphics may be viewed online or downloaded from the SLWSS library:

Climate Change Graphics for Central Alberta and the World

Data are compiled on climate and weather variables that affect risk exposure of municipalities.

Cities as seen from space 

Optical satellite imagery of the Earth at night highlights urbanized areas that use power to illuminate cities, towns and villages.




Is There Evidence for Climate Change in the Sylvan Lake Watershed?

The book “Landscapes and Cycles” by Jim Steele, an authority on the ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada in California, makes a simple and obvious point about climate change: local climate variables, not global ones, drive locally observable climate change.

So, what do we know about those variables and the response of the Sylvan Lake watershed? Here are a few graphics that summarize facts from the official sources of weather and climate records:


Daily mean, maximum and minimum temperatures recorded at the Red Deer Airport are certified by Environment Canada.


Mean Temp 1994-2014

T Max-Min 1994-2014


Rain and snow are recorded as daily precipitation. This graph displays 20 years of accumulated precipitation measured at the Red Deer Airport. The slope is highly linear over the period with seasonal differences causing the annual fluctuations in rate.

Cum Precip 1994-2014

Interpolation of data from the Alberta Agriculture Hespero and other regional weather stations around Sylvan Lake, for six townships in which the watershed is located, shows that the annual rate of precipitation has remained constant since 1961. A climate change impact on precipitation is not significant.

50 Years of Precipitation

Wind Speed-Maximum Gusts

The Red Deer Airport records wind gusts above about 32 km/h. Data are missing from the Environment Canada record between 2003 and 2008. Overall no dominant trend in maximum wind gusts is apparent. Higher velocity winds occur periodically, especially when Low and High pressure systems in northwest Alberta combine to create strong NW flows.

Max Gust vs Date

This graph displays 20 years of wind gust data that show the dominant heavy air directions are NW (about 330 degrees) and SE (about 150 degrees).

Max Wind Gusts vs Dir

Sylvan Lake Level

The level of Sylvan Lake is measured continuously and reported in real time for station #05CC003 by the National Hydrometric Service of Environment Canada. Over the 24 year period 1990-2014 the lake level has varied between a low of about 936.5 and a high of 937.2 metres above sea level, a range of 0.7 metres. Note that more than 10 metres of precipitation fell on Sylvan Lake watershed during that 14 year period.

Sylvan Lake Level 1990-2014

A simple overview of data for the Sylvan Lake watershed is that the evidence for climate change, if any, is lost in the variability of the natural systems.

Editorial Comments on Global Climate Change

The explanation and adoption of global warming as the principal cause of climate change, and its dependence on CO2 emissions from anthropogenic sources, is questionable as the following analyses show:

This scatter plot of the Global Average Temperature anomaly for the Lower Troposphere (the layer of the atmosphere closest to the surface of the Earth’s land and oceans) as derived and reported monthly since 1979 from satellite data by the University of Alabama at Huntsville against CO2 measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii suggests that the relationship is a weak one according to the R-squared statistic.

Surprisingly, the S&P 500 stock exchange index data over the same period seems to correlate better with atmospheric CO2:

It seems that betting one’s personal investment portfolio or pension plan on the validity of predictions of climate change theory should not be recommended based on the implications of these two graphs.

Similarly, attribution of fluctuations in regional climate to tiny changes in Lower Troposphere temperatures does not seem justified today.


SLWSS Comments for the Public Hearing on the Amendment of the Birchcliff Land Use Bylaw #199/17

The Summer Village of Birchcliff has invited public comment on its review of several clauses of its land use bylaw that controls the size of structures and impermeable surfaces on private property. The SLWSS has provided these recommendations on the specific and more general aspects of land use regulation on October 13:


Limitation on the Impermeable Surface Footprint and Water Balance Management

Several Amendment clauses deal with arbitrary limits on the size of impermeable structures. From the stewardship perspective they require no compensation by the owner to maintain the natural water balance. That is, expansion of the area of buildings and of impervious paved surfaces that prevent infiltration of precipitation and alter surface flow of water is not offset by a requirement to ensure that those actions do not increase storm and surface water runoff into Sylvan Lake with its nutrient load and contamination.

