GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A STAT

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GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A STAT

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:33 pm

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A STATE OF KNOWLEDGE REPORT FROM THE U.S. GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PROGRAM
by U.S. Global Change Research Program. Authors: David M. Anderson, Donald F. Boesch, Virginia R. Burkett, Lynne M. Carter, Stewart J. Cohen, Nancy B. Grimm, Jerry L. Hatfield, Katharine Hayhoe, Anthony C. Janetos, Jack A. Kaye, Jay H. Lawrimore, James J. McCarthy, A. David McGuire, Edward L. Miles, Evan Mills, Jonathan T. Overpeck, Jonathan A. Patz, Roger S. Pulwarty, Benjamin D. Santer, Michael J. Savonis, H. Gerry Schwartz, Jr., Eileen L. Shea, John M.R. Stone, Bradley H. Udall, John E. Walsh, Michael F. Wehner, Thomas J. Wilbanks, Donald J. Wuebbles
June, 2009

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Table of Contents:

• Opening Pages
• About this Report
• Executive Summary
• Global Climate Change
• National Climate Change
• Climate Change Impacts by Sector
o Water Resources
o Energy Supply and Use
o Transportation
o Agriculture
o Ecosystems
o Human Health
o Society
• Regional Climate Change Impacts
o Northeast
o Southeast
o Midwest
o Great Plains
o Southwest
o Northwest
o Alaska
o Islands
o Coasts
• An Agenda for Climate Impacts Science
• Concluding Thoughts
• Author Team Biographies
• Primary Sources of Information
• Acronyms and Abbreviations
• References
• Photo and Figure Credits


The projected rapid rate and large amount of climate change over this century will challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt.
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800,000 Year Record of Carbon Dioxide Concentration
Analysis of air bubbles trapped in an Antarctic ice core extending back 800,000 years documents the Earth’s changing carbon dioxide concentration. Over this long period, natural factors have caused the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to vary within a range of about 170 to 300 parts per million (ppm). Temperature-related data make clear that these variations have played a central role in determining the global climate. As a result of human activities, the present carbon dioxide concentration of about 385 ppm is about 30 percent above its highest level over at least the last 800,000 years. In the absence of strong control measures, emissions projected for this century would result in the carbon dioxide concentration increasing to a level that is roughly 2 to 3 times the highest level occurring over the glacial-interglacial era that spans the last 800,000 or more years.
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Global emissions of carbon dioxide have been accelerating. The growth rate increased from 1.3 percent per year in the 1990s to 3.3 percent per year between 2000 and 2006. The increasing emissions of carbon dioxide are the primary cause of the increased concentration of carbon dioxide observed in the atmosphere. There is also evidence that a smaller fraction of the annual human-induced emissions is now being taken up than in the past, leading to a greater fraction remaining in the atmosphere and an accelerating rate of increase in the carbon dioxide concentration.
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As the carbon dioxide concentration in the air increases, more carbon dioxide is absorbed into the world’s oceans, leading to their acidification. This makes less calcium carbonate available for corals and other sea life to build their skeletons and shells. If carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise and the resulting acidification proceeds, eventually, corals and other ocean life that rely on calcium carbonate will not be able to build these skeletons and shells at all. ... Under projections for the future, it is very unlikely that calcium carbonate saturation levels will be adequate to support coral reefs in any U.S. waters.
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The warming trend that is apparent in all of these temperature records is confirmed by other independent observations, such as the melting of Arctic sea ice, the retreat of mountain glaciers on every continent, reductions in the extent of snow cover, earlier blooming of plants in spring, and increased melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Because snow and ice reflect the Sun’s heat, this melting causes more heat to be absorbed, which causes more melting, resulting in another feedback loop.
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After at least 2,000 years of little change, sea level rose by roughly 8 inches over the past century. Satellite data available over the past 15 years show sea level rising at a rate roughly double the rate observed over the past century.
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The Earth has major ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica. These ice sheets are currently losing ice volume by increased melting and calving of icebergs, contributing to sea-level rise. The Greenland Ice Sheet has also been experiencing record amounts of surface melting, and a large increase in the rate of mass loss in the past decade. If the entire Greenland Ice Sheet melted, it would raise sea level by about 20 feet. The Antarctic Ice Sheet consists of two portions, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the more vulnerable to melting of the two, contains enough water to raise global sea levels by about 16 to 20 feet. If the East Antarctic Ice Sheet melted entirely, it would raise global sea level by about 200 feet. Complete melting of these ice sheets over this century or the next is thought to be virtually impossible, although past climate records provide precedent for very significant decreases in ice volume, and therefore increases in sea level.
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The observed changes in some climate variables, such as Arctic sea ice, some aspects of precipitation, and patterns of surface pressure, appear to be proceeding much more rapidly than models have projected. The reasons for these differences are not well understood.
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Rapid ice sheet collapse with related sea-level rise is another type of abrupt change that is not well understood or modeled and that poses a risk for the future. Recent observations show that melting on the surface of an ice sheet produces water that flows down through large cracks that create conduits through the ice to the base of the ice sheet where it lubricates ice previously frozen to the rock below. Further, the interaction with warm ocean water, where ice meets the sea, can lead to sudden losses in ice mass and accompanying rapid global sea-level rise. Observations indicate that ice loss has increased dramatically over the last decade, though scientists are not yet confident that they can project how the ice sheets will respond in the future.

There are also concerns regarding the potential for abrupt release of methane from thawing of frozen soils, from the sea floor, and from wetlands in the tropics and the Arctic. While analyses suggest that an abrupt release of methane is very unlikely to occur within 100 years, it is very likely that warming will accelerate the pace of chronic methane emissions from these sources, potentially increasing the rate of global temperature rise.

A third major area of concern regarding possible abrupt change involves the operation of the ocean currents that transport vast quantities of heat around the globe. One branch of the ocean circulation is in the North Atlantic. In this region, warm water flows northward from the tropics to the North Atlantic in the upper layer of the ocean, while cold water flows back from the North Atlantic to the tropics in the ocean’s deep layers, creating a “conveyor belt” for heat. Changes in this circulation have profound impacts on the global climate system, from changes in African and Indian monsoon rainfall, to atmospheric circulation relevant to hurricanes, to changes in climate over North America and Western Europe.

Recent findings indicate that it is very likely that the strength of this North Atlantic circulation will decrease over the course of this century in response to increasing greenhouse gases. This is expected because warming increases the melting of glaciers and ice sheets and the resulting runoff of freshwater to the sea. This additional water is virtually salt-free, which makes it less dense than sea water. Increased precipitation also contributes fresh, less-dense water to the ocean. As a result, less surface water is dense enough to sink, thereby reducing the conveyor belt’s transport of heat. The best estimate is that the strength of this circulation will decrease 25 to 30 percent in this century, leading to a reduction in heat transfer to the North Atlantic. It is considered very unlikely that this circulation would collapse entirely during the next 100 years or so, though it cannot be ruled out. While very unlikely, the potential consequences of such an abrupt event would be severe.
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When human influences are removed from the model experiments, results suggest that the surface of the Earth would actually have cooled slightly over the last 50 years.
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The IPCC emission scenarios also do not encompass the full range of possible futures: emissions can change less than those scenarios imply, or they can change more. Recent carbon dioxide emissions are, in fact, above the highest emissions scenario developed by the IPCC. Whether this will continue is uncertain.
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By the end of the century, the average U.S. temperature is projected to increase by approximately 7 to 11°F under the higher emissions scenario and by approximately 4 to 6.5°F under the lower emissions scenario. ... A variety of research studies suggest that a further 2°F increase (relative to the 1980-1999 period) would lead to severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts.
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Scenarios that stabilize carbon dioxide below 450 ppm offer an increased chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.
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Generally, higher latitudes are projected to receive more precipitation, while the dry belt that lies just outside the tropics expands further poleward, and also receives less rain. Increases in tropical precipitation are projected during rainy seasons (such as monsoons), and especially over the tropical Pacific. Certain regions, including the U.S. West (especially the Southwest) and the Mediterranean, are expected to become drier. The widespread trend toward more heavy downpours is expected to continue, with precipitation becoming less frequent but more intense. More precipitation is expected to fall as rain rather than snow.
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Global Increase in Heavy Precipitation 1900 to 2100
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If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, by the 2040s more than half of European summers will be hotter than the summer of 2003, and by the end of this century, a summer as hot as that of 2003 will be considered unusually cool.
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There is also the possibility of even larger changes in climate than current scenarios and models project. Not all changes in the climate are gradual. The long record of climate found in ice cores, tree rings, and other natural records show that Earth’s climate patterns have undergone rapid shifts from one stable state to another within as short a period as a decade. The occurrence of abrupt changes in climate becomes increasingly likely as the human disturbance of the climate system grows. Such changes can occur so rapidly that they would challenge the ability of human and natural systems to adapt.|
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U.S. average temperature has risen more than 2ºF over the past 50 years ... National temperatures vary much more than global temperatures, in part because of the moderating influence of the oceans on global temperatures.
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Over the past 30 years, temperatures have risen faster in winter than in any other season, with average winter temperatures in the Midwest and northern Great Plains increasing more than 7ºF. ... On a seasonal basis, most of the United States is projected to experience greater warming in summer than in winter, [???] while Alaska experiences far more warming in winter than summer.
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The number of days with high temperatures above 90°F is projected to increase throughout the country. Parts of the South that currently have about 60 days per year with temperatures over 90°F are projected to experience 150 or more days a year above 90°F by the end of this century, under a higher emissions scenario.
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Sea ice is a very important part of the climate system. In addition to direct impacts on coastal areas of Alaska, it more broadly affects surface reflectivity, ocean currents, cloudiness, humidity, and the exchange of heat and moisture at the ocean’s surface. Open ocean water is darker in color than sea ice, which causes it to absorb more of the Sun’s heat, which increases the warming of the water even more. ... Arctic sea ice extent has fallen at a rate of 3 to 4 percent per decade over the last three decades. End-of-summer Arctic sea ice has fallen at an even faster rate of more than 11 percent per decade in that time. The observed decline in Arctic sea ice has been more rapid than projected by climate models. ... clear linkages between rising greenhouse gas concentrations and declines in Arctic sea ice have been identified in the climate record as far back as the early 1990s. The extreme loss in Arctic sea ice that occurred in 2007 would not have been possible without the long-term reductions that have coincided with a sustained increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and the rapid rise in global temperatures that have occurred since the mid-1970s. The total volume of Arctic sea ice in 2008 was likely a record low because the ice was unusually thin.
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Since the industrial revolution, the United States has been the world’s largest emitter of heat-trapping gases. With 4.5 percent of world's population, the United States is responsible for about 28 percent of the human-induced heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere today.
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Fires release carbon dioxide, so years with many large fires result in more carbon release and less uptake as natural sinks (the vegetation) are lost. Similarly, the trees destroyed by intense storms or droughts release carbon dioxide as they decompose, and the loss results in reduced strength of natural sinks until regrowth is well underway. For example, Hurricane Katrina killed or severely damaged over 320 million large trees. As these trees decompose over the next few years, they will release an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that taken up by all U.S. forests in a year.
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Increased air temperatures lead to higher water temperatures, which have already been detected in many streams, especially during low-flow periods. In lakes and reservoirs, higher water temperatures lead to longer periods of summer stratification (when surface and bottom waters do not mix). Dissolved oxygen is reduced in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers at higher temperatures. Oxygen is an essential resource for many living things, and its availability is reduced at higher temperatures both because the amount that can be dissolved in water is lower and because respiration rates of living things are higher. Low oxygen stresses aquatic animals such as coldwater fish and the insects and crustaceans on which they feed. Lower oxygen levels also decrease the self-purification capabilities of rivers.

The negative effects of water pollution, including sediments, nitrogen from agriculture, disease pathogens, pesticides, herbicides, salt, and thermal pollution, will be amplified by observed and projected increases in precipitation intensity and longer periods when streamflows are low. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects the number of waterways considered “impaired” by water pollution to increase. Heavy downpours lead to increased sediment in runoff and outbreaks of waterborne diseases. Increases in pollution carried to lakes, estuaries, and the coastal ocean, especially when coupled with increased temperature, can result in blooms of harmful algae and bacteria.
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Sea-level rise is expected to increase saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater aquifers, making some unusable without desalination. Increased evaporation or reduced recharge into coastal aquifers exacerbates saltwater intrusion. ... Desalination requires large amounts of energy to produce freshwater.
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The interface between streams and groundwater is an important site for pollution removal by microorganisms. Their activity will change in response to increased temperature and increased or decreased streamflow as climate changes, and this will affect water quality. Like water quality, research on the impacts of climate change on groundwater has been minimal.
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The nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure is aging. In older cities, some buried water mains are over 100 years old and breaks of these lines are a significant problem. Sewer overflows resulting in the discharge of untreated wastewater also occur frequently. Heavier downpours will exacerbate existing problems in many cities, especially where storm-water catchments and sewers are combined.
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Higher temperatures and longer dry periods are expected to lead to increased water demand for irrigation. ... Higher temperatures are projected to increase cooling water withdrawals by electrical generating stations. In addition, greater cooling requirements in summer will increase electricity use, which in turn will require more cooling water for power plants. ... in addition to cooling, air conditioners also remove moisture from the air; thus the increase in humidity projected to accompany global warming is likely to increase electricity consumption by air conditioners even further. ...The demand for cooling energy increases from 5 to 20 percent per 1.8°F of warming.
... Withdrawals of freshwater used to cool power plants that use heat to generate electricity are very large, nearly equaling the water withdrawn for irrigation. Water consumption by power plants is about 20 percent of all non-agricultural uses, or half that of all domestic use.

In the water sector, two very unusual attributes of water, significant weight due to its relatively high density, and high heat capacity, make water use energy intensive. Large amounts of energy are needed for pumping, heating, and treating drinking water and wastewater. Water supply and treatment consumes roughly 4 percent of the nation’s power supply, and electricity accounts for about 75 percent of the cost of municipal water processing and transport. In California, 30 percent of all non-power plant natural gas is used for water-related activities.

