Shoreline photos sought for Brock climate change study

Student researcher Meredith DeCock examines Lincoln’s Lake Ontario shoreline as part of her federally-funded research project. Photo courtesy of Brian Jaworsky

Brock University press release – Two years after storms and high water hammered the Town of Lincoln with flash floods and washed out roads, communities in the Great Lakes region continue to deal with record-breaking water levels.

This year, many of Lake Huron’s renowned beaches are reduced to shoreline footpaths. Commercial docks in the Thousand Islands are swamped and unusable. Residences along Lake Erie are threatened by eroding bluffs and shorelines.

In Niagara Region, Brock University researcher Meredith DeCock is working to determine just how much the Town of Lincoln’s Lake Ontario shoreline has changed, and what role climate change is playing in it.

But first, the Sustainability and Society master’s student needs help from the Niagara community.

DeCock is calling on the public to submit photos of the shoreline and surrounding area that will be used to recreate the coast through time and identify what caused its greatest impacts.

The study was made possible by the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, which she received last month from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Seventeen Brock graduate students were awarded $670,000 in SSHRC funding in July, along with 14 of the University’s researchers who received $1.3 million.

For DeCock’s study, photos from any year that show any segment of the Lincoln shoreline, its surrounding environment, and development, as well as destruction due to high water levels, are needed. Submissions will be accepted until Sept. 30/2019.

In addition to community submissions, DeCock is using historical aerial photographs and GIS software to calculate the shoreline’s physical changes over time. Photos throughout the years will help her determine which windows of time have seen the greatest change.

She will then look at how specific climatic and non-climatic factors could have influenced these changes.

“I’m interested in learning what may be responsible for the most significant changes to the shoreline,” DeCock said. “Is it climate or environmental change, or significant development in the area like the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Way?”

Working alongside her supervisor, Brock Biological Sciences Professor Liette Vasseur, and in conjunction with the Town of Lincoln, DeCock is part of a larger project funded by the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR) that is working with six coastal communities along the St. Lawrence Seaway to examine how they can deal with the impacts of climate change.

Lake Erie shoreline illustration“Meredith’s project fits wonderfully well with the spirit of the larger project of ecosystem-based adaptation for the Town of Lincoln,” Vasseur said. “We really hope this community-based approach can help people link their environment to the changes that are happening. Such a tool can have great potential for communicating with communities.”

DeCock plans to make the results of her research accessible to the public through an interactive web application that will also be used as a communication tool for the larger MEOPAR project.

“Studying the history of the shoreline is very important, but if we don’t use our findings to impact the future, then we are missing a huge opportunity,” she said. “I hope that by making the information available, we can positively impact future climate change adaptation decision-making.”

DeCock is also working with her MEOPAR project partners to create blog posts that will share information on the group’s efforts and climate change in general with the community. These posts will be available on  Brock’s UNESCO Chair website in the coming weeks.

She is thankful for the SSHRC funding that made her study possible.

“Sustainability science is solution-oriented,” she said. “To have the federal government support my research elevates the importance of what I am doing. Climate change is a globally urgent topic and to know that our government sees it as a priority helps me to know I am doing something important with my research.”