The Agricultural Potential of Northwestern Canada and Alaska and the Impact of Climatic Change
Climate change studies have indicated the potential for increased drought in the southern Canadian prairies, and with this the potential exists for a northward shift in agricultural production areas. In order to assess the potential for agriculture, the arable soils of northwestern Canada (approximately north and west of 55 N latitude and 110 W longitude) and Alaska were summarized. The study area was divided into several sub-regions or major land resource areas (MLRA) within which the soils with potential for agricultural use were identified through existing soil surveys. These surveys indicate an area of greater than 57 M hectares (Ha) of potentially arable land, which could be used for either annual cropping or grazing on perennial forages, according to the Canada Land Inventory class 1-5 criteria. The climatic limitations for each MLRA were assessed separately through the use of Climate Classification Software. These limitations were then applied to the 57 M Ha of potentially arable land identified earlier, with the result that the area was rated as overall class 5 climate, limited primarily by heat, and the size of the area was reduced to 39.2 M Ha. The impact of a 2 x CO2 changed climate on this area was then assessed by the use of climatic data generated with the Canadian Climate Centre, Global Circulation Model. These data show a much improved climatic capability for agriculture, being substantially warmer and somewhat drier. The overall climate class increased to a rating of 3, and 55.3 M Ha of arable land were shown to be potentially available in the study area.
Key words: climate change, agriculture, soil, resource assessment, northwestern Canada, Alaska