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The ability to modify operational rules and water allocations is likely to be critical for the protection of infrastructure, for public safety, to ensure reliability of water delivery, and to protect the environment. There are, however, many institutional and legal barriers to such changes in both the short and long term. ... [For example], conserving water does not necessarily lead to a right to that saved water, thus creating a disincentive for conservation.
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U.S. energy supply is dominated by fossil fuels. Petroleum, the top source of energy shown above, is primarily used for transportation (70 percent of oil use).
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An estimated 60,000 miles of coastal highway are already exposed to periodic flooding from coastal storms and high waves. Some of these highways currently serve as evacuation routes during hurricanes and other coastal storms, and these routes could become seriously compromised in the future.
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The loss of coastal wetlands and barrier islands will lead to further coastal erosion due to the loss of natural protection from wave action.
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Regional Spotlight: New York Metropolitan Area: With the potential for significant sea-level rise estimated under continued high levels of emissions, the combined effects of sea-level rise and storm surge are projected to increase the frequency of flooding. What is currently called a 100-year storm is projected to occur as often as every 10 years by late this century. Portions of lower Manhattan and coastal areas of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Nassau County, would experience a marked increase in flooding frequency. Much of the critical transportation infrastructure, including tunnels, subways, and airports, lies well within the range of projected storm surge and would be flooded during such events.
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Heavy downpours have already increased substantially in the United States; the heaviest 1 percent of precipitation events increased by 20 percent, while total precipitation increased by only 7 percent over the past century. Such intense precipitation is likely to increase the frequency and severity of events such as the Great Flood of 1993, which caused catastrophic flooding along 500 miles of the Mississippi and Missouri river system, paralyzing surface transportation systems, including rail, truck, and marine traffic. Major east-west traffic was halted for roughly six weeks in an area stretching from St. Louis, Missouri, west to Kansas City, Missouri and north to Chicago, Illinois, affecting one-quarter of all U.S. freight, which either originated or terminated in the flood-affected region.
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Pipelines are likely to be damaged because intense precipitation can cause the ground to sink underneath the pipeline; in shallow river-beds, pipelines are more exposed to the elements and can be subject to scouring and shifting due to heavy precipitation.
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Changes in silt and debris buildup resulting from extreme precipitation events will affect channel depth, increasing dredging costs.
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Longer periods of extreme heat in summer can damage roads in several ways, including softening of asphalt that leads to rutting from heavy traffic. Sustained air temperature over 90°F is a significant threshold for such problems. Extreme heat can cause deformities in rail tracks, at minimum resulting in speed restrictions and, at worst, causing derailments. Extreme heat also causes thermal expansion of bridge joints, adversely affecting bridge operations and increasing maintenance costs. ... Increases in very hot days and heat waves are expected to limit construction activities due to health and safety concerns for highway workers.
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Earlier spring snowmelt leads to increased number of forest fires. ... Wildfires are projected to increase, especially in the Southwest. ... There is also increased susceptibility to mudslides in areas deforested by wildfires.
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If low water levels become more common because of drier conditions due to climate change, this could create problems for river traffic, reminiscent of the stranding of more than 4,000 barges on the Mississippi River during the drought in 1988. Freight movements in the region could be seriously impaired, and extensive dredging could be required to keep shipping channels open.
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Extreme heat also affects aircraft lift; because hotter air is less dense, it reduces the lift produced by the wing and the thrust produced by the engine – problems exacerbated at high altitudes and high temperatures. As a result, planes need to take off faster, and if runways are not sufficiently long for aircraft to build up enough speed to generate lift, aircraft weight must be reduced. Thus, increases in extreme heat will result in payload restrictions, could cause flight cancellations and service disruptions at affected airports, and could require some airports to lengthen runways.
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There will be a greater probability of infrastructure failures such as highway and rail bridge decks being displaced and railroad tracks being washed away. Storms leave debris on roads and rail lines, which can damage the infrastructure and interrupt travel and shipments of goods. In Louisiana, the Department of Transportation and Development spent $74 million for debris removal alone in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Mississippi Department of Transportation expected to spend in excess of $1 billion to replace the Biloxi and Bay St. Louis bridges, repair other portions of roadway, and remove debris.
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Over the past 50 years, Alaska has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States’ average. Its annual average temperature has increased 3.4°F, while winters have warmed even more, by 6.3°F.501 As a result, climate change impacts are much more pronounced than in other regions of the United States.
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The grain-filling period (the time when the seed grows and matures) of wheat and other small grains shortens dramatically with rising temperatures. Analysis of crop responses suggests that even moderate increases in temperature will decrease yields of corn, wheat, sorghum, bean, rice, cotton, and peanut crops.

Some crops are particularly sensitive to high nighttime temperatures, which have been rising even faster than daytime temperatures. Nighttime temperatures are expected to continue to rise in the future. These changes in temperature are especially critical to the reproductive phase of growth because warm nights increase the respiration rate and reduce the amount of carbon that is captured during the day by photosynthesis to be retained in the fruit or grain. Further, as temperatures continue to rise and drought periods increase, crops will be more frequently exposed to temperature thresholds at which pollination and grain-set processes begin to fail and quality of vegetable crops decreases. Grain, soybean, and canola crops have relatively low optimal temperatures, and thus will have reduced yields and will increasingly begin to experience failure as warming proceeds. Common snap beans show substantial yield reduction when nighttime temperatures exceed 80°F.

Higher temperatures will mean a longer growing season for crops that do well in the heat, such as melon, okra, and sweet potato, but a shorter growing season for crops more suited to cooler conditions, such as potato, lettuce, broccoli, and spinach. Higher temperatures also cause plants to use more water to keep cool. But fruits, vegetables, and grains can suffer even under well-watered conditions if temperatures exceed the maximum level for pollen viability in a particular plant; if temperatures exceed the threshold for that plant, it won’t produce seed and so it won’t reproduce.
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Fruits that require long winter chilling periods will experience declines. Many varieties of fruits (such as popular varieties of apples and berries) require between 400 and 1,800 cumulative hours below 45°F each winter to produce abundant yields the following summer and fall. By late this century, under higher emissions scenarios, winter temperatures in many important fruit-producing regions such as the Northeast will be too consistently warm to meet these requirements. Cranberries have a particularly high chilling requirement, and there are no known low-chill varieties. Massachusetts and New Jersey supply nearly half the nation’s cranberry crop. By the middle of this century, under higher emissions scenarios, it is unlikely that these areas will support cranberry production due to a lack of the winter chilling they need.
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Ground-level ozone (a component of smog) is an air pollutant that is formed when nitrogen oxides emitted from fossil fuel burning interact with other compounds, such as unburned gasoline vapors, in the atmosphere, in the presence of sunlight. Higher air temperatures result in greater concentrations of ozone. Ozone levels at the land surface have risen in rural areas of the United States over the past 50 years, and they are forecast to continue increasing with warming, especially under higher emissions scenarios. Plants are sensitive to ozone, and crop yields are reduced as ozone levels increase. Some crops that are particularly sensitive to ozone pollution include soybeans, wheat, oats, green beans, peppers, and some types of cotton.
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Mild winters and warm, early springs, which are beginning to occur more frequently as climate warms, induce premature plant development and blooming, resulting in exposure of vulnerable young plants and plant tissues to subsequent late-season frosts. ... reduced snow cover leaves young plants unprotected from spring frosts.
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Storms with heavy rainfall often are accompanied by wind gusts, and both strong winds and rain can flatten crops, causing significant damage. Vegetable and fruit crops are sensitive to even short-term, minor stresses, and as such are particularly vulnerable to weather extremes.
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Crop diseases in general are likely to increase as earlier springs and warmer winters allow proliferation and higher survival rates of disease pathogens and parasites.
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Poison ivy thrives in air with extra carbon dioxide in it, growing bigger and producing a more toxic form of the oil, urushiol, which causes painful skin reactions in 80 percent of people.
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Farmers are likely to respond to more aggressive and invasive weeds, insects, and pathogens with increased use of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Where increases in water and chemical inputs become necessary, this will increase costs for the farmer, as well as having society-wide impacts by depleting water supply, increasing reactive nitrogen and pesticide loads to the environment, and increasing risks to food safety and human exposure to pesticides.|
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On shortgrass prairie, a carbon dioxide enrichment experiment reduced the protein concentration of autumn forage below critical maintenance levels for livestock in 3 out of 4 years and reduced the digestibility of forage by 14 percent in mid-summer and by 10 percent in autumn.
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Temperature and humidity interact to cause stress in animals, just as in humans; the higher the heat and humidity, the greater the stress and discomfort, and the larger the reduction in the animals’ ability to produce milk, gain weight, and reproduce. ... Nighttime recovery is an essential element of survival when livestock are stressed by extreme heat. A feature of recent heat waves is the lack of nighttime relief. Large numbers of deaths have occurred in recent heat waves, with individual states reporting losses of 5,000 head of cattle in a single heat wave in one summer. ... Heat stress reduces animals’ ability to cope with other stresses, such as diseases and parasites.
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Butterfly Range Shifts Northward: ... Because their change in range is slow, most species are not expected to be able to keep up with the rapid climate change projected in the coming decades. ... A study of Edith’s checkerspot butterfly showed that 40 percent of the populations below 2,400 feet have gone extinct, despite the availability of otherwise suitable habitat and food supply. ... For butterflies, birds, and other species, one of the concerns with such changes in geographic range and timing of migration is the potential for mismatches between species and the resources they need to survive.
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Forest tree species also are expected to shift their ranges northward and upslope in response to climate change. ... In the United States, some common forests types are projected to expand, such as oak-hickory; others are projected to contract, such as maple-beech-birch. Still others, such as spruce-fir, are likely to disappear from the United States altogether. ... In the Northeast, under a mid-range warming scenario, the currently dominant maple-beech-birch forest type is projected to be completely displaced by other forest types in a warmer future. ... In Alaska, vegetation changes are already underway due to warming. Tree line is shifting northward into tundra, encroaching on the habitat for many migratory birds and land animals such as caribou that depend on the open tundra landscape.
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It is not surprising that marine species in U.S. waters are moving northward and that the timing of plankton blooms is shifting. Extensive shifts in the ranges and distributions of both warmwater and coldwater species of fish have been documented.

As warming drives changes in timing and geographic ranges for various species, it is important to note that entire communities of species do not shift intact. Rather, the range and timing of each species shifts in response to its sensitivity to climate change, its mobility, its lifespan, and the availability of the resources it needs (such as soil, moisture, food, and shelter). The speed with which species can shift their ranges is influenced by factors including their size, lifespan, and seed dispersal techniques in plants. In addition, migratory pathways must be available, such as northward flowing rivers which serve as conduits for fish. Some migratory pathways may be blocked by development and habitat fragmentation. All of these variations result in the breakup of existing ecosystems and formation of new ones, with unknown consequences.
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that if a warming of 3.5 to 5.5°F occurs, 20 to 30 percent of species that have been studied would be in climate zones that are far outside of their current ranges, and would therefore likely be at risk of extinction.
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Deserts in the United States are also projected to expand to the north, east, and upward in elevation in response to projected warming and associated changes in climate.
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Perhaps most vulnerable of all to the impacts of warming are Arctic ecosystems that rely on sea ice, which is vanishing rapidly and is projected to disappear entirely in summertime within this century. Algae that bloom on the underside of the sea ice form the base of a food web linking microscopic animals and fish to seals, whales, polar bears, and people. As the sea ice disappears, so too do these algae. The ice also provides a vital platform for ice-dependent seals (such as the ringed seal) to give birth, nurse their pups, and rest. Polar bears use the ice as a platform from which to hunt their prey. The walrus rests on the ice near the continental shelf between its dives to eat clams and other shellfish. As the ice edge retreats away from the shelves to deeper areas, there will be no clams nearby.
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Fewer wildflowers are projected to grace the slopes of the Rocky Mountains as global warming causes earlier spring snowmelt. Larkspur, aspen fleabane, and aspen sunflower grow at an altitude of about 9,500 feet where the winter snows are deep. Once the snow melts, the flowers form buds and prepare to bloom. But warmer springs mean that the snow melts earlier, leaving the buds exposed to frost. (The percentage of buds that were frosted has doubled over the past decade.) Frost does not kill the plants, but it does make them unable to seed and reproduce, meaning there will be no next generation. Insects and other animal species depend on the flowers for food, and other species depend on those species, so the loss is likely to propagate through the food chain.
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As precipitation increasingly falls as rain rather than snow, it feeds floods that wash away salmon eggs incubating in the streambed. Warmer water leads eggs to hatch earlier in the year, so the young are smaller and more vulnerable to predators. Warmer conditions increase the fish’s metabolism, taking energy away from growth and forcing the fish to find more food, but earlier hatching of eggs could put them out of sync with the insects they eat. ... Studies suggest that up to 40 percent of Northwest salmon populations may be lost by 2050.

Over half of the wild trout populations are likely to disappear from the southern Appalachian Mountains because of the effects of rising stream temperatures. Losses of western trout populations may exceed 60 percent in certain regions. About 90 percent of bull trout, which live in western rivers in some of the country’s most wild places, are projected to be lost due to warming. ... Projected losses of trout habitat for some warmer states, such as North Carolina and Virginia, are up to 90 percent.
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Most wild Pacific salmon populations are extinct or imperiled in 56 percent of their historical range in the Northwest and California, and populations are down more than 90 percent in the Columbia River system. Many species are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Studies suggest that about one-third of the current habitat for the Northwest’s salmon and other coldwater fish will no longer be suitable for them by the end of this century as key temperature thresholds are exceeded.
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Heavy rains can lead to flooding, which can cause health impacts including direct injuries as well as increased incidence of waterborne diseases due to pathogens such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Downpours can trigger sewage overflows, contaminating drinking water and endangering beachgoers. The consequences will be particularly severe in the roughly 770 U.S. cities and towns, including New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, that have “combined sewer systems;” an older design that carries storm water and sewage in the same pipes.During heavy rains, these raw sewage spills into lakes or waterways, including drinking-water supplies and places where people swim.

In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a policy that mandates that communities substantially reduce or eliminate their combined sewer overflow, but this mandate remains unfulfilled.
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The urban heat island effect has raised average urban air temperatures by 2 to 5°F more than surrounding areas over the past 100 years, and by up to 20°F more at night.
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In lakes with contaminated sediment, warmer water and low-oxygen conditions can more readily mobilize mercury and other persistent pollutants. In such cases, where these increasing quantities of contaminants are taken up in the aquatic food chain, there will be additional potential for health hazards for species that eat fish from the lakes, including people.
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In the Cascade Mountains, April 1 snowpack declined by an average of 25 percent, with some areas experiencing up to 60 percent declines.

-- Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States: A State of Knowledge Report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:37 pm

Opening Pages

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he full report can be found online at www.globalchange.gov/usimpacts

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This report was produced by an advisory committee chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, for the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, and at the request of the U.S. Government. Therefore, the report is in the public domain. Some materials used in the report are copyrighted and permission was granted to the U.S. government for their publication in this report. For subsequent uses that include such copyrighted materials, permission for reproduction must be sought from the copyright holder. In all cases, credit must be given for copyrighted materials.

First published 2009

Printed in the United States of America

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978-0-521-14407-0 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Information regarding prices, travel timetables, and other factual information given in this work are correct at the time of first printing, but Cambridge University Press does not guarantee the accuracy of such information thereafter.

Recommended Citation:

Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson,
(eds.). Cambridge University Press, 2009.

The bars at the bottom of the front cover show the global annual average temperature from 1900-2008, see page 17.

Federal Advisory Committee Authors

Co-Chairs and Editors-in-Chief


Thomas R. Karl,
NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Jerry M. Melillo,
Marine Biological Laboratory

Thomas C. Peterson,
NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Author Team

David M. Anderson,
NOAA World Data Center for Paleoclimatology

Donald F. Boesch,
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Virginia R. Burkett,
U.S. Geological Survey

Lynne M. Carter,
Adaptation Network

Stewart J. Cohen,
Environment Canada and University of British Columbia

Nancy B. Grimm,
Arizona State University

Jerry L. Hatfield,
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Katharine Hayhoe,
Texas Tech University

Anthony C. Janetos,
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Jack A. Kaye,
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Jay H. Lawrimore,
NOAA National Climatic Data Center

James J. McCarthy,
Harvard University

A. David McGuire,
U.S. Geological Survey/University of Alaska Fairbanks

Edward L. Miles,
University of Washington

Evan Mills,
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Jonathan T. Overpeck,
University of Arizona

Jonathan A. Patz,
University of Wisconsin at Madison

Roger S. Pulwarty,
NOAA Climate Program Office and Earth System Research Laboratory

Benjamin D. Santer,
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Michael J. Savonis,
U.S. Department of Transportation

H. Gerry Schwartz, Jr.,
Consultant/Transportation

Eileen L. Shea,
NOAA National Climatic Data Center/Integrated Data and Environmental Applications Center

John M.R. Stone,
Carleton University

Bradley H. Udall,
University of Colorado/NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory

John E. Walsh,
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Michael F. Wehner,
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Thomas J. Wilbanks,
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Donald J. Wuebbles,
University of Illinois

Senior Science Writer and Lead Graphic Designer

Senior Science Writer


Susan J. Hassol,
Climate Communication, LLC

Lead Graphic Designer

Sara W. Veasey,
NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Key Support Personnel

Jessica Blunden, Editorial Assistant, STG, Inc.

Marta Darby, Copy Editor, STG, Inc.

David Dokken, CCSP Technical Advisor, USGCRP

Byron Gleason, Data Analysis/Visualization, NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Glenn M. Hyatt, Graphics Support, NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Clare Keating, Editorial Support, Texas Tech University

Staci Lewis, Technical Advisor, NOAA

Jolene McGill, Logistical Support, NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Deborah J. Misch, Graphics Support, STG, Inc.

William Murray, Technical Support, STG, Inc.

Susan Osborne, Copy Editor, STG, Inc.

Tim Owen, Logistical Support, NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Deborah Riddle, Graphics Support, NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Susanne Skok, Copy Editor, STG, Inc.

Mara Sprain, Editorial Support, STG, Inc.

Michael Squires, Cartographic Support, NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Jeff VanDorn, Technical and Graphics Support, ATMOS Research

David Wuertz, Data Analysis/Visualization, NOAA National Climatic Data Center

Christian Zamarra, Graphics Support, STG, Inc.

