Geography and climate

Nova Scotia is located in eastern Canada and has a land area is approximately 52,900 km2with a population of 921,727 in 2011 according to Statistics Canada. The province of Nova Scotia has a glacial history with characteristic features such as drumlins and surficial sediments (i.e. beaches). The weather is seasonal with ice (including shorefast ice) and snow for three to four months of the year. Nova Scotia also has been impacted by weak hurricanes, post tropical storms and nor’easters, a storm brought in from low pressure systems with winds out of the north east.

Map of Nova Scotia CountiesTotal annual precipitation is approximately 1300mm and the geology and slope leads to approximately 70% of that precipitation to runoff as surface water (Department for the Environment). As a result, the province of Nova Scotia has about 4% of the land area covered by fresh water (lakes, streams, wetlands etc.). The distribution of the freshwater coverage is not evenly distributed across the province, but rather there is a higher concentration of lakes in the southwestern region (Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History). Approximately half of Nova Scotia’s residential water supply comes from surface water which is generally of good quality but also monitored and tested by the Department for the Environment to ensure the safety and quality.

Socioeconomic and political issues

Nova Scotia has a diversity of activities and historical sites to offer as Canada’s Ocean Playground. Halifax is the capital city and main economic centre. Typical activities and industries operating in Nova Scotia include (in no particular order):

  • Government (national and provincial)
  • Military (Naval base in Halifax)
  • Tire Manufacturing (Michelin)
  • Banking – Halifax acts as the regional centre for the Atlantic Canadian provinces
  • Health Care – Halifax acts as the regional centre for the Atlantic Canadian provinces
  • Offshore Natural Gas
  • Ship Building
  • Education – there are 10 universities in the province

Main economic drivers in Nova Scotia are fishing and fish processing (including native fishery), tourism, with a focus on coastal areas such as fishing villages, nature, urban life, and culture. Other notable sectors are mining, aquaculture and information technology.

In Nova Scotia, tourism is a $1.8 billion industry, supporting more than 22,000 direct jobs for people across Nova Scotia (Long Term Strategy for Tourism). Visitor arrivals to the province have been on the decline in the last decade, while many of the visitors are return guests. To encourage more new visitors to the province, the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency (NSTA) was created in November 2012 as a collaborative initiative between the government and the industry (Long Term Strategy for Tourism).

Source market Total visitation
  Year to date 2012 Year to date 2011
Canada 1,382,200 1,349,400
USA 143,100 146,100


56,900 56,100

Source: Nova Scotia economic and rural development and tourism (2012).

The tourism industry hosts various festivals and events throughout the year to encourage visitors to attend and experience the many attractions the province has to offer. Food and craft events take place across Nova Scotia and Cape Breton with seasonal highlights including the maple syrup festivals in March and lobster festivals in the summer. The South Shore is known for its lighthouses, Peggy’s Cove coastal towns and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Town Lunenburg (Nova Scotia Tourism, 2012).

Natural resources and environment

Nova Scotia partners smiling at the camera at the beachNova Scotia has a diverse endowment of natural resources. Primary resource extraction occurs in relation to the mining industry with activities surrounding the removal of coal, gypsum and other non-metals. Secondary resource consumption in the forestry industry generates products such as pulp and paper. Natural gas supplies are available offshore and the potential exists for extraction on land as well. That said, the biggest industries in terms of economics and employment in Nova Scotia relate to the beautiful landscapes and seascapes which support a strong tourism industry. The marine resources provide opportunities for fishing, whale watching and the coastal area attracts tourists to the South-shore beaches and lighthouses.

Protection as an adaptation to coastal hazardsThe fishery in Nova Scotia harvests primarily lobster, crab, scallops, groundfish and herring at present. Aquaculture and inland fishing are also managed through programs under the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Nova Scotia also remains Canada largest exporter of seafood with total exports reaching nearly $975 million (Government of Nova Scotia, 2011). Nova Scotia fish processors produce a wide range of fresh, frozen and value-added products of world class standard from all 30 species of fish landed in the province (Government of Nova Scotia, 2011).

Fish catches in Atlantic Canada are monitored by the national Department of Fisheries and Oceans. In the table below it is evident the significance of the lobster industry for Nova Scotia and also the relative size of the Nova Scotia fishery when compared to neighbouring Prince Edward Island.

Compared to historic fish catches, the groundfish sector seems to have substituted catching hake for halibut. In 2000 hake generated $10,873, as compared to halibut $6,083 and hake has continued to generate less income for the province than the leading groundfish species, haddock and halibut. Many species exist as alternate ground fish, including cod – the infamous species of the Canadian fishing industry collapse. It is also evident that lobster and scallop catches can vary from one year to the next.