Management of nutrient transfer into Sylvan Lake is an imperative. It has a high community economic penalty for neglect.

The Bylaw would benefit from adoption of best urban land use and stewardship practices that maintain the water balance on each property. Low Impact Development land use practices should be specified and included in applications for approval of land use changes.

Recommendations for Changes to Other Clauses in the master Bylaw 170/13.

When the remainder of Land Use Bylaw 170/13 is reviewed by the Birchcliff Council, the SLWSS notes that:

Several Land Use Bylaw Clauses have potential to reduce the impact of the Birchcliff Summer Village on Sylvan Lake, if effectively applied.

Alberta aerial surveys have shown that the Birchcliff shoreline is Moderately to Highly Impaired. The traditional approvals process has obviously not achieved the Summer Village and watershed community’s environmental and esthetic goals of conserving and protecting the Birchcliff lakeshore riparian zone and the onshore landscape.

An annual cumulative effects statement by the Birchcliff Summer Village on the effect of its municipally-regulated land use changes would help to record and demonstrate leadership on public accountability for any impacts on the Sylvan Lake watershed over time.


Three Decades of Sylvan Lake Water Quality Data

Alberta Environment and Parks archives historical water quality data for Sylvan Lake.

Click on this link for a pdf file of the composition of the lake water downloaded in October 2017.

Water Quality Data-Sylvan Lake- 2017-10

The N-P-K plant nutrient, chlorophyll, and Secchi disk data track the natural variability of Sylvan Lake.

As Sylvan Lake is a bathtub-like water body, some components like the conserved indicator ions sodium and chloride have become more concentrated over time as surface and groundwater, and fallout from the air, carry soluble substances into the lake, and evaporation removes water during the open water season

The effect of the watershed human population on lake water quality is demonstrated by the increasing concentrations of some ions that are introduced from diffuse contaminant sources such a winter road salting. As expected, the lab-measured specific conductance has increased slowly as the salinity of the lake has risen.

Sampling campaigns completed during the last two decades have been facilitated by Sylvan Lake Watershed Stewardship Society volunteers in partnership with the Alberta Lake Management Society field technicians. Partial funding in recent years was provided by the Sylvan Lake Management Committee, the RDRWA and Alberta Environment and Parks. The total cost of a May-to-October 5-day campaign is close to $10,000. Water quality monitoring is not free.

The President’s Annual Report for 2017

State of the Watershed Update

Two summary reports compiled by the Alberta Lake Management Society included Sylvan Lake water quality data collected during our 2016 campaign. Because of the low nutrient concentrations, which are  indicators of the potential for blooms of nuisance algae, Sylvan Lake is now ranked as oligotrophic, the lowest category of lake productivity. As phyto- and zoo-plankton are a critical part of the lake’s food chain we will now watch the condition of aquatic life more closely.

The boundary of the Sylvan Lake watershed as defined by Alberta Environment and Parks was acquired from the Alberta Lake Management Society in GIS file format. It is compared to other reference perimeters in this Google Earth Pro image. Watershed municipalities have not agreed on a legal boundary.

The SLWSS Cumulative Effects database is updated to include the most recent data reported by Alberta Municipal Affairs. The information is posted as a set of graphics without commentary. Apart from growth in the Town of Sylvan Lake, most variables remain stable. Data are converted to parameters/hectare to facilitate projections of the characteristics of a future more densely populated watershed.

Runoff, Precipitation and Water Balance in 2017

 Spring runoff is recorded in this music video of Golf Course Creek peak flow. It is usually an important event for transferring sediment and mobile soil constituents off the land into the lake, however this year’s version did not last long. Cumulative precipitation in 2017 measured at the Alberta Agriculture Hespero weather station is about 0.1 metre below the long term average. The 2017 level of Sylvan Lake dropped about 0.2 metres after July1 from lack of precipitation and water diversion by the Town of Sylvan Lake. Those observations mean that the water balance of the watershed is close to the historic norm.