Federal Executive Team

Acting Director, U.S. Global Change Research Program: .....................................................................................Jack A. Kaye
Director, U.S. Global Change Research Program Office: ......................................................................................Peter A. Schultz
Lead Agency Principal Representative to CCSP (through January 2009),
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: .............................................................................................Mary M. Glackin
Lead Agency Principal Representative to CCSP,
Product Lead, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: .....................................................................Thomas R. Karl
Lead Agency Principal Representative to CCSP,
Group Chair Synthesis and Assessment Products, Environmental Protection Agency: .......................................Michael W. Slimak
Synthesis and Assessment Product Coordinator,
U.S. Global Change Research Program Office: ...............................................................................................Fabien J.G. Laurier
Communications Advisor/Coordinator/Editor,
U.S. Global Change Research Program Office: ......................................................................................................Anne M. Waple
Special Advisor, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: .................................................................Chad A. McNutt
Federal Advisory Committee Designated Federal Official,
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: ........................................................................................Christopher D. Miller

Reviewers

Blue Ribbon Reviewers


Robert W. Corell, Global Change Program, H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment

Robert A. Duce, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University

Kristie L. Ebi, Independent consultant, ESS, LLC Alexandria, VA

Christopher B. Field, Carnegie Institution

William H. Hooke, Atmospheric Policy Program, American Meteorological Society

Michael C. MacCracken, Climate Institute

Linda O. Mearns, Environmental and Societal Impacts Group, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Gerald A. Meehl, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

John Reilly, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Susan Solomon, NOAA, Earth System Research Laboratory

Steven C. Wofsy, Harvard University

Communication Reviewers

Robert Henson, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Jack W. Williams, American Meteorological Society

This report on Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States was prepared in accordance with Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Public Law 106-554) and the information quality act guidelines issued by the Department of Commerce and NOAA pursuant to Section 515 .

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June 2009

Members of Congress:

On behalf of the National Science and Technology Council, the U.S. Global Change Research Program is pleased to transmit to the President and the Congress this state of knowledge report: “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States.” This report summarizes the science of climate change and the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future.

As our nation strives to develop effective policies to respond to climate change, it is critical to have the latest and best scientific information to inform decision making. More than a year in the making, this report provides that information. It is the first report in almost a decade to provide an extensive evaluation of climate change impacts on the United States at the regional level.

An expert team of scientists operating under the authority of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, assisted by communication specialists, wrote the document. The report was reviewed and revised based on comments from experts and the public in accordance with the Information Quality Act guidelines issued by the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

We highly commend the authors and support personnel of both this report and the underlying Synthesis and Assessment Products for the outstanding quality of their work in providing sound and thorough science-based information for policy formulation and climate change research priority setting. We intend to use the essential information contained in this report as we make policies and decisions about the future, and we recommend others do the same.

Sincerely,

Dr. John Holdren
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Dr. Jane Lubchenco
Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:39 pm

About This Report

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About this Report

What is this report?


This report summarizes the science of climate change and the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. It is largely based on results of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), [a] and integrates those results with related research from around the world. This report discusses climate-related impacts for various societal and environmental sectors and regions across the nation. It is an authoritative scientific report written in plain language, with the goal of better informing public and private decision making at all levels.

Who called for it, who wrote it, and who approved it?

The USGCRP called for this report. An expert team of scientists operating under the authority of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, assisted by communication specialists, wrote the document. The report was extensively reviewed and revised based on comments from experts and the public. The report was approved by its lead USGCRP Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the other USGCRP agencies, and the Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council. This report meets all Federal requirements associated with the Information Quality Act, including those pertaining to public comment and transparency.

[b]What are its sources?


The report draws from a large body of scientific information. The foundation of this report is a set of 21 Synthesis and Assessment Products (SAPs), which were designed to address key policy-relevant issues in climate science (see page 161); several of these were also summarized in the Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Climate Change on the United States published in 2008. In addition, other peer-reviewed scientific assessments were used, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.S. National Assessment of the Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the National Research Council’s Transportation Research Board report on the Potential Impacts of Climate Change on U.S. Transportation, and a variety of regional climate impact assessments. These assessments were augmented with government statistics as necessary (such as population census and energy usage) as well as publicly available observations and peer-reviewed research published through the end of 2008. This new work was carefully selected by the author team with advice from expert reviewers to update key aspects of climate change science relevant to this report. The icons on the bottom of this page represent some of the major sources drawn upon for this synthesis report.

On the first page of each major section, the sources primarily drawn upon for that section are shown using these icons. Endnotes, indicated by superscript numbers and compiled at the end of the book, are used for specific references throughout the report.

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See page 161 for descriptions of these sources.

Does this report deal with options for responding to climate change?

While the primary focus of this report is on the impacts of climate change in the United States, it also deals with some of the actions society is already taking or can take to respond to the climate challenge. Responses to climate change fall into two broad categories. The first involves “mitigation” measures to reduce climate change by, for example, reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles, or increasing removal of heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere. The second involves “adaptation” measures to improve our ability to cope with or avoid harmful impacts and take advantage of beneficial ones, now and in the future. Both of these are necessary elements of an effective response strategy. These two types of responses are linked in that more effective mitigation measures reduce the amount of climate change, and therefore the need for adaptation.

This report underscores the importance of mitigation by comparing impacts resulting from higher versus lower emissions scenarios. The report shows that choices made about emissions in the next few decades will have far-reaching consequences for climate change impacts. Over the long term, lower emissions will lessen both the magnitude of climate change impacts and the rate at which they appear.

While the report underscores the importance of mitigation as an essential part of the nation’s climate change strategy, it does not evaluate mitigation technologies or undertake an analysis of the effectiveness of various approaches. These issues are the subject of ongoing studies by the U.S. Government’s Climate Change Technology Program and several federal agencies including the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Transportation, and Department of Agriculture. The range of mitigation responses being studied includes more efficient production and use of energy, increased use of non-carbon-emitting energy sources, and carbon capture and storage.

Adaptation options also have the potential to moderate harmful impacts of current and future climate variability and change. While this report does address adaptation, it does not do so comprehensively.

Rather, in the context of impacts, this report identifies examples of actions currently being pursued in various sectors and regions to address climate change, as well as other environmental problems that could be exacerbated by climate change such as urban air pollution and heat waves. In most cases, there is currently insufficient peer-reviewed information to evaluate the practicality, effectiveness, costs, or benefits of these measures, highlighting a need for research in this area. Thus, the discussion of various public and private adaptation examples should not be viewed as an endorsement of any particular option, but rather as illustrative examples of approaches being tried.

How is the likelihood of various outcomes expressed given that the future is not certain?

When it is considered necessary to express a range of possible outcomes and identify the likelihood of particular impacts, this report takes a plain-language approach to expressing the expert judgment of the author team based on the best available evidence. For example, an outcome termed “likely” has at least a two-thirds chance of occurring; an outcome termed “very likely,” at least a 90 percent chance.1 In using these terms, the Federal Advisory Committee has taken into consideration a wide range of information, including the strength and consistency of the observed evidence, the range and consistency of model projections, the reliability of particular models as tested by various methods, and most importantly, the body of work addressed in earlier synthesis and assessment reports. Key sources of information used to develop these characterizations of uncertainty are referenced in endnotes.

How does this report address incomplete scientific understanding?

This assessment identifies areas in which scientific uncertainty limits our ability to estimate future climate change and its impacts. The section on An Agenda for Climate Impacts Science at the end of this report highlights some of these areas.

_______________

Notes:

a. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which was established in 1990 by the Global Change Research Act, encompasses the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP).

b. A description of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) can be found at www.ostp.gov/cs/nstc.
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:40 pm

Executive Summary

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Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), with important contributions from the clearing of forests, agricultural practices, and other activities.

Warming over this century is projected to be considerably greater than over the last century. The global average temperature since 1900 has risen by about 1.5ºF. By 2100, it is projected to rise another 2 to 11.5ºF. The U.S. average temperature has risen by a comparable amount and is very likely to rise more than the global average over this century, with some variation from place to place. Several factors will determine future temperature increases. Increases at the lower end of this range are more likely if global heat-trapping gas emissions are cut substantially. If emissions continue to rise at or near current rates, temperature increases are more likely to be near the upper end of the range. Volcanic eruptions or other natural variations could temporarily counteract some of the human-induced warming, slowing the rise in global temperature, but these effects would only last a few years.

Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide would lessen warming over this century and beyond. Sizable early cuts in emissions would significantly reduce the pace and the overall amount of climate change. Earlier cuts in emissions would have a greater effect in reducing climate change than comparable reductions made later. In addition, reducing emissions of some shorter-lived heat-trapping gases, such as methane, and some types of particles, such as soot, would begin to reduce warming within weeks to decades.

Climate-related changes have already been observed globally and in the United States. These include increases in air and water temperatures, reduced frost days, increased frequency and intensity of heavy downpours, a rise in sea level, and reduced snow cover, glaciers, permafrost, and sea ice. A longer ice-free period on lakes and rivers, lengthening of the growing season, and increased water vapor in the atmosphere have also been observed. Over the past 30 years, temperatures have risen faster in winter than in any other season, with average winter temperatures in the Midwest and northern Great Plains increasing more than 7ºF. Some of the changes have been faster than previous assessments had suggested.

These climate-related changes are expected to continue while new ones develop. Likely future changes for the United States and surrounding coastal waters include more intense hurricanes with related increases in wind, rain, and storm surges (but not necessarily an increase in the number of these storms that make landfall), as well as drier conditions in the Southwest and Caribbean. These changes will affect human health, water supply, agriculture, coastal areas, and many other aspects of society and the natural environment.

This report synthesizes information from a wide variety of scientific assessments (see page 7) and recently published research to summarize what is known about the observed and projected consequences of climate change on the United States. It combines analysis of impacts on various sectors such as energy, water, and transportation at the national level with an assessment of key impacts on specific regions of the United States. For example, sea-level rise will increase risks of erosion, storm surge damage, and flooding for coastal communities, especially in the Southeast and parts of Alaska. Reduced snowpack and earlier snow melt will alter the timing and amount of water supplies, posing significant challenges for water resource management in the West.

Society and ecosystems can adjust to some climatic changes, but this takes time. The projected rapid rate and large amount of climate change over this century will challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt. For example, it is difficult and expensive to alter or replace infrastructure designed to last for decades (such as buildings, bridges, roads, airports, reservoirs, and ports) in response to continuous and/or abrupt climate change.

Impacts are expected to become increasingly severe for more people and places as the amount of warming increases. Rapid rates of warming would lead to particularly large impacts on natural ecosystems and the benefits they provide to humanity. Some of the impacts of climate change will be irreversible, such as species extinctions and coastal land lost to rising seas.

Unanticipated impacts of increasing carbon dioxide and climate change have already occurred and more are possible in the future. For example, it has recently been observed that the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is causing an increase in ocean acidity. This reduces the ability of corals and other sea life to build shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate. Additional impacts in the future might stem from unforeseen changes in the climate system, such as major alterations in oceans, ice, or storms; and unexpected consequences of ecological changes, such as massive dislocations of species or pest outbreaks. Unexpected social or economic changes, including major shifts in wealth, technology, or societal priorities would also affect our ability to respond to climate change. Both anticipated and unanticipated impacts become more challenging with increased warming.

Projections of future climate change come from careful analyses of outputs from global climate models run on the world’s most advanced computers. The model simulations analyzed in this report used plausible scenarios of human activity that generally lead to further increases in heat-trapping emissions. None of the scenarios used in this report assumes adoption of policies explicitly designed to address climate change. However, the level of emissions varies among scenarios because of differences in assumptions about population, economic activity, choice of energy technologies, and other factors. Scenarios cover a range of emissions of heat-trapping gases, and the associated climate projections illustrate that lower emissions result in less climate change and thus reduced impacts over this century and beyond. Under all scenarios considered in this report, however, relatively large and sustained changes in many aspects of climate are projected by the middle of this century, with even larger changes by the end of this century, especially under higher emissions scenarios.

In projecting future conditions, there is always some level of uncertainty. For example, there is a high degree of confidence in projections that future temperature increases will be greatest in the Arctic and in the middle of continents. For precipitation, there is high confidence in projections of continued increases in the Arctic and sub-Arctic (including Alaska) and decreases in the regions just outside the tropics, but the precise location of the transition between these is less certain. At local to regional scales and on time frames up to a few years, natural climate variations can be relatively large and can temporarily mask the progressive nature of global climate change. However, the science of making skillful projections at these scales has progressed considerably, allowing useful information to be drawn from regional climate studies such as those highlighted in this report.

This report focuses on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on the United States. However, a discussion of these issues would be incomplete without mentioning some of the actions society can take to respond to the climate challenge. The two major categories are “mitigation” and “adaptation.” Mitigation refers to options for limiting climate change by, for example, reducing heat-trapping emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and halocarbons, or removing some of the heat-trapping gases from the atmosphere. Adaptation refers to changes made to better respond to present or future climatic and other environmental conditions, thereby reducing harm or taking advantage of opportunity. Effective mitigation measures reduce the need for adaptation. Mitigation and adaptation are both essential parts of a comprehensive climate change response strategy.

Carbon dioxide emissions are a primary focus of mitigation strategies. These include improving energy efficiency, using energy sources that do not produce carbon dioxide or produce less of it, capturing and storing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and so on. Choices made about emissions reductions now and over the next few decades will have far-reaching consequences for climate-change impacts. The importance of mitigation is clear in comparisons of impacts resulting from higher versus lower emissions scenarios considered in this report. Over the long term, lower emissions will lessen both the magnitude of climate-change impacts and the rate at which they appear. Smaller climate changes that come more slowly make the adaptation challenge more tractable.

However, no matter how aggressively heat-trapping emissions are reduced, some amount of climate change and resulting impacts will continue due to the effects of gases that have already been released. This is true for several reasons. First, some of these gases are very long-lived and the levels of atmospheric heat-trapping gases will remain elevated for hundreds of years or more. Second, the Earth’s vast oceans have absorbed much of the heat added to the climate system due to the increase in heat-trapping gases, and will retain that heat for many decades. In addition, the factors that determine emissions, such as energy-supply systems, cannot be changed overnight. Consequently, there is also a need for adaptation.

Adaptation can include a wide range of activities. Examples include a farmer switching to growing a different crop variety better suited to warmer or drier conditions; a company relocating key business centers away from coastal areas vulnerable to sea-level rise and hurricanes; and a community altering its zoning and building codes to place fewer structures in harm’s way and making buildings less vulnerable to damage from floods, fires, and other extreme events. Some adaptation options that are currently being pursued in various regions and sectors to deal with climate change and/or other environmental issues are identified in this report. However, it is clear that there are limits to how much adaptation can achieve.

Humans have adapted to changing climatic conditions in the past, but in the future, adaptations will be particularly challenging because society won’t be adapting to a new steady state but rather to a rapidly moving target. Climate will be continually changing, moving at a relatively rapid rate, outside the range to which society has adapted in the past. The precise amounts and timing of these changes will not be known with certainty.

In an increasingly interdependent world, U.S. vulnerability to climate change is linked to the fates of other nations. For example, conflicts or mass migrations of people resulting from food scarcity and other resource limits, health impacts, or environmental stresses in other parts of the world could threaten U.S. national security. It is thus difficult to fully evaluate the impacts of climate change on the United States without considering the consequences of climate change elsewhere. However, such analysis is beyond the scope of this report.

Finally, this report identifies a number of areas in which inadequate information or understanding hampers our ability to estimate future climate change and its impacts. For example, our knowledge of changes in tornadoes, hail, and ice storms is quite limited, making it difficult to know if and how such events have changed as climate has warmed, and how they might change in the future. Research on ecological responses to climate change is also limited, as is our understanding of social responses. The section titled An Agenda for Climate Impacts Science at the end of this report offers some thoughts on the most important ways to improve our knowledge. Results from such efforts would inform future assessments that continue building our understanding of humanity’s impacts on climate, and climate’s impacts on us.

Key Findings

1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.

Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. (p. 13)

2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.

Climate-related changes are already observed in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. (p. 27)

3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.

Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change. (p. 41-106, 107-152)

4. Climate change will stress water resources.

Water is an issue in every region, but the nature of the potential impacts varies. Drought, related to reduced precipitation, increased evaporation, and increased water loss from plants, is an important issue in many regions, especially in the West. Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage. (p. 41, 129, 135, 139)

5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.

Many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels of warming, but higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and yields. Increased pests, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes will pose adaptation challenges for crop and livestock production. (p. 71)

6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.

