EOAS Faculty Provide Insight on Extreme Downpours and Landslides

November 25, 2021

EOAS faculty members Brett Gilley and Dr. Rachel White have been valuable contacts for national and global news outlets reporting on the damage wreaked by the record-breaking BC rainfall last week.

Last week's storm, following on the heels of multiple sustained heavy rainfalls in early November, was delivered by an atmospheric river – a long strip of moisture that rapidly transports water from warmer areas towards the poles. BC has experienced an unusual amount of atmospheric river events this season, as Dr. White, a researcher of large-scale atmospheric dynamics, explains in an interview with CTV News. In other interviews with the BBC and The New York Times, she stresses that global warming has made atmospheric rivers, and the natural disasters they cause, more and more common. "As we warm up the atmosphere, as we warm up the oceans - more water is evaporated…essentially the atmosphere can carry more water towards our mountains."

This water – delivering the equivalent of the region’s monthly rainfall in just over 24 hours – caused flooding and landslides that sent the British Columbia government into a state of emergency.

As Associate Professor and natural disaster specialist Brett Gilley explained to Global News during a recent interview, other fallouts of global warming have a compounding effect on landslides triggered by the rainfall. BC’s heavy forest fire season weakened soil, while this past summer’s intense heat dome weakened tree roots that play a crucial role in slope stability. Already a landslide-prone province due to its mountainous nature, huge volumes of precipitation sent many of these compromised slopes crashing down onto BC’s highways and bridges.

CKNW’s Jas Johal interviewed Gilley on how to protect infrastructure from future landslides – often a balancing act of targeting problematic areas using limited resources. As he describes to the Vancouver Sun, applying these protective measures can be complicated by matters of funding and policy. Despite this, he sees replacing buried roads and washed-away bridges as an opportunity to build infrastructure better equipped for a future where a changing climate will make natural disasters more common.