That is so even with the AEP-regulated emergency practice of pumping crown-owned water from Sylvan Lake to carry treated sewage lagoon effluent through Cygnet Lake and into the Red Deer River. The impact of pumping on the lake volume is small, less than 0.4%, and comparable to the rate of withdrawal caused by natural evaporation rate that typically occurs after July 1.

Monitoring Land Use Changes

We monitor changes in land use with special attention to the Sylvan Lake shoreline. We converted video from the SRD  2007 helicopter survey to a streamable format that can now be viewed easily even on a smartphone. We considered commissioning a new drone survey, however high resolution Google Earth imagery is available for free. We confirm and document those aerial and satellite observations with ground and lake-level investigations to update risk assessments. For example, here is the latest “Juno Beach” landscaping look and a surprising Blissful Beach slope failure.

The Flipside Project

Sometimes we even have fun. We ran a lake water sampling demonstration for elementary school kids at the Flipside after-school clubhouse and simulated an on-the-water campaign on a miniature scale.

 Best Stewardship Practices for Boaters

Lake stewardship among boaters seems to fall well down their “to-do” list. Nevertheless, the diligent SLWSS Quiet Enjoyment Initiative team led by Kent Lyle continues to work with the watershed municipalities to educate boaters with brochures and signs about the need for respectful noise abatement. Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) has also urged boaters to Respect Our Lakes with new signage. Recreational lakes are receiving more AEP attention. The Society provided the Town of Sylvan Lake (TSL) with our opinion on subsidized boat launch access.

Risk to the Lake from the TSL West Area Development

On our watch list is the potential impact of the TSL’s new West Area Development on the quality and quantity of stormwater that runs off that land into Golf Course Creek then discharges into Sylvan Lake through Marina Bay. We evaluated the Water Balance methodology used by BC municipalities to model stormwater flows and concluded that the low probability of excessive lake contamination to cause chronic eutrophication did not justify a Society project expenditure of $10,000.

Wallpapering of the whole watershed with urban development would change the impact assessment considerably. A cumulative effects monitoring program is still required.

Contacts with Governments

We have reduced communications with municipalities and government agencies that do not add clear-cut benefits for the Society and our members. When the inter-municipal Sylvan Lake Management Committee reactivates the Cumulative Effects Management System project we will reassess our involvement. We continue to track watershed changes and report on watershed health indicators independently.

Alberta government agencies remain preoccupied with their internal affairs and have not been inclined to offer hands-on assistance to community stewardship groups like ours. We shared SLWSS accomplishments in this report to the 2017 Recreational Lakes community.

Algal Blooms Reduce Property Values

The following case history for Lake Erie shows how algal blooms have reduced real estate values and recreation uses. So keep your plant nutrients on shore on your own private property. We don’t need Blue/Green algae in Sylvan Lake:

Sign Logo 1-Transparent background

In a new study, researchers at The Ohio State University estimate algal blooms at two Ohio lakes cost Ohio homeowners $152 million in lost property value over six years.

Meanwhile, a related study suggests that algae is driving anglers away from Lake Erie, causing fishing license sales to drop at least 10 percent every time a bloom reaches a moderate level of health risk. Based on those numbers, a computer model projects that a severe, summer-long bloom would cause up to $5.6 million in lost fishing revenue and associated expenditures by anglers.

Those are the main findings from the first two studies ever to put a precise dollar value on algae impact, both on Lake Erie and two recreational lakes in Ohio. One study appears in the journal Ecological Economics, and the other in the Journal of Environmental Management.

“Our biggest takeaway is that efforts to prevent and mitigate algal blooms have real, tangible benefits for Ohioans, including property values,” said Allen Klaiber, associate professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics at Ohio State.