Sea-level rise and storm surge place many U.S. coastal areas at increasing risk of erosion and flooding, especially along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Pacific Islands, and parts of Alaska. Energy and transportation infrastructure and other property in coastal areas are very likely to be adversely affected. (p. 111, 139, 145, 149)

7. Risks to human health will increase.

Harmful health impacts of climate change are related to increasing heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. Reduced cold stress provides some benefits. Robust public health infrastructure can reduce the potential for negative impacts. (p. 89)

8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.

Climate change will combine with pollution, population growth, overuse of resources, urbanization, and other social, economic, and environmental stresses to create larger impacts than from any of these factors alone. (p. 99)

9. Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.

There are a variety of thresholds in the climate system and ecosystems. These thresholds determine, for example, the presence of sea ice and permafrost, and the survival of species, from fish to insect pests, with implications for society. With further climate change, the crossing of additional thresholds is expected. (p. 76, 82, 115, 137, 142)

10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

The amount and rate of future climate change depend primarily on current and future human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases and airborne particles. Responses involve reducing emissions to limit future warming, and adapting to the changes that are unavoidable. (p. 25, 29)
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:47 pm

Global Climate Change

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Key Messages:

• Human activities have led to large increases in heat-trapping gases over the past century.
• Global average temperature and sea level have increased, and precipitation patterns have changed.
• The global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Human “fingerprints” also have been identified in many other aspects of the climate system, including changes in ocean heat content, precipitation, atmospheric moisture, and Arctic sea ice.
• Global temperatures are projected to continue to rise over this century; by how much and for how long depends on a number of factors, including the amount of heat-trapping gas emissions and how sensitive the climate is to those emissions.

This introduction to global climate change explains very briefly what has been happening to the world’s climate and why, and what is projected to happen in the future. While this report focuses on climate change impacts in the United States, understanding these changes and their impacts requires an understanding of the global climate system.

Many changes have been observed in global climate over the past century. The nature and causes of these changes have been comprehensively chronicled in a variety of recent reports, such as those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). This section does not intend to duplicate these comprehensive efforts, but rather to provide a brief synthesis, and to integrate more recent work with the assessments of the IPCC, CCSP, and others.

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800,000 Year Record of Carbon Dioxide Concentration
Analysis of air bubbles trapped in an Antarctic ice core extending back 800,000 years documents the Earth’s changing carbon dioxide concentration. Over this long period, natural factors have caused the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration to vary within a range of about 170 to 300 parts per million (ppm). Temperature-related data make clear that these variations have played a central role in determining the global climate. As a result of human activities, the present carbon dioxide concentration of about 385 ppm is about 30 percent above its highest level over at least the last 800,000 years. In the absence of strong control measures, emissions projected for this century would result in the carbon dioxide concentration increasing to a level that is roughly 2 to 3 times the highest level occurring over the glacial-interglacial era that spans the last 800,000 or more years.


Human activities have led to large increases in heat-trapping gases over the past century.

The Earth’s climate depends on the functioning of a natural “greenhouse effect.” This effect is the result of heat-trapping gases (also known as greenhouse gases) like water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, and nitrous oxide, which absorb heat radiated from the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere and then radiate much of the energy back toward the surface. Without this natural greenhouse effect, the average surface temperature of the Earth would be about 60°F colder. However, human activities have been releasing additional heat-trapping gases, intensifying the natural greenhouse effect, thereby changing the Earth’s climate.

Climate is influenced by a variety of factors, both human-induced and natural. The increase in the carbon dioxide concentration has been the principal factor causing warming over the past 50 years. Its concentration has been building up in the Earth’s atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era in the mid-1700s, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and the clearing of forests. Human activities have also increased the emissions of other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and halocarbons.3

These emissions are thickening the blanket of heat-trapping gases in Earth’s atmosphere, causing surface temperatures to rise.

Heat-trapping gases

Carbon dioxide concentration has increased due to the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation, transportation, and industrial and household uses. It is also produced as a by-product during the manufacturing of cement. Deforestation provides a source of carbon dioxide and reduces its uptake by trees and other plants. Globally, over the past several decades, about 80 percent of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions came from the burning of fossil fuels, while about 20 percent resulted from deforestation and associated agricultural practices. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by roughly 35 percent since the start of the industrial revolution.3

Methane concentration has increased mainly as a result of agriculture; raising livestock (which produce methane in their digestive tracts); mining, transportation, and use of certain fossil fuels; sewage; and decomposing garbage in landfills. About 70 percent of the emissions of atmospheric methane are now related to human activities.4

Nitrous oxide concentration is increasing as a result of fertilizer use and fossil fuel burning.

Halocarbon emissions come from the release of certain manufactured chemicals to the atmosphere. Examples include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used extensively in refrigeration and for other industrial processes before their presence in the atmosphere was found to cause stratospheric ozone depletion. The abundance of these gases in the atmosphere is now decreasing as a result of international regulations designed to protect the ozone layer. Continued decreases in ozone-depleting halocarbon emissions are expected to reduce their relative influence on climate change in the future.3,5 Many halocarbon replacements, however, are potent greenhouse gases, and their concentrations are increasing.6

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2000 Years of Greenhouse Gas Concentrations
Increases in concentrations of these gases since 1750 are due to human activities in the industrial era. Concentration units are parts per million (ppm) or parts per billion (ppb), indicating the number of molecules of the greenhouse gas per million or billion molecules of air.


Ozone is a greenhouse gas, and is continually produced and destroyed in the atmosphere by chemical reactions. In the troposphere, the lowest 5 to 10 miles of the atmosphere near the surface, human activities have increased the ozone concentration through the release of gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides. These gases undergo chemical reactions to produce ozone in the presence of sunlight. In addition to trapping heat, excess ozone in the troposphere causes respiratory illnesses and other human health problems.

In the stratosphere, the layer above the troposphere, ozone exists naturally and protects life on Earth from exposure to excessive ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. As mentioned previously, halocarbons released by human activities destroy ozone in the stratosphere and have caused the ozone hole over Antarctica.8 Changes in the stratospheric ozone layer have contributed to changes in wind patterns and regional climates in Antarctica.9

Water vapor is the most important and abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Human activities produce only a very small increase in water vapor through irrigation and combustion processes. 3 However, the surface warming caused by human-produced increases in other greenhouse gases leads to an increase in atmospheric water vapor, since a warmer climate increases evaporation and allows the atmosphere to hold more moisture. This creates an amplifying “feedback loop,” leading to more warming.

Other human influences

In addition to the global-scale climate effects of heat-trapping gases, human activities also produce additional local and regional effects. Some of these activities partially offset the warming caused by greenhouse gases, while others increase the warming. One such influence on climate is caused by tiny particles called “aerosols” (not to be confused with aerosol spray cans). For example, the burning of coal produces emissions of sulfur-containing compounds. These compounds form “sulfate aerosol” particles, which reflect some of the incoming sunlight away from the Earth, causing a cooling influence at the surface. Sulfate aerosols also tend to make clouds more efficient at reflecting sunlight, causing an additional indirect cooling effect.

Another type of aerosol, often referred to as soot or black carbon, absorbs incoming sunlight and traps heat in the atmosphere. Thus, depending on their type, aerosols can either mask or increase the warming caused by increased levels of greenhouse gases.13 On a globally averaged basis, the sum of these aerosol effects offsets some of the warming caused by heat-trapping gases.10

The effects of various greenhouse gases and aerosol particles on Earth’s climate depend in part on how long these gases and particles remain in the atmosphere. After emission, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide remains elevated for thousands of years, and that of methane for decades, while the elevated concentrations of aerosols only persist for days to weeks.11,12 The climate effects of reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived gases do not become apparent for at least several decades. In contrast, reductions in emissions of short-lived compounds can have a rapid, but complex effect since the geographic patterns of their climatic influence and the resulting surface temperature responses are quite different. One modeling study found that while the greatest emissions of short-lived pollutants in summertime by late this century are projected to come from Asia, the strongest climate response is projected to be over the central United States.13

Human activities have also changed the land surface in ways that alter how much heat is reflected or absorbed by the surface. Such changes include the cutting and burning of forests, the replacement of other areas of natural vegetation with agriculture and cities, and large-scale irrigation. These transformations of the land surface can cause local (and even regional) warming or cooling. Globally, the net effect of these changes has probably been a slight cooling of the Earth’s surface over the past 100 years.14,15

Natural influences

Two important natural factors also influence climate: the Sun and volcanic eruptions. Over the past three decades, human influences on climate have become increasingly obvious, and global temperatures have risen sharply. During the same period, the Sun’s energy output (as measured by satellites since 1979) has followed its historical 11-year cycle of small ups and downs, but with no net increase (see figure page 20).16 The two major volcanic eruptions of the past 30 years have had short-term cooling effects on climate, lasting 2 to 3 years.17 Thus, these natural factors cannot explain the warming of recent decades; in fact, their net effect on climate has probably been a slight cooling influence over this period. Slow changes in Earth’s orbit around the Sun and its tilt toward or away from the Sun are also a purely natural influence on climate, but are only important on timescales from thousands to many tens of thousands of years.

The climate changes that have occurred over the last century are not solely caused by the human and natural factors described above. In addition to these influences, there are also fluctuations in climate that occur even in the absence of changes in human activities, the Sun, or volcanoes. One example is the El Niño phenomenon, which has important influences on many aspects of regional and global climate. Many other modes of variability have been identified by climate scientists and their effects on climate occur at the same time as the effects of human activities, the Sun, and volcanoes.

Carbon release and uptake

Once carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere, some of it is absorbed by the oceans and taken up by vegetation, although this storage may be temporary. About 45 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities in the last 50 years is now stored in the oceans and vegetation. The rest has remained in the air, increasing the atmospheric concentration.2,3,18 It is thus important to understand not only how much carbon dioxide is emitted, but also how much is taken up, over what time scales, and how these sources and “sinks” of carbon dioxide might change as climate continues to warm. For example, it is known from long records of Earth’s climate history that under warmer conditions, carbon tends to be released, for instance, from thawing permafrost, initiating a feedback loop in which more carbon release leads to more warming which leads to further release, and so on.19,20

Global emissions of carbon dioxide have been accelerating. The growth rate increased from 1.3 percent per year in the 1990s to 3.3 percent per year between 2000 and 2006.21

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What about Global Warming Caused by War?


The increasing emissions of carbon dioxide are the primary cause of the increased concentration of carbon dioxide observed in the atmosphere. There is also evidence that a smaller fraction of the annual human-induced emissions is now being taken up than in the past, leading to a greater fraction remaining in the atmosphere and an accelerating rate of increase in the carbon dioxide concentration.21

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Major Warming and Cooling Influences on Climate
1750-2005
The figure above shows the amount of warming influence (red bars) or cooling influence (blue bars) that different factors have had on Earth’s climate over the industrial age (from about 1750 to the present). Results are in watts per square meter. The longer the bar, the greater the influence on climate. The top part of the box includes all the major human-induced factors, while the second part of the box includes the Sun, the only major natural factor with a long-term effect on climate. The cooling effect of individual volcanoes is also natural, but is relatively short-lived (2 to 3 years), thus their influence is not included in this figure. The bottom part of the box shows that the total net effect (warming influences minus cooling influences) of human activities is a strong warming influence. The thin lines on each bar provide an estimate of the range of uncertainty.


Ocean acidification

As the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, seawater is becoming less alkaline (its pH is decreasing) through a process generally referred to as ocean acidification. The pH of seawater has decreased significantly since 1750,22,23 and is projected to drop much more dramatically by the end of the century if carbon dioxide concentrations continue to increase.24 Such ocean acidification is essentially irreversible over a time scale of centuries. As discussed in the Ecosystems sector and Coasts region, ocean acidification affects the process of calcification by which living things create shells and skeletons, with substantial negative consequences for coral reefs, mollusks, and some plankton species important to ocean food chains.25

Global average temperature and sea level have increased, and precipitation patterns have changed.

Temperatures are rising

Global average surface air temperature has increased substantially since 1970.26 The estimated change in the average temperature of Earth’s surface is based on measurements from thousands of weather stations, ships, and buoys around the world, as well as from satellites. These measurements are independently compiled, analyzed, and processed by different research groups. There are a number of important steps in the data processing. These include identifying and adjusting for the effects of changes in the instruments used to measure temperature, the measurement times and locations, the local environment around the measuring site, and such factors as satellite orbital drift. For instance, the growth of cities can cause localized “urban heat island” effects.

A number of research groups around the world have produced estimates of global-scale changes in surface temperature. The warming trend that is apparent in all of these temperature records is confirmed by other independent observations, such as the melting of Arctic sea ice, the retreat of mountain glaciers on every continent,27 reductions in the extent of snow cover, earlier blooming of plants in spring, and increased melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.28,29 Because snow and ice reflect the Sun’s heat, this melting causes more heat to be absorbed, which causes more melting, resulting in another feedback loop.20

Additionally, temperature measurements above the surface have been made by weather balloons since the late 1940s, and from satellites since 1979. These measurements show warming of the troposphere, consistent with the surface warming.30,31 They also reveal cooling in the stratosphere.30 This pattern of tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling agrees with our understanding of how atmospheric temperature would be expected to change in response to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and the observed depletion of stratospheric ozone.14

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Global Temperature and Carbon Dioxide
Global annual average temperature (as measured over both land and oceans). Red bars indicate temperatures above and blue bars indicate temperatures below the average temperature for the period 1901-2000. The black line shows atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in parts per million (ppm). While there is a clear long-term global warming trend, each individual year does not show a temperature increase relative to the previous year, and some years show greater changes than others.33 These year-to-year fluctuations in temperature are due to natural processes, such as the effects of El Niños, La Niñas, and the eruption of large volcanoes.


Precipitation patterns are changing

Precipitation is not distributed evenly over the globe. Its average distribution is governed primarily by atmospheric circulation patterns, the availability of moisture, and surface terrain effects. The first two of these factors are influenced by temperature. Thus, human-caused changes in temperature are expected to alter precipitation patterns.

Observations show that such shifts are occurring. Changes have been observed in the amount, intensity, frequency, and type of precipitation. Pronounced increases in precipitation over the past 100 years have been observed in eastern North America, southern South America, and northern Europe. Decreases have been seen in the Mediterranean, most of Africa, and southern Asia. Changes in the geographical distribution of droughts and flooding have been complex. In some regions, there have been increases in the occurrences of both droughts and floods.28 As the world warms, northern regions and mountainous areas are experiencing more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow.34 Widespread increases in heavy precipitation events have occurred, even in places where total rain amounts have decreased. These changes are associated with the fact that warmer air holds more water vapor evaporating from the world’s oceans and land surface.31 This increase in atmospheric water vapor has been observed from satellites, and is primarily due to human influences.35,36

Sea level is rising

After at least 2,000 years of little change, sea level rose by roughly 8 inches over the past century. Satellite data available over the past 15 years show sea level rising at a rate roughly double the rate observed over the past century.37 There are two principal ways in which global warming causes sea level to rise. First, ocean water expands as it warms, and therefore takes up more space. Warming has been observed in each of the world’s major ocean basins, and has been directly linked to human influences.38,39

Second, warming leads to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, which raises sea level by adding water to the oceans. Glaciers have been retreating worldwide for at least the last century, and the rate of retreat has increased in the past decade.29,40 Only a few glaciers are actually advancing (in locations that were well below freezing, and where increased precipitation has outpaced melting). The total volume of glaciers on Earth is declining sharply. The progressive disappearance of glaciers has implications not only for the rise in global sea level, but also for water supplies in certain densely populated regions of Asia and South America.

The Earth has major ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica. These ice sheets are currently losing ice volume by increased melting and calving of icebergs, contributing to sea-level rise. The Greenland Ice Sheet has also been experiencing record amounts of surface melting, and a large increase in the rate of mass loss in the past decade.41 If the entire Greenland Ice Sheet melted, it would raise sea level by about 20 feet. The Antarctic Ice Sheet consists of two portions, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the more vulnerable to melting of the two, contains enough water to raise global sea levels by about 16 to 20 feet.29 If the East Antarctic Ice Sheet melted entirely, it would raise global sea level by about 200 feet. Complete melting of these ice sheets over this century or the next is thought to be virtually impossible, although past climate records provide precedent for very significant decreases in ice volume, and therefore increases in sea level.42,43

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Cumulative Decrease in Global Glacier Ice
As temperatures have risen, glaciers around the world have shrunk. The graph shows the cumulative decline in glacier ice worldwide.