  Species Groundfish ($000) Pelagic ($000) Shellfish ($000)      
Year Province Haddock Halibut Herring Scallop* Lobster Queen Crab
2009 Nova Scotia 36,742 15,957 20,469 80,005 308,169 54,519
Prince Edward Island 0 146 3,865 785 69,033 7.609
2008 Nova Scotia 26,180 12,830 10,856 85,503 363,744 66,618
Prince Edward Island 0 57 3,062 796 95,387 11,633
2000 Nova Scotia 23,994 6,083 12,095 107,108 302,569 79,851
Prince Edward Island 0 55 4,712 1,838 91,842 6,926

*Scallop includes meat and roe

Source: Fisheries and Aquaculture (2011) Nova Scotia Commercial Fish Landings

Climate change vulnerability

Given that Nova Scotia’s economy is strongly linked to its natural resources, changes in environmental and climatic conditions will inevitably affect those industries. Changes and impacts are already noted throughout Atlantic Canada. “Key industries throughout the region such as forestry, farming, and fishing will definitely be affected and the warming trend will unquestionably have profound effects on the Bay of Fundy, its renewable resources, and those who live on its shores” (NB Climate Change Action Plan, 2007). In response to the concerns about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Nova Scotia released a Renewable Electricity Plan in 2010 with a commitment to increase renewable electricity sources by 25% by 2015 and 40% by 2020 (Government of Nova Scotia). This is just one of the items the energy sector committed to, however, given the significant portion of energy coming from coal in the province, this commitment is a notable effort to abate emissions while keeping the burden from impacting tax payers all at once.

Flooded streets with a road closed do not enter signClimate projections show that “Atlantic Canada will experience more storm events, increasing storm intensity, rising sea level, storm surges, coastal erosion and flooding” (Vasseur and Catto, 2008). Actions to adapt and mitigate these impacts are already underway. The majority of research has been conducted in association with the Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN) under the Regional Adaptation Collaborative (RAC) (2009-2012). Further work is being done by Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions (ACASA), which is a partnership between the four Atlantic provinces, their municipalities, planning and engineering associations and the Insurance Bureau of Canada. The purpose of this partnership is to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change and prepare the region for new climate trends. It has been acknowledged that climate change must be integrated into land-use planning, infrastructure design and maintenance and emergency management at the provincial, municipal and professional level (ACASA).

Many other initiatives are underway in the province. Resources and information on climate change impacts, projections, adaptation options and programs specific to Nova Scotia are available to the public via the Climate Change Nova Scotia portal.

CBVA study sites – Region of Queens Municipality and the District of Shelburne

Crowded beachThe south shore of Nova Scotia is part of the UNESCO Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve which was designed for three main purposes conservation, sustainable development and capacity building for research and education (Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve). This reserve also serves to promote the cultural heritage of the people from this region. The Mi’kmaq First Nations reside in this region and a rich Acadian culture is still maintained. Climate change threatens this area despite their efforts to live in balance with nature. Neighbouring communities (Lunenburg for example) have been assessed for both the physical hazards facing them and had vulnerability assessments conducted to identify some of the likely impacts as part of the RAC. These studies provide a review of the impacts from climate models that have been scaled down to the local level. The Community Based Vulnerability Assessment (CBVA) work under the ParCA project will perform similar assessments from a proven methodology but hopes to focus on communities that were outside the RAC work in order to provide locally specific impact projections and enable the most appropriate adaptation strategies for those communities in Queens and Sherburne.

The Region of Queens Municipality is made up of nearly 50 communities. The region has 220 km of coastline and there are national and provincial parks nearby. The region has a population of approximately 10,900 residents employed in various sectors (see table).

Workforce Number of residents employed
Forestry, Fishing, Agriculture and Hunting 395
Manufacturing 1,160
Health Care and Social Assistance 520
Retail 485
Tourism 600
Total 14,900
*figures from 2006 census

Source: Cruickshank, J. (2011) Region of Queens Municipality Community Profile. Department of Economic Development. Liverpool, NS.

The long coastline presents a risk from coastal flooding, storm surge and coastal erosion. While the southwest end of Nova Scotia has not experienced as many hurricanes as the rest of the province, the potential for hurricane impact still exists. Further research in this specific region is needed as the RAC research focused only on Halifax, Yarmouth and Liverpool.