In the first study, he and doctoral student David Wolf found that property values near two algae-infested lakes in the state’s interior fell $152 million from 2009 to 2015. Sale prices for homes within one third of a mile of a lake fell 11 to 17 percent during that time, while prices for lake-adjacent homes fell more than 22 percent.

A number of additional factors that influence property values were included in the analysis to ensure that the observed losses in property values were directly attributable to changes in water quality. For example, seasonal trends in the housing market, differences in structural characteristics across homes, and spatially varying provision of public services such as school quality were all controlled for in the analysis.

Most of the losses were felt by residents around Buckeye Lake, just east of Columbus. There, residents collectively lost $101 million in home sales over six years. Grand Lake St. Marys in northwest Ohio felt a smaller but still significant loss of $51 million.

Turning to Lake Erie, the researchers teamed with doctoral student Will Georgic to examine state revenue from sport fishing, which contributes to a $1.7 billion tourism industry. They found that once algae levels reach a “moderate” threshold as described by the World Health Organization (WHO), fishing license sales within 12 miles of Lake Erie dropped 10 to 13 percent.

The researchers further simulated what would happen if a severe algal bloom — similar in extent to the one experienced in 2011 which covered 45 percent of the lake — struck Lake Erie today. In that case, the researchers projected that as many as 3,600 fewer recreational fishing licenses would be sold, and as much as $5.6 million in associated fishing expenditure would be lost in just one summer.

The researchers hope their work will give policymakers the information they need to address algae prevention and cleanup. For instance, the state of Ohio has already invested $26 million to clean up Grand Lake St. Marys, but that amount equals only a little more than half of the lost property value there.

The two studies are part of an ongoing project to gauge not only the costs and benefits of fighting algae, but also the public’s algae tolerance: how much is too much, before people decide to buy homes or go fishing elsewhere?

As it turns out, people have a pretty low tolerance for algae. They devalued a lake property the moment the Ohio EPA announced that the water was unsafe to drink — the lowest warning level by WHO standards — even though the lakes included in the study were recreational and weren’t used for drinking water. They began fishing elsewhere after the warning level rose to “moderate” risk for incidental ingestion of the water. In both cases, higher algae levels didn’t seem to matter.

Wolf summed it up this way: “What seemed to matter most for property value was simply whether the algae levels were perceptible at all, not how bad they got after they became perceptible.”

“People make decisions based on their perceptions, and they get their strongest perception of algae at the beginning, when they first see news stories about the water being unsafe to drink,” Klaiber said. “And that poses a real challenge, because once a lake has an algae problem, it’s really difficult to clean it up enough to make the algae imperceptible again. That’s why we think the biggest ‘bang for the buck’ in regards to state policies would come from preventing algae levels from becoming perceptible in the first place.”

For fishing, aesthetics definitely plays a role. At the “moderate” algae level, water becomes noticeably cloudy. And then there’s the smell.

“People say it smells like sewage or rotten eggs,” Wolf said. “You can’t miss it.”

“These are things that would not contribute positively to the aesthetics of your walleye trip,” Klaiber added.

Ohio is one of the first states to compile this kind of data, because the Ohio EPA set up a special working group in 2008 to take precise measures of algal levels in Lake Erie and all major inland lakes.

Further, Ohio is a “public disclosure” state, meaning that financial information for all property transfers and sales are publicly available. Most Ohio county auditors posts the data on their websites, making it easy for anyone to access.

Klaiber and Wolf stressed that they didn’t collect any information about who owned the houses they studied — just the property values, sale or transfer prices for properties that changed hands during the study period, and the distance from those properties to the affected lakes.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Ohio State University. Original written by Pam Frost Gorder. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal References:

  1. David Wolf, Will Georgic, H. Allen Klaiber. Reeling in the damages: Harmful algal blooms’ impact on Lake Erie’s recreational fishing industryJournal of Environmental Management, 2017; 199: 148 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.05.031
  2. David Wolf, H. Allen Klaiber. Bloom and bust: Toxic algae’s impact on nearby property valuesEcological Economics, 2017; 135: 209 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.12.007

SW-Julie O-Hann