The global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Human “fingerprints” also have been identified in many other aspects of the climate system, including changes in ocean heat content, precipitation, atmospheric moisture, and Arctic sea ice.

In 1996, the IPCC Second Assessment Report44 cautiously concluded that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” Since then, a number of national and international assessments have come to much stronger conclusions about the reality of human effects on climate. Recent scientific assessments find that most of the warming of the Earth’s surface over the past 50 years has been caused by human activities.45,46

This conclusion rests on multiple lines of evidence. Like the warming “signal” that has gradually emerged from the “noise” of natural climate variability, the scientific evidence for a human influence on global climate has accumulated over the past several decades, from many hundreds of studies. No single study is a “smoking gun.” Nor has any single study or combination of studies undermined the large body of evidence supporting the conclusion that human activity is the primary driver of recent warming.

The first line of evidence is our basic physical understanding of how greenhouse gases trap heat, how the climate system responds to increases in greenhouse gases, and how other human and natural factors influence climate. The second line of evidence is from indirect estimates of climate changes over the last 1,000 to 2,000 years. These records are obtained from living things and their remains (like tree rings and corals) and from physical quantities (like the ratio between lighter and heavier isotopes of oxygen in ice cores) which change in measurable ways as climate changes. The lesson from these data is that global surface temperatures over the last several decades are clearly unusual, in that they were higher than at any time during at least the past 400 years.47 For the Northern Hemisphere, the recent temperature rise is clearly unusual in at least the last 1,000 years.47,48

The third line of evidence is based on the broad, qualitative consistency between observed changes in climate and the computer model simulations of how climate would be expected to change in response to human activities. For example, when climate models are run with historical increases in greenhouse gases, they show gradual warming of the Earth and ocean surface, increases in ocean heat content and the temperature of the lower atmosphere, a rise in global sea level, retreat of sea ice and snow cover, cooling of the stratosphere, an increase in the amount of atmospheric water vapor, and changes in large-scale precipitation and pressure patterns. These and other aspects of modeled climate change are in agreement with observations.14,49

Finally, there is extensive statistical evidence from so-called “fingerprint” studies. Each factor that affects climate produces a unique pattern of climate response, much as each person has a unique fingerprint. Fingerprint studies exploit these unique signatures, and allow detailed comparisons of modeled and observed climate change patterns.44 Scientists rely on such studies to attribute observed changes in climate to a particular cause or set of causes. In the real world, the climate changes that have occurred since the start of the Industrial Revolution are due to a complex mixture of human and natural causes. The importance of each individual influence in this mixture changes over time. Of course, there are not multiple Earths, which would allow an experimenter to change one factor at a time on each Earth, thus helping to isolate different fingerprints. Therefore, climate models are used to study how individual factors affect climate. For example, a single factor (like greenhouse gases) or a set of factors can be varied, and the response of the modeled climate system to these individual or combined changes can thus be studied.50

For example, when climate model simulations of the last century include all of the major influences on climate, both human-induced and natural, they can reproduce many important features of observed climate change patterns. When human influences are removed from the model experiments, results suggest that the surface of the Earth would actually have cooled slightly over the last 50 years. The clear message from fingerprint studies is that the observed warming over the last half-century cannot be explained by natural factors, and is instead caused primarily by human factors.14,50

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Separating Human and Natural Influences on Climate
The blue band shows how global average temperatures would have changed due to natural forces only, as simulated by climate models. The red band shows model projections of the effects of human and natural forces combined. The black line shows actual observed global average temperatures. As the blue band indicates, without human influences, temperature over the past century would actually have first warmed and then cooled slightly over recent decades.58


Another fingerprint of human effects on climate has been identified by looking at a slice through the layers of the atmosphere, and studying the pattern of temperature changes from the surface up through the stratosphere. In all climate models, increases in carbon dioxide cause warming at the surface and in the troposphere, but lead to cooling of the stratosphere. For straightforward physical reasons, models also calculate that the human-caused depletion of stratospheric ozone has had a strong cooling effect in the stratosphere. There is a good match between the model fingerprint in response to combined carbon dioxide and ozone changes and the observed pattern of tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling (see figure on next page).14

In contrast, if most of the observed temperature change had been due to an increase in solar output rather than an increase in greenhouse gases, Earth’s atmosphere would have warmed throughout its full vertical extent, including the stratosphere.9 The observed pattern of atmospheric temperature changes, with its pronounced cooling in the stratosphere, is therefore inconsistent with the hypothesis that changes in the Sun can explain the warming of recent decades. Moreover, direct satellite measurements of solar output show slight decreases during the recent period of warming.

The earliest fingerprint work51 focused on changes in surface and atmospheric temperature. Scientists then applied fingerprint methods to a whole range of climate variables,50,52 identifying human-caused climate signals in the heat content of the oceans,38,39 the height of the tropopause53 (the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere, which has shifted upward by hundreds of feet in recent decades), the geographical patterns of precipitation,54 drought,55 surface pressure,56 and the runoff from major river basins.57

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Measurements of Surface Temperature and Sun’s Energy
The Sun’s energy received at the top of Earth’s atmosphere has been measured by satellites since 1978. It has followed its natural 11-year cycle of small ups and downs, but with no net increase (bottom). Over the same period, global temperature has risen markedly (top).60


Studies published after the appearance of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 have also found human fingerprints in the increased levels of atmospheric moisture35,36 (both close to the surface and over the full extent of the atmosphere), in the decline of Arctic sea ice extent,61 and in the patterns of changes in Arctic and Antarctic surface temperatures.62

The message from this entire body of work is that the climate system is telling a consistent story of increasingly dominant human influence – the changes in temperature, ice extent, moisture, and circulation patterns fit together in a physically consistent way, like pieces in a complex puzzle.

Increasingly, this type of fingerprint work is shifting its emphasis. As noted, clear and compelling scientific evidence supports the case for a pronounced human influence on global climate. Much of the recent attention is now on climate changes at continental and regional scales,64,65 and on variables that can have large impacts on societies. For example, scientists have established causal links between human activities and the changes in snowpack, maximum and minimum temperature, and the seasonal timing of runoff over mountainous regions of the western United States.34 Human activity is likely to have made a substantial contribution to ocean surface temperature changes in hurricane formation regions.66-68 Researchers are also looking beyond the physical climate system, and are beginning to tie changes in the distribution and seasonal behavior of plant and animal species to human-caused changes in temperature and precipitation.69,70

For over a decade, one aspect of the climate change story seemed to show a significant difference between models and observations.14

In the tropics, all models predicted that with a rise in greenhouse gases, the troposphere would be expected to warm more rapidly than the surface. Observations from weather balloons, satellites, and surface thermometers seemed to show the opposite behavior (more rapid warming of the surface than the troposphere). This issue was a stumbling block in our understanding of the causes of climate change. It is now largely resolved.71 Research showed that there were large uncertainties in the satellite and weather balloon data. When uncertainties in models and observations are properly accounted for, newer observational data sets (with better treatment of known problems) are in agreement with climate model results.31,72-75

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Patterns of Temperature Change Produced by Various Atmospheric Factors, 1958-1999
Climate simulations of the vertical profile of temperature change due to various factors, and the effect due to all factors taken together. The panels above represent a cross-section of the atmosphere from the north pole to the south pole, and from the surface up into the stratosphere. The black lines show the location of the tropopause, the boundary between the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and the stratosphere.


This does not mean, however, that all remaining differences between models and observations have been resolved. The observed changes in some climate variables, such as Arctic sea ice,61,76 some aspects of precipitation,54,77 and patterns of surface pressure,56 appear to be proceeding much more rapidly than models have projected. The reasons for these differences are not well understood. Nevertheless, the bottom-line conclusion from climate fingerprinting is that most of the observed changes studied to date are consistent with each other, and are also consistent with our scientific understanding of how the climate system would be expected to respond to the increase in heat-trapping gases resulting from human activities.14,49

Scientists are sometimes asked whether extreme weather events can be linked to human activities.24 Scientific research has concluded that human influences on climate are indeed changing the likelihood of certain types of extreme events. For example, an analysis of the European summer heat wave of 2003 found that the risk of such a heat wave is now roughly four times greater than it would have been in the absence of human-induced climate change.68,78

Like fingerprint work, such analyses of human-caused changes in the risks of extreme events rely on information from climate models, and on our understanding of the physics of the climate system. All of the models used in this work have imperfections in their representation of the complexities of the “real world” climate system.79,80 These are due to both limits in our understanding of the climate system, and in our ability to represent its complex behavior with available computer resources. Despite this, models are extremely useful, for a number of reasons.

First, despite remaining imperfections, the current generation of climate models accurately portrays many important aspects of today’s weather patterns and climate.79,80 Models are constantly being improved, and are routinely tested against many observations of Earth’s climate system. Second, the fingerprint work shows that models capture not only our present-day climate, but also key features of the observed climate changes over the past century. 47 Third, many of the large-scale observed climate changes (such as the warming of the surface and troposphere, and the increase in the amount of moisture in the atmosphere) are driven by very basic physics, which is well-represented in models.35 Fourth, climate models can be used to predict changes in climate that can be verified in the real world. Examples include the short-term global cooling subsequent to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and the stratospheric cooling with increasing carbon dioxide. Finally, models are the only tools that exist for trying to understand the climate changes likely to be experienced over the course of this century. No period in Earth’s geological history provides an exact analogue for the climate conditions that will unfold in the coming decades.20

Global temperatures are projected to continue to rise over this century; by how much and for how long depends on a number of factors, including the amount of heat-trapping gas emissions and how sensitive the climate is to those emissions.

Some continued warming of the planet is projected over the next few decades due to past emissions. Choices made now will influence the amount of future warming. Lower levels of heat-trapping emissions will yield less future warming, while higher levels will result in more warming, and more severe impacts on society and the natural world.

Emissions scenarios

The IPCC developed a set of scenarios in a Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES).81 These have been extensively used to explore the potential for future climate change. None of these scenarios, not even the one called “lower”, includes implementation of policies to limit climate change or to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases. Rather, differences among these scenarios are due to different assumptions about changes in population, rate of adoption of new technologies, economic growth, and other factors.

The IPCC emission scenarios also do not encompass the full range of possible futures: emissions can change less than those scenarios imply, or they can change more. Recent carbon dioxide emissions are, in fact, above the highest emissions scenario developed by the IPCC82 (see figure below). Whether this will continue is uncertain.

There are also lower possible emissions paths than those put forth by the IPCC. The Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which the United States and 191 other countries are signatories, calls for stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would avoid dangerous human interference with the climate system. What exactly constitutes such interference is subject to interpretation.

A variety of research studies suggest that a further 2°F increase (relative to the 1980-1999 period) would lead to severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts.83-85 To have a good chance (but not a guarantee) of avoiding temperatures above those levels, it has been estimated that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide would need to stabilize in the long term at around today’s levels.86-89

Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide would reduce warming over this century and beyond. Implementing sizable and sustained reductions in carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible would significantly reduce the pace and the overall amount of climate change, and would be more effective than reductions of the same size initiated later. Reducing emissions of some shorter-lived greenhouse gases, such as methane, and some types of particles, such as soot, would begin to reduce the warming influence within weeks to decades.13

The graphs below show emissions scenarios and resulting carbon dioxide concentrations for three IPCC scenarios90,91 and one stabilization scenario.25

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Scenarios of Future Carbon Dioxide Global Emissions and Concentrations
The graphs show recent and projected global emissions of carbon dioxide in gigatons of carbon, on the left, and atmospheric concentrations on the right under five emissions scenarios. The top three in the key are IPCC scenarios that assume no explicit climate policies (these are used in model projections that appear throughout this report). The bottom line is a “stabilization scenario,” designed to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 450 parts per million. The inset expanded below these charts shows emissions for 1990-2010 under the three IPCC scenarios along with actual emissions to 2007 (in black).


The stabilization scenario is aimed at stabilizing the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at roughly 450 parts per million (ppm); this is 70 ppm above the 2008 concentration of 385 ppm. Resulting temperature changes depend on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and particles and the climate’s sensitivity to those concentrations.87 Of those shown on the previous page, only the 450 ppm stabilization target has the potential to keep the global temperature rise at or below about 3.5°F from pre-industrial levels and 2° F above the current average temperature, a level beyond which many concerns have been raised about dangerous human interference with the climate system.88,89 Scenarios that stabilize carbon dioxide below 450 ppm (not shown in the figure) offer an increased chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.88,89

Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas of concern. Concentrations of other heat-trapping gases like methane and nitrous oxide and particles like soot will also have to be stabilized at low enough levels to prevent global temperatures from rising higher than the level mentioned above. When these other gases are added, including the offsetting cooling effects of sulfate aerosol particles, analyses suggest that stabilizing concentrations around 400 parts per million of “equivalent carbon dioxide” would yield about an 80 percent chance of avoiding exceeding the 2°F above present temperature threshold. This would be true even if concentrations temporarily peaked as high as 475 parts per million and then stabilized at 400 parts per million roughly a century later.72,88,89,93-95 Reductions in sulfate aerosol particles would necessitate lower equivalent carbon dioxide targets.

Rising global temperature

All climate models project that human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases will cause further warming in the future. Based on scenarios that do not assume explicit climate policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global average temperature is projected to rise by 2 to 11.5°F by the end of this century90 (relative to the 1980-1999 time period). Whether the actual warming in 2100 will be closer to the low or the high end of this range depends primarily on two factors: first, the future level of emissions of heat-trapping gases, and second, how sensitive climate is to past and future emissions. The range of possible outcomes has been explored using a range of different emissions scenarios, and a variety of climate models that encompass the known range of climate sensitivity.

Changing precipitation patterns

Projections of changes in precipitation largely follow recently observed patterns of change, with overall increases in the global average but substantial shifts in where and how precipitation falls.90 Generally, higher latitudes are projected to receive more precipitation, while the dry belt that lies just outside the tropics expands further poleward,96,97 and also receives less rain. Increases in tropical precipitation are projected during rainy seasons (such as monsoons), and especially over the tropical Pacific. Certain regions, including the U.S. West (especially the Southwest) and the Mediterranean, are expected to become drier. The widespread trend toward more heavy downpours is expected to continue, with precipitation becoming less frequent but more intense.90 More precipitation is expected to fall as rain rather than snow.

Currently rare extreme events are becoming more common

In a warmer future climate, models project there will be an increased risk of more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting heat waves.90 The European heat wave of 2003 is an example of the type of extreme heat event that is likely to become much more common.90 If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, by the 2040s more than half of European summers will be hotter than the summer of 2003, and by the end of this century, a summer as hot as that of 2003 will be considered unusually cool.78

Increased extremes of summer dryness and winter wetness are projected for much of the globe, meaning a generally greater risk of droughts and floods. This has already been observed,55 and is projected to continue. In a warmer world, precipitation tends to be concentrated into heavier events, with longer dry periods in between.90

Models project a general tendency for more intense but fewer storms overall outside the tropics, with more extreme wind events and higher ocean waves in a number of regions in association with those storms. Models also project a shift of storm tracks toward the poles in both hemispheres.90

Changes in hurricanes are difficult to project because there are countervailing forces. Higher ocean temperatures lead to stronger storms with higher wind speeds and more rainfall.98 But changes in wind speed and direction with height are also projected to increase in some regions, and this tends to work against storm formation and growth.99-101 It currently appears that stronger, more rain-producing tropical storms and hurricanes are generally more likely, though more research is required on these issues.68 More discussion of Atlantic hurricanes, which most affect the United States, appears on page 34 in the National Climate Change section.

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Global Average Temperature
1900 to 2100
Observed and projected changes in the global average temperature under three IPCC no-policy emissions scenarios. The shaded areas show the likely ranges while the lines show the central projections from a set of climate models. A wider range of model types shows outcomes from 2 to 11.5ºF.90 Changes are relative to the 1960-1979 average.


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Global Increase in Heavy Precipitation
1900 to 2100
Simulated and projected changes in the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 5 percent of daily events. The shaded areas show the likely ranges while the lines show the central projections from a set of climate models. Changes are relative to the 1960-1979 average.


Sea level will continue to rise

Projecting future sea-level rise presents special challenges. Scientists have a well-developed understanding of the contributions of thermal expansion and melting glaciers to sea-level rise, so the models used to project sea-level rise include these processes. However, the contributions to past and future sea-level rise from ice sheets are less well understood. Recent observations of the polar ice sheets show that a number of complex processes control the movement of ice to the sea, and thus affect the contributions of ice sheets to sea-level rise.29 Some of these processes are already producing substantial loss of ice mass. Because these processes are not well understood it is difficult to predict their future contributions to sea-level rise.102

Because of this uncertainty, the 2007 assessment by the IPCC could not quantify the contributions to sea-level rise due to changes in ice sheet dynamics, and thus projected a rise of the world’s oceans from 8 inches to 2 feet by the end of this century.90

More recent research has attempted to quantify the potential contribution to sea-level rise from the accelerated flow of ice sheets to the sea27,42 or to estimate future sea level based on its observed relationship to temperature.103 The resulting estimates exceed those of the IPCC, and the average estimates under higher emissions scenarios are for sea-level rise between 3 and 4 feet by the end of this century. An important question that is often asked is, what is the upper bound of sea-level rise expected over this century? Few analyses have focused on this question. There is some evidence to suggest that it would be virtually impossible to have a rise of sea level higher than about 6.5 feet by the end of this century.42

The changes in sea level experienced at any particular location along the coast depend not only on the increase in the global average sea level, but also on changes in regional currents and winds, proximity to the mass of melting ice sheets, and on the vertical movements of the land due to geological forces.104 The consequences of sea-level rise at any particular location depend on the amount of sea-level rise relative to the adjoining land. Although some parts of the U.S. coast are undergoing uplift (rising), most shorelines are subsiding (sinking) to various degrees – from a few inches to over 2 feet per century.

Abrupt climate change

There is also the possibility of even larger changes in climate than current scenarios and models project. Not all changes in the climate are gradual. The long record of climate found in ice cores, tree rings, and other natural records show that Earth’s climate patterns have undergone rapid shifts from one stable state to another within as short a period as a decade. The occurrence of abrupt changes in climate becomes increasingly likely as the human disturbance of the climate system grows.90 Such changes can occur so rapidly that they would challenge the ability of human and natural systems to adapt.105 Examples of such changes are abrupt shifts in drought frequency and duration. Ancient climate records suggest that in the United States, the Southwest may be at greatest risk for this kind of change, but that other regions including the Midwest and Great Plains have also had these kinds of abrupt shifts in the past and could experience them again in the future.

Rapid ice sheet collapse with related sea-level rise is another type of abrupt change that is not well understood or modeled and that poses a risk for the future. Recent observations show that melting on the surface of an ice sheet produces water that flows down through large cracks that create conduits through the ice to the base of the ice sheet where it lubricates ice previously frozen to the rock below.29 Further, the interaction with warm ocean water, where ice meets the sea, can lead to sudden losses in ice mass and accompanying rapid global sea-level rise. Observations indicate that ice loss has increased dramatically over the last decade, though scientists are not yet confident that they can project how the ice sheets will respond in the future.

There are also concerns regarding the potential for abrupt release of methane from thawing of frozen soils, from the sea floor, and from wetlands in the tropics and the Arctic. While analyses suggest that an abrupt release of methane is very unlikely to occur within 100 years, it is very likely that warming will accelerate the pace of chronic methane emissions from these sources, potentially increasing the rate of global temperature rise.106

A third major area of concern regarding possible abrupt change involves the operation of the ocean currents that transport vast quantities of heat around the globe. One branch of the ocean circulation is in the North Atlantic. In this region, warm water flows northward from the tropics to the North Atlantic in the upper layer of the ocean, while cold water flows back from the North Atlantic to the tropics in the ocean’s deep layers, creating a “conveyor belt” for heat. Changes in this circulation have profound impacts on the global climate system, from changes in African and Indian monsoon rainfall, to atmospheric circulation relevant to hurricanes, to changes in climate over North America and Western Europe.

Recent findings indicate that it is very likely that the strength of this North Atlantic circulation will decrease over the course of this century in response to increasing greenhouse gases. This is expected because warming increases the melting of glaciers and ice sheets and the resulting runoff of freshwater to the sea. This additional water is virtually salt-free, which makes it less dense than sea water. Increased precipitation also contributes fresh, less-dense water to the ocean. As a result, less surface water is dense enough to sink, thereby reducing the conveyor belt’s transport of heat. The best estimate is that the strength of this circulation will decrease 25 to 30 percent in this century, leading to a reduction in heat transfer to the North Atlantic. It is considered very unlikely that this circulation would collapse entirely during the next 100 years or so, though it cannot be ruled out. While very unlikely, the potential consequences of such an abrupt event would be severe. Impacts would likely include sea-level rise around the North Atlantic of up to 2.5 feet (in addition to the rise expected from thermal expansion and melting glaciers and ice sheets), changes in atmospheric circulation conditions that influence hurricane activity, a southward shift of tropical rainfall belts with resulting agricultural impacts, and disruptions to marine ecosystems.76
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:56 pm

National Climate Change

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Key Messages:

• U.S. average temperature has risen more than 2ºF over the past 50 years and is projected to rise more in the future; how much more depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally and how sensitive the climate is to those emissions.
• Precipitation has increased an average of about 5 percent over the past 50 years. Projections of future precipitation generally indicate that northern areas will become wetter, and southern areas, particularly in the West, will become drier.
• The amount of rain falling in the heaviest downpours has increased approximately 20 percent on average in the past century, and this trend is very likely to continue, with the largest increases in the wettest places.
• Many types of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and regional droughts, have become more frequent and intense during the past 40 to 50 years.
• The destructive energy of Atlantic hurricanes has increased in recent decades. The intensity of these storms is likely to increase in this century.
• In the eastern Pacific, the strongest hurricanes have become stronger since the 1980s, even while the total number of storms has decreased.
• Sea level has risen along most of the U.S. coast over the last 50 years, and will rise more in the future.
• Cold-season storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are likely to become stronger and more frequent.
• Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly and this is very likely to continue.

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The maps show annual temperature difference from the 1961-1990 average for the 3 years that were the hottest on record in the United States: 1998, 1934 and 2006 (in rank order). Red areas were warmer than average, blue were cooler than average. The 1930s were very warm in much of the United States, but they were not unusually warm globally. On the other hand, the warmth of 1998 and 2006, as for most years in recent decades, has been global in extent.

Like the rest of the world, the United States has been warming significantly over the past 50 years in response to the build up of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. When looking at national climate, however, it is important to recognize that climate responds to local, regional, and global factors. Therefore, national climate varies more than the average global climate. While various parts of the world have had particularly hot or cold periods earlier in the historical record, these periods have not been global in scale, whereas the warming of recent decades has been global in scale – hence the term global warming. It is also important to recognize that at both the global and national scales, year-to-year fluctuations in natural weather and climate patterns can produce a period that does not follow the long-term trend. Thus, each year will not necessarily be warmer than every year before it, though the warming trend continues.

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Annual Average Temperature
(Departure from the 1901-2000 Average)
From 1901 to 2008, each year’s temperature departure from the long-term average is one bar, with blue bars representing years cooler than the long-term average and red bars representing years warmer than that average. National temperatures vary much more than global temperatures, in part because of the moderating influence of the oceans on global temperatures.


U.S. average temperature has risen more than 2°F over the past 50 years and is projected to rise more in the future; how much more depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally and how sensitive the climate is to those emissions.

The series of maps and thermometers on these two pages shows the magnitude of the observed and projected changes in annual average temperature. The map for the period around 2000 shows that most areas of the United States have warmed 1 to 2°F compared to the 1960s and 1970s. Although not reflected in these maps of annual average temperature, this warming has generally resulted in longer warm seasons and shorter, less intense cold seasons.

The remaining maps show projected warming over the course of this century under a lower emissions scenario and a higher emissions scenario91 (see Global Climate Change section, page 23). Temperatures will continue to rise throughout the century under both emissions scenarios,91 although higher emissions result in more warming by the middle of the century and significantly more by the end of the century.

Temperature increases in the next couple of decades will be primarily determined by past emissions of heat-trapping gases. As a result, there is little difference in projected temperature between the higher and lower emissions scenarios91 in the near-term (around 2020), so only a single map is shown for this timeframe. Increases after the next couple of decades will be primarily determined by future emissions.90 This is clearly evident in greater projected warming in the higher emissions scenario91 by the middle (around 2050) and end of this century (around 2090).

On a seasonal basis, most of the United States is projected to experience greater warming in summer than in winter, while Alaska experiences far more warming in winter than summer.108

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Present-Day (1993-2008)
Average Change (°F) from 1961-1979 Baseline


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Near-Term (2010-2029)
Projected Average Change (°F) from 1961-1979 Baseline

The maps and thermometers on this page and the next page show temperature differences (either measured or projected) from conditions as they existed during the period from 1961-1979. Comparisons to this period are made because the influence on climate from increasing greenhouse gas emissions has been greatest during the past five decades. The present-day map is based on the average observed temperatures from 1993-2008 minus the average from 1961-1979. Projected temperatures are based on results from 16 climate models for the periods 2010-2029, 2040-2059, and 2080-2099. The brackets on the thermometers represent the likely range of model projections, though lower or higher outcomes are possible. The mid-century and end-of-century maps show projections for both the higher and lower emission scenarios.91 The projection for the near-term is the average of the higher and lower emission scenarios91 because there is little difference in that timeframe.


The average warming for the country as a whole is shown on the thermometers adjacent to each map. By the end of the century, the average U.S. temperature is projected to increase by approximately 7 to 11°F under the higher emissions scenario91 and by approximately 4 to 6.5°F under the lower emissions scenario.91 These ranges are due to differences among climate model results for the same emissions scenarios. Emissions scenarios even lower than the lower scenario shown here, such as the 450 ppm stabilization scenario described on pages 23-24, would yield lower temperature increases than those shown below.25

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Higher Emissions Scenario91 Projected Temperature Change (°F) from 1961-1979 Baseline
Mid-Century (2040-2059 average) End-of-Century (2080-2099 average)


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Lower Emissions Scenario91 Projected Temperature Change (°F) from 1961-1979 Baseline
Mid-Century (2040-2059 average) End-of-Century (2080-2099 average)

The maps on this page and the previous page are based on projections of future temperature by 16 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Three (CMIP3) climate models using two emissions scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES).91 The “lower” scenario here is B1, while the “higher” is A2.91 The brackets on the thermometers represent the likely range of model projections, though lower or higher outcomes are possible. Additional information on these scenarios is on pages 22 and 23 in the previous section, Global Climate Change. These maps, and others in this report, show projections at national, regional, and sub-regional scales, using well-established techniques.110


Precipitation has increased an average of about 5 percent over the past 50 years. Projections of future precipitation generally indicate that northern areas will become wetter, and southern areas, particularly in the West, will become drier.

While precipitation over the United States as a whole has increased, there have been important regional and seasonal differences. Increasing trends throughout much of the year have been predominant in the Northeast and large parts of the Plains and Midwest. Decreases occurred in much of the Southeast in all but the fall season and in the Northwest in all seasons except spring. Precipitation also generally decreased during the summer and fall in the Southwest, while winter and spring, which are the wettest seasons in states such as California and Nevada, have had increases in precipitation.111

Future changes in total precipitation due to human-induced warming are more difficult to project than changes in temperature. In some seasons, some areas will experience an increase in precipitation, other areas will experience a decrease, and others will see little discernible change. The difficulty arises in predicting the extent of those areas and the amount of change. Model projections of future precipitation generally indicate that northern areas will become wetter, and southern areas, particularly in the West, will become drier.97,108

Confidence in projected changes is higher for winter and spring than for summer and fall. In winter and spring, northern areas are expected to receive significantly more precipitation than they do now, because the interaction of warm and moist air coming from the south with colder air from the north is projected to occur farther north than it did on average in the last century. The more northward incursions of warmer and moister air masses are expected to be particularly noticeable in northern regions that will change from very cold and dry atmospheric conditions to warmer but moister conditions.68 Alaska, the Great Plains, the upper Midwest, and the Northeast are beginning to experience such changes for at least part of the year, with the likelihood of these changes increasing over time.

In some northern areas, warmer conditions will result in more precipitation falling as rain and less as snow. In addition, potential water resource benefits from increasing precipitation could be countered by the competing influences of increasing evaporation and runoff. In southern areas, significant reductions in precipitation are projected in winter and spring as the subtropical dry belt expands.108 This is particularly pronounced in the Southwest, where it would have serious ramifications for water resources.

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Observed Change in Annual Average Precipitation
1958 to 2008
While U.S. annual average precipitation has increased about 5 percent over the past 50 years, there have been important regional differences as shown above.


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Projected Change in North American Precipitation by 2080-2099
The maps show projected future changes in precipitation relative to the recent past as simulated by 15 climate models. The simulations are for late this century, under a higher emissions scenario.91 For example, in the spring, climate models agree that northern areas are likely to get wetter, and southern areas drier. There is less confidence in exactly where the transition between wetter and drier areas will occur. Confidence in the projected changes is highest in the hatched areas.


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Increases in Amounts of Very Heavy Precipitation (1958 to 2007)
The map shows percent increases in the amount falling in very heavy precipitation events (defined as the heaviest 1 percent of all daily events) from 1958 to 2007 for each region. There are clear trends toward more very heavy precipitation for the nation as a whole, and particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.


The amount of rain falling in the heaviest downpours has increased approximately 20 percent on average in the past century, and this trend is very likely to continue, with the largest increases in the wettest places.

One of the clearest precipitation trends in the United States is the increasing frequency and intensity of heavy downpours. This increase was responsible for most of the observed increase in overall precipitation during the last 50 years. In fact, there has been little change or a decrease in the frequency of light and moderate precipitation during the past 30 years, while heavy precipitation has increased. In addition, while total average precipitation over the nation as a whole increased by about 7 percent over the past century, the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1 percent of rain events increased nearly 20 percent.112

During the past 50 years, the greatest increases in heavy precipitation occurred in the Northeast and the Midwest. There have also been increases in heavy downpours in the other regions of the continental United States, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.112

Climate models project continued increases in the heaviest downpours during this century, while the lightest precipitation is projected to decrease. Heavy downpours that are now 1-in-20-year occurrences are projected to occur about every 4 to 15 years by the end of this century, depending on location, and the intensity of heavy downpours is also expected to increase. The 1-in-20-year heavy downpour is expected to be between 10 and 25 percent heavier by the end of the century than it is now.112

Changes in these kinds of extreme weather and climate events are among the most serious challenges to our nation in coping with a changing climate.

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Projected Changes in Light, Moderate, and Heavy Precipitation (by 2090s)
The figure shows projected changes from the 1990s average to the 2090s average in the amount of precipitation falling in light, moderate, and heavy events in North America. Projected changes are displayed in 5 percent increments from the lightest drizzles to the heaviest downpours. As shown here, the lightest precipitation is projected to decrease, while the heaviest will increase, continuing the observed trend. The higher emission scenario91 yields larger changes. Projections are based on the models used in the IPCC 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.


Many types of extreme weather events, such as heat waves and regional droughts, have become more frequent and intense during the past 40 to 50 years.

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades. The number of North American mainland land-falling hurricanes does not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, cold-season storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger. These trends in storms outside the tropics are projected to continue throughout this century.68,112,114

Drought

Like precipitation, trends in drought have strong regional variations. In much of the Southeast and large parts of the West, the frequency of drought has increased coincident with rising temperatures over the past 50 years. In other regions, such as the Midwest and Great Plains, there has been a reduction in drought frequency.

Although there has been an overall increase in precipitation and no clear trend in drought for the nation as a whole, increasing temperatures have made droughts more severe and widespread than they would have otherwise been. Without the observed increase in precipitation, higher temperatures would have led to an increase in the area of the contiguous United States in severe to extreme drought, with some estimates of a 30 percent increase.112 In the future, droughts are likely to become more frequent and severe in some regions.68 The Southwest, in particular, is expected to experience increasing drought as changes in atmospheric circulation patterns cause the dry zone just outside the tropics to expand farther northward into the United States.97

Rising temperatures have also led to earlier melting of the snowpack in the western United States.40 Because snowpack runoff is critical to the water resources in the western United States, changes in the timing and amount of runoff can exacerbate problems with already limited water supplies in the region.

Heat waves

A heat wave is a period of several days to weeks of abnormally hot weather, often with high humidity. During the 1930s, there was a high frequency of heat waves due to high daytime temperatures resulting in large part from an extended multi-year period of intense drought. By contrast, in the past 3 to 4 decades, there has been an increasing trend in high-humidity heat waves, which are characterized by the persistence of extremely high nighttime temperatures.112

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Observed Spring Snowmelt Dates
Date of onset of spring runoff pulse. Reddish-brown circles indicate significant trends toward onsets more than 20 days earlier. Lighter circles indicate less advance of the onset. Blue circles indicate later onset. The changes depend on a number of factors in addition to temperature, including altitude and timing of snowfall.


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Projected Frequency of Extreme Heat
(2080-2099 Average)
Simulations for 2080-2099 indicate how currently rare extremes (a 1-in-20-year event) are projected to become more commonplace. A day so hot that it is currently experienced once every 20 years would occur every other year or more frequently by the end of the century under the higher emissions scenario.91


As average temperatures continue to rise throughout this century, the frequency of cold extremes will decrease and the frequency and intensity of high temperature extremes will increase.115 The number of days with high temperatures above 90°F is projected to increase throughout the country as illustrated in the maps on the left. Parts of the South that currently have about 60 days per year with temperatures over 90°F are projected to experience 150 or more days a year above 90°F by the end of this century, under a higher emissions scenario.91 There is higher confidence in the regional patterns than in results for any specific location (see An Agenda for Climate Impacts Science section).

With rising high temperatures, extreme heat waves that are currently considered rare will occur more frequently in the future. Recent studies using an ensemble of models show that events that now occur once every 20 years are projected to occur about every other year in much of the country by the end of this century. In addition to occurring more frequently, at the end of this century these very hot days are projected to be about 10°F hotter than they are today.68

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Days Above 90°F
The average number of days per year when the maximum temperature exceeded 90°F from 1961-1979 (top) and the projected number of days per year above 90°F by the 2080s and 2090s for lower emissions (middle) and higher emissions (bottom).91 Much of the southern United States is projected to have more than twice as many days per year above 90°F by the end of this century.


The destructive energy of Atlantic hurricanes has increased in recent decades. The intensity of these storms is likely to increase in this century.

Of all the world’s tropical storm and hurricane basins, the North Atlantic has been the most thoroughly monitored and studied. The advent of routine aircraft monitoring in the 1940s and the use of satellite observations since the 1960s have greatly aided monitoring of tropical storms and hurricanes. In addition, observations of tropical storm and hurricane strength made from island and mainland weather stations and from ships at sea began in the 1800s and continue today. Because of new and evolving observing techniques and technologies, scientists pay careful attention to ensuring consistency in tropical storm and hurricane records from the earliest manual observations to today’s automated measurements. This is accomplished through collection, analysis, and cross-referencing of data from numerous sources and, where necessary, the application of adjustment techniques to account for differences in observing and reporting methodologies through time. Nevertheless, data uncertainty is larger in the early part of the record. Confidence in the tropical storm and hurricane record increases after 1900 and is greatest during the satellite era, from 1965 to the present.112

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Atlantic Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Top: Total numbers of North Atlantic named storms (tropical storms and hurricanes) (black) and total U.S. land-falling hurricanes (yellow) in 5-year periods based on annual data from 1881 to 2008. The bar for the last 5-year period is based on the assumption that the level of activity from 2006 to 2008 persists through 2010. In the era before satellites, indicated by the arrow above, the total number of named storms is less certain and has been adjusted upward to account for missing storms. Adjustments are based on relationships established during the satellite era between the number of observed storms and the number that would have been missed if satellite data had not been available.
Bottom: Total number of strongest (Category 4 and 5) North Atlantic basin hurricanes (purple) and strongest U.S. land-falling hurricanes (orange) in 5-year periods based on annual data from 1946 to 2008. The bar for the last 5-year period is based on the assumption that the level of activity from 2006 to 2008 persists through 2010. From 1946 to the mid-1960s, as indicated by the arrow above, hurricane intensity was measured primarily by aircraft reconnaissance. Data prior to aircraft reconnaissance are not shown due to the greater uncertainty in estimates of a hurricane's maximum intensity. Satellites have increased the reliability of hurricane intensity estimates since the mid-1960s.


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Atlantic Basin
Strongest Hurricanes


The total number of hurricanes and strongest hurricanes (Category 4 and 5) observed from 1881 through 2008 shows multi-decade periods of above average activity in the 1800s, the mid-1900s, and since 1995. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades.112 There has been little change in the total number of land-falling hurricanes, in part because a variety of factors affect whether a hurricane will make landfall. These include large-scale steering winds, atmospheric stability, wind shear, and ocean heat content. This highlights the importance of understanding the broader changes occurring throughout the Atlantic Basin beyond the storms making landfall along the U.S. coast.112

Tropical storms and hurricanes develop and gain strength over warm ocean waters. As oceans warm, they provide a source of energy for hurricane growth. During the past 30 years, annual sea surface temperatures in the main Atlantic hurricane development region increased nearly 2°F. This warming coincided with an increase in the destructive energy (as defined by the Power Dissipation Index, a combination of intensity, duration, and frequency) of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes. The strongest hurricanes (Category 4 and 5) have, in particular, increased in intensity.112 The graph below shows the strong correlation between hurricane power and sea surface temperature in the Atlantic and the overall increase in both during the past 30 years. Climate models project that hurricane intensity will continue to increase, though at a lesser rate than that observed in recent decades.100

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Observed Relationship Between Sea Surface Temperatures and Hurricane Power in the North Atlantic Ocean
Observed sea surface temperature (blue) and the Power Dissipation Index (green), which combines frequency, intensity and duration for North Atlantic hurricanes.120 Hurricane rainfall and wind speeds are likely to increase in response to human-caused warming. Analyses of model simulations suggest that for each 1.8ºF increase in tropical sea surface temperatures, rainfall rates will increase by 6 to 18 percent.68


New evidence has emerged recently for other temperature related linkages that can help explain the increase in Atlantic hurricane activity. This includes the contrast in sea surface temperature between the main hurricane development region and the broader tropical ocean.99,118,119 Other causes beyond the rise in ocean temperature, such as atmospheric stability and circulation, can also influence hurricane power. For these and other reasons, a confident assessment requires further study.68

Evidence of increasing hurricane strength in the Atlantic and other oceans with linkages to rising sea surface temperatures is also supported by satellite records dating back to 1981. An increase in the maximum wind speeds of the strongest hurricanes has been documented and linked to increasing sea surface temperatures.122

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Observed and Projected Sea Surface Temperature Change
Atlantic Hurricane Formation Region
Observed (black) and projected temperatures (blue = lower scenario; red = higher scenario) in the Atlantic hurricane formation region. Increased intensity of hurricanes is linked to rising sea surface temperatures in the region of the ocean where hurricanes form. The shaded areas show the likely ranges while the lines show the central projections from a set of climate models.


Projections are that sea surface temperatures in the main Atlantic hurricane development region will increase at even faster rates during the second half of this century under higher emissions scenarios. This highlights the need to better understand the relationship between increasing temperatures and hurricane intensity. As ocean temperatures continue to increase in the future, it is likely that hurricane rainfall and wind speeds will increase in response to human-caused warming.68 Analyses of model simulations suggest that for each 1.8° increase in tropical sea surface temperatures, core rainfall rates will increase by 6 to 18 percent and the surface wind speeds of the strongest hurricanes will increase by about 1 to 8 percent.114 Even without further coastal development, storm surge levels and hurricane damages are likely to increase because of increasing hurricane intensity coupled with sea-level rise, the latter being a virtually certain outcome of the warming global climate.68

In the eastern Pacific, the strongest hurricanes have become stronger since the 1980s, even while the total number of storms has decreased.

Although on average more hurricanes form in the eastern Pacific than the Atlantic each year, cool ocean waters along the U.S. West Coast and atmospheric steering patterns help protect the contiguous U.S. from landfalls. Threats to the Hawaiian Islands are greater, but land-falling storms are rare in comparison to those of the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts. Nevertheless, changes in hurricane intensity and frequency could influence the impact of land-falling Pacific hurricanes in the future.

The total number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the eastern Pacific on seasonal to multi-decade time periods is generally opposite to that observed in the Atlantic. For example, during El Niño events it is common for hurricanes in the Atlantic to be suppressed while the eastern Pacific is more active. This reflects the large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns that extend across both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.123,124

Within the past three decades the total number of tropical storms and hurricanes and their destructive energy have decreased in the eastern Pacific.68,124 However, satellite observations have shown that like the Atlantic, the strongest hurricanes (the top 5 percent), have gotten stronger since the early 1980s.122,125 As ocean temperatures rise, the strongest hurricanes are likely to increase in both the eastern Pacific and the Atlantic.68

Sea level has risen along most of the U.S. coast over the past 50 years, and will rise more in the future.

Recent global sea-level rise has been caused by the warming-induced expansion of the oceans, accelerated melting of most of the world’s glaciers, and loss of ice on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.37 There is strong evidence that global sea level is currently rising at an increased rate.37,126 A warming global climate will cause further sea-level rise over this century and beyond.90,105

During the past 50 years, sea level has risen up to 8 inches or more along some coastal areas of the United States, and has fallen in other locations. The amount of relative sea-level rise experienced along different parts of the U.S. coast depends on the changes in elevation of the land that occur as a result of subsidence (sinking) or uplift (rising), as well as increases in global sea level due to warming. In addition, atmospheric and oceanic circulation, which will be affected by climate change, will influence regional sea level. Regional differences in sea-level rise are also expected to be related to where the melt-water originates.104

Human-induced sea-level rise is occurring globally. Large parts of the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico Coast have experienced significantly higher rates of relative sea-level rise than the global average during the last 50 years, with the local differences mainly due to land subsidence.127 Portions of the Northwest and Alaska coast have, on the other hand, experienced slightly falling sea level as a result of long-term uplift as a consequence of glacier melting and other geological processes.

Regional variations in relative sea-level rise are expected in the future. For example, assuming historical geological forces continue, a 2-foot rise in global sea level (which is within the range of recent estimates) by the end of this century would result in a relative sea-level rise of 2.3 feet at New York City, 2.9 feet at Hampton Roads, Virginia, 3.5 feet at Galveston, Texas, and 1 foot at Neah Bay in Washington state.128

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Relative Sea-Level Changes on U.S. Coastlines, 1958 to 2008
Observed changes in relative sea level from 1958 to 2008 for locations on the U.S. coast. Some areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts saw increases greater than 8 inches over the past 50 years.


Cold-season storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are likely to become stronger and more frequent.

Large-scale storm systems are the dominant weather phenomenon during the cold season in the United States. Although the analysis of these storms is complicated by a relatively short length of most observational records and by the highly variable nature of strong storms, some clear patterns have emerged.112

Storm tracks have shifted northward over the last 50 years as evidenced by a decrease in the frequency of storms in mid-latitude areas of the Northern Hemisphere, while high-latitude activity has increased. There is also evidence of an increase in the intensity of storms in both the mid- and high-latitude areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with greater confidence in the increases occurring in high latitudes.112 The northward shift is projected to continue, and strong cold season storms are likely to become stronger and more frequent, with greater wind speeds and more extreme wave heights.68

Snowstorms

The northward shift in storm tracks is reflected in regional changes in the frequency of snowstorms. The South and lower Midwest saw reduced snowstorm frequency during the last century. In contrast, the Northeast and upper Midwest saw increases in snowstorms, although considerable decade-to-decade variations were present in all regions, influenced, for example, by the frequency of El Niño events.112

There is also evidence of an increase in lake-effect snowfall along and near the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes since 1950.97 Lake-effect snow is produced by the strong flow of cold air across large areas of relatively warmer ice-free water. As the climate has warmed, ice coverage on the Great Lakes has fallen. The maximum seasonal coverage of Great Lakes ice decreased at a rate of 8.4 percent per decade from 1973 through 2008, amounting to a roughly 30 percent decrease in ice coverage (see Midwest region). This has created conditions conducive to greater evaporation of moisture and thus heavier snowstorms. Among recent extreme lake-effect snow events was a February 2007 10-day storm total of over 10 feet of snow in western New York state. Climate models suggest that lake-effect snowfalls are likely to increase over the next few decades.130 In the longer term, lake-effect snows are likely to decrease as temperatures continue to rise, with the precipitation then falling as rain.129

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Areas in New York state east of Lake Ontario received over 10 feet of lake-effect snow during a 10-day period in early February 2007.

Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms

Reports of severe weather including tornadoes and severe thunderstorms have increased during the past 50 years. However, the increase in the number of reports is widely believed to be due to improvements in monitoring technologies such as Doppler radars combined with changes in population and increasing public awareness. When adjusted to account for these factors, there is no clear trend in the frequency or strength of tornadoes since the 1950s for the United States as a whole.112

The distribution by intensity for the strongest 10 percent of hail and wind reports is little changed, providing no evidence of an observed increase in the severity of events.112 Climate models project future increases in the frequency of environmental conditions favorable to severe thunderstorms.131 But the inability to adequately model the small-scale conditions involved in thunderstorm development remains a limiting factor in projecting the future character of severe thunderstorms and other small-scale weather phenomena.68

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Arctic Sea Ice
Annual Minimum
Arctic sea ice reaches its annual minimum in September. The satellite images above show September Arctic sea ice in 1979, the first year these data were available, and 2007.


Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly and this is very likely to continue.

Sea ice is a very important part of the climate system. In addition to direct impacts on coastal areas of Alaska, it more broadly affects surface reflectivity, ocean currents, cloudiness, humidity, and the exchange of heat and moisture at the ocean’s surface. Open ocean water is darker in color than sea ice, which causes it to absorb more of the Sun’s heat, which increases the warming of the water even more.40,132

The most complete record of sea ice is provided by satellite observations of sea ice extent since the 1970s. Prior to that, aircraft, ship, and coastal observations in the Arctic make it possible to extend the record of Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent back to at least 1900, although there is a lower level of confidence in the data prior to 1953.40

Arctic sea ice extent has fallen at a rate of 3 to 4 percent per decade over the last three decades. End-of-summer Arctic sea ice has fallen at an even faster rate of more than 11 percent per decade in that time. The observed decline in Arctic sea ice has been more rapid than projected by climate models.133 Year-to-year changes in sea ice extent and record low amounts are influenced by natural variations in atmospheric pressure and wind patterns.134 However, clear linkages between rising greenhouse gas concentrations and declines in Arctic sea ice have been identified in the climate record as far back as the early 1990s.61 The extreme loss in Arctic sea ice that occurred in 2007 would not have been possible without the long-term reductions that have coincided with a sustained increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and the rapid rise in global temperatures that have occurred since the mid-1970s.135 Although the 2007 record low was not eclipsed in 2008, the 2008 sea ice extent is well below the long-term average, reflecting a continuation of the long-term decline in Arctic sea ice. In addition, the total volume of Arctic sea ice in 2008 was likely a record low because the ice was unusually thin.136

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Arctic Sea Ice Extent
Annual Average
Observations of annual average Arctic sea ice extent for the period 1900 to 2008. The gray shading indicates less confidence in the data before 1953.


It is expected that declines in Arctic sea ice will continue in the coming decades with year-to-year fluctuations influenced by natural atmospheric variability. The overall rate of decline will be influenced mainly by the rate at which carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations increase.137

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U.S. Emission and Absorption of Heat-Trapping Gases
Since the industrial revolution, the United States has been the world’s largest emitter of heat-trapping gases. With 4.5 percent of world's population, the United States is responsible for about 28 percent of the human-induced heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere today.136 Although China has recently surpassed the United States in current total annual emissions, per capita emissions remain much higher in the United States. Carbon dioxide, the most important of the heat-trapping gases produced directly by human activities, is a cumulative problem because it has a long atmospheric lifetime. Roughly one-half of the carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning remains in the atmosphere after 100 years, and roughly one-fifth of it remains after 1,000 years.90

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions grew dramatically over the past century. These emissions come almost entirely from burning fossil fuels. These sources of carbon dioxide are one side of the equation and on the other side are “sinks” that take up carbon dioxide. The growth of trees and other plants is an important natural carbon sink. In recent years, it is estimated that about 20 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have been offset by U.S. forest growth and other sinks (see figure below).140 It is not known whether U.S. forests and other sinks will continue to take up roughly this amount of carbon dioxide in the future as climate change alters carbon release and uptake. For example, a warming-induced lengthening of the growing season would tend to increase carbon uptake. On the other hand, the increases in forest fires and in the decomposition rate of dead plant matter would decrease uptake, and might convert the carbon sink into a source.140

The amount of carbon released and taken up by natural sources varies considerably from year to year depending on climatic and other conditions. For example, fires release carbon dioxide, so years with many large fires result in more carbon release and less uptake as natural sinks (the vegetation) are lost. Similarly, the trees destroyed by intense storms or droughts release carbon dioxide as they decompose, and the loss results in reduced strength of natural sinks until regrowth is well underway. For example, Hurricane Katrina killed or severely damaged over 320 million large trees. As these trees decompose over the next few years, they will release an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that taken up by all U.S. forests in a year.112 The net change in carbon storage in the long run will depend on how much is taken up by the regrowth as well as how much was released by the original disturbance.


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U.S. annual emissions of CO2 from fossil-fuel use.141

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U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and uptake in millions of tons of carbon per year in 2003. The bar marked “Emitted” indicates the amount of carbon as carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere from U.S. emissions. The bars marked “Absorbed” indicate amounts of carbon as carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere. The thin lines on each bar indicate estimates of uncertainty.
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:06 pm

Water Resources

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Key Messages:

• Climate change has already altered, and will continue to alter, the water cycle, affecting where, when, and how much water is available for all uses.
• Floods and droughts are likely to become more common and more intense as regional and seasonal precipitation patterns change, and rainfall becomes more concentrated into heavy events (with longer, hotter dry periods in between).
• Precipitation and runoff are likely to increase in the Northeast and Midwest in winter and spring, and decrease in the West, especially the Southwest, in spring and summer.
• In areas where snowpack dominates, the timing of runoff will continue to shift to earlier in the spring and flows will be lower in late summer.
• Surface water quality and groundwater quantity will be affected by a changing climate.
• Climate change will place additional burdens on already stressed water systems.
• The past century is no longer a reasonable guide to the future for water management.

Changes in the water cycle, which are consistent with the warming observed over the past several decades, include:

• changes in precipitation patterns and intensity
• changes in the incidence of drought
• widespread melting of snow and ice
• increasing atmospheric water vapor
• increasing evaporation
• increasing water temperatures
• reductions in lake and river ice
• changes in soil moisture and runoff

For the future, marked regional differences are projected, with increases in annual precipitation, runoff, and soil moisture in much of the Midwest and Northeast, and declines in much of the West, especially the Southwest.

The impacts of climate change include too little water in some places, too much water in other places, and degraded water quality. Some locations are expected to be subject to all of these conditions during different times of the year. Water cycle changes are expected to continue and to adversely affect energy production and use, human health, transportation, agriculture, and ecosystems (see table on page 50).142

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Skagit River and surrounding mountains in the Northwest

Climate change has already altered, and will continue to alter, the water cycle, affecting where, when, and how much water is available for all uses.

Substantial changes to the water cycle are expected as the planet warms because the movement of water in the atmosphere and oceans is one of the primary mechanisms for the redistribution of heat around the world. Evidence is mounting that human-induced climate change is already altering many of the existing patterns of precipitation in the United States, including when, where, how much, and what kind of precipitation falls.68,142 A warmer climate increases evaporation of water from land and sea, and allows more moisture to be held in the atmosphere. For every 1°F rise in temperature, the water holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 4 percent.49

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Projected Changes in the Water Cycle
The water cycle exhibits many changes as the Earth warms. Wet and dry areas respond differently.


In addition, changes in atmospheric circulation will tend to move storm tracks northward with the result that dry areas will become drier and wet areas wetter. Hence, the arid Southwest is projected to experience longer and more severe droughts from the combination of increased evaporation and reductions in precipitation.108

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Changes in Snowfall Contributions to Wintertime Precipitation
1949 to 2005
Trends in winter snow-to-total precipitation ratio from 1949 to 2005. Red circles indicate less snow, while blue squares indicate more snow. Large circles and squares indicate the most significant trends.143 Areas south of 37ºN latitude were excluded from the analysis because most of that area receives little snowfall. White areas above that line have inadequate data for this analysis.


The additional atmospheric moisture contributes to more overall precipitation in some areas, especially in much of the Northeast, Midwest, and Alaska. Over the past 50 years, precipitation and stream-flow have increased in much of the Northeast and Midwest, with a reduction in drought duration and severity. Much of the Southeast and West has had reductions in precipitation and increases in drought severity and duration, especially in the Southwest.

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Observed Water-Related Changes During the Last Century142

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Observed Drought Trends 1958 to 2007
Trends in end-of-summer drought as measured by the Palmer Drought Severity Index from 1958 to 2007 in each of 344 U.S. climate divisions.144 Hatching indicates significant trends.


In most areas of the country, the fraction of precipitation falling as rain versus snow has increased during the last 50 years. Despite this general shift from snow to rain, snowfalls along the downwind coasts of the Great Lakes have increased. Factors contributing to this increase include reduced ice cover due to warming, which lengthens the period of open water. In addition, cold air moving over relatively warm, open lake water induces strong evaporation, often causing heavy lake-effect snow. Heavy snowfall and snowstorm frequency have increased in many northern parts of the United States. In the South however, where temperatures are already marginal for heavy snowfall, climate warming has led to a reduction in heavy snowfall and snowstorm frequency. These trends suggest a northward shift in snowstorm occurrence.68

Floods and droughts are likely to become more common and more intense as regional and seasonal precipitation patterns change, and rainfall becomes more concentrated into heavy events (with longer, hotter dry periods in between).

While it sounds counterintuitive, a warmer world produces both wetter and drier conditions. Even though total global precipitation increases, the regional and seasonal distribution of precipitation changes, and more precipitation comes in heavier rains (which can cause flooding) rather than light events. In the past century, averaged over the United States, total precipitation has increased by about 7 percent, while the heaviest 1 percent of rain events increased by nearly 20 percent.68 This has been especially noteworthy in the Northeast, where the annual number of days with very heavy precipitation has increased most in the past 50 years, as shown in the adjacent figure. Flooding often occurs when heavy precipitation persists for weeks to months in large river basins. Such extended periods of heavy precipitation have also been increasing over the past century, most notably in the past two to three decades in the United States.112

Observations also show that over the past several decades, extended dry periods have become more frequent in parts of the United States, especially the Southwest and the eastern United States.146,147 Longer periods between rainfalls, combined with higher air temperatures, dry out soils and vegetation, causing drought.

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Increases in the Number of Days with Very Heavy Precipitation (1958 to 2007)
The map shows the percentage increases in the average number of days with very heavy precipitation (defined as the heaviest 1 percent of all events) from 1958 to 2007 for each region. There are clear trends toward more days with very heavy precipitation for the nation as a whole, and particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.


For the future, precipitation intensity is projected to increase everywhere, with the largest increases occurring in areas in which average precipitation increases the most. For example, the Midwest and Northeast, where total precipitation is expected to increase the most, would also experience the largest increases in heavy precipitation events. The number of dry days between precipitation events is also projected to increase, especially in the more arid areas. Mid-continental areas and the Southwest are particularly threatened by future drought. The magnitude of the projected changes in extremes is expected to be greater than changes in averages, and hence detectable sooner.49,68,90,142,148

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Projected Changes in Annual Runoff
Projected changes in median runoff for 2041-2060, relative to a 1901-1970 baseline, are mapped by water-resource region. Colors indicate percentage changes in runoff. Hatched areas indicate greater confidence due to strong agreement among model projections. White areas indicate divergence among model projections. Results are based on emissions in between the lower and higher emissions scenarios.91


Precipitation and runoff are likely to increase in the Northeast and Midwest in winter and spring, and decrease in the West, especially the Southwest, in spring and summer.

Runoff, which accumulates as streamflow, is the amount of precipitation that is not evaporated, stored as snowpack or soil moisture, or filtered down to groundwater. The proportion of precipitation that runs off is determined by a variety of factors including temperature, wind speed, humidity, solar intensity at the ground, vegetation, and soil moisture. While runoff generally tracks precipitation, increases and decreases in precipitation do not necessarily lead to equal increases and decreases in runoff. For example, droughts cause soil moisture reductions that can reduce expected runoff until soil moisture is replenished. Conversely, water-saturated soils can generate floods with only moderate additional precipitation. During the last century, consistent increases in precipitation have been found in the Midwest and Northeast along with increased runoff.149,150 Climate models consistently project that the East will experience increased runoff, while there will be substantial declines in the interior West, especially the Southwest. Projections for runoff in California and other parts of the West also show reductions, although less than in the interior West. In short, wet areas are projected to get wetter and dry areas drier. Climate models also consistently project heat-related summer soil moisture reductions in the middle of the continent.115,142,146,149

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Simulated Changes in Annual Runoff Pattern
General schematic of changes in the annual pattern of runoff for snowmelt-dominated streams. Compared to the historical pattern, runoff peak is projected to shift to earlier in the spring and late summer flows are expected to be lower. The above example is for the Green River, which is part of the Colorado River watershed.


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Trends in Peak Streamflow Timing
Top map shows changes in runoff timing in snowmelt-driven streams from 1948 to 2002 with red circles indicating earlier runoff, and blue circles indicating later runoff. Bottom map shows projected changes in snowmelt-driven streams by 2080-2099, compared to 1951-1980, under a higher emissions scenario.91


In areas where snowpack dominates, the timing of runoff will continue to shift to earlier in the spring and flows will be lower in late summer.

Large portions of the West and some areas in the Northeast rely on snowpack as a natural reservoir to hold winter precipitation until it later runs off as streamflow in spring, summer, and fall. Over the last 50 years, there have been widespread temperature-related reductions in snowpack in the West, with the largest reductions occurring in lower elevation mountains in the Northwest and California where snowfall occurs at temperatures close to the freezing point.142,153 The Northeast has also experienced snowpack reductions during a similar period. Observations indicate a transition to more rain and less snow in both the West and Northeast in the last 50 years.143,154-156 Runoff in snowmelt-dominated areas is occurring up to 20 days earlier in the West, and up to 14 days earlier in the Northeast.157,158 Future projections for most snowmelt-dominated basins in the West consistently indicate earlier spring runoff, in some cases up to 60 days earlier.157,159 For the Northeast, projections indicate spring runoff will advance by up to 14 days.150 Earlier runoff produces lower late-summer streamflows, which stress human and environmental systems through less water availability and higher water temperatures. 145 Scientific analyses to determine the causes of recent changes in snowpack, runoff timing, and increased winter temperatures have attributed these changes to human-caused climate change.34,160,161

Surface water quality and groundwater quantity will be affected by a changing climate.

Changes in water quality

Increased air temperatures lead to higher water temperatures, which have already been detected in many streams, especially during low-flow periods. In lakes and reservoirs, higher water temperatures lead to longer periods of summer stratification (when surface and bottom waters do not mix). Dissolved oxygen is reduced in lakes, reservoirs, and rivers at higher temperatures. Oxygen is an essential resource for many living things, and its availability is reduced at higher temperatures both because the amount that can be dissolved in water is lower and because respiration rates of living things are higher. Low oxygen stresses aquatic animals such as coldwater fish and the insects and crustaceans on which they feed.142 Lower oxygen levels also decrease the self-purification capabilities of rivers.

The negative effects of water pollution, including sediments, nitrogen from agriculture, disease pathogens, pesticides, herbicides, salt, and thermal pollution, will be amplified by observed and projected increases in precipitation intensity and longer periods when streamflows are low.146 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects the number of waterways considered “impaired” by water pollution to increase.162 Heavy downpours lead to increased sediment in runoff and outbreaks of waterborne diseases.163,164 Increases in pollution carried to lakes, estuaries, and the coastal ocean, especially when coupled with increased temperature, can result in blooms of harmful algae and bacteria. However, pollution has the potential of being diluted in regions that experience increased streamflow.

Water-quality changes during the last century were probably due to causes other than climate change, primarily changes in pollutants.149

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Heavy rain can cause sediments to become suspended in water, reducing its quality, as seen in the brown swath above in New York City’s Ashokan reservoir following Hurricane Floyd in September 1999.

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Lake Superior Summer Air and Water Temperatures
1979 to 2006
The recent large jump in summer water temperature is related to the recent large reduction in ice cover (see Midwest region).


Changes in groundwater

Many parts of the United States are heavily dependent on groundwater for drinking, residential, and agricultural water supplies.164 How climate change will affect groundwater is not well known, but increased water demands by society in regions that already rely on groundwater will clearly stress this resource, which is often drawn down faster than it can be recharged.164 In many locations, groundwater is closely connected to surface water and thus trends in surface water supplies over time affect groundwater. Changes in the water cycle that reduce precipitation or increase evaporation and runoff would reduce the amount of water available for recharge. Changes in vegetation and soils that occur as temperature changes or due to fire or pest outbreaks are also likely to affect recharge by altering evaporation and infiltration rates. More frequent and larger floods are likely to increase groundwater recharge in semi-arid and arid areas, where most recharge occurs through dry streambeds after heavy rainfalls and floods.142

Sea-level rise is expected to increase saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater aquifers, making some unusable without desalination.146 Increased evaporation or reduced recharge into coastal aquifers exacerbates saltwater intrusion. Shallow groundwater aquifers that exchange water with streams are likely to be the most sensitive part of the groundwater system to climate change. Small reductions in groundwater levels can lead to large reductions in streamflow and increases in groundwater levels can increase streamflow.165 Further, the interface between streams and groundwater is an important site for pollution removal by microorganisms. Their activity will change in response to increased temperature and increased or decreased streamflow as climate changes, and this will affect water quality. Like water quality, research on the impacts of climate change on groundwater has been minimal.149

Climate change will place additional burdens on already stressed water systems.

In many places, the nation’s water systems are already taxed due to aging infrastructure, population increases, and competition among water needs for farming, municipalities, hydropower, recreation, and ecosystems.167-169 Climate change will add another factor to existing water management challenges, thus increasing vulnerability.170 The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has identified many areas in the West that are already at risk for serious conflict over water, even in the absence of climate change171 (see figure next page).

Adapting to gradual changes, such as changes in average amounts of precipitation, is less difficult than adapting to changes in extremes. Where extreme events, such as droughts or floods, become more intense or more frequent with climate change, the economic and social costs of these events will increase.172 Water systems have life spans of many years and are designed with spare capacity. These systems are thus able to cope with small changes in average conditions.172 Water resource planning today considers a broad range of stresses and hence adaptation to climate change will be one factor among many in deciding what actions will be taken to minimize vulnerability.172-174

Rapid regional population growth

The U.S. population is estimated to have grown to more than 300 million people, nearly a 7 percent increase since the 2000 Census. Current Census Bureau projections are for this growth rate to continue, with the national population projected to reach 350 million by 2025 and 420 million by 2050. The highest rates of population growth to 2025 are projected to occur in areas such as the Southwest that are at risk for reductions in water supplies due to climate change.167

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Damage to the city water system in Asheville, North Carolina, due to heavy rain in 2004.

Aging water infrastructure

The nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure is aging. In older cities, some buried water mains are over 100 years old and breaks of these lines are a significant problem. Sewer overflows resulting in the discharge of untreated wastewater also occur frequently. Heavier downpours will exacerbate existing problems in many cities, especially where storm-water catchments and sewers are combined. Drinking water and sewer infrastructure is very expensive to install and maintain. Climate change will present a new set of challenges for designing upgrades to the nation’s water delivery and sewage removal infrastructure.168

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Potential Water Supply Conflicts by 2025
The map shows regions in the West where water supply conflicts are likely to occur by 2025 based on a combination of factors including population trends and potential endangered species’ needs for water. The red zones are where the conflicts are most likely to occur. This analysis does not factor in the effects of climate change, which is expected to exacerbate many of these already-identified issues.171


Existing water disputes across the country

Many locations in the United States are already undergoing water stress. The Great Lakes states are establishing an interstate compact to protect against reductions in lake levels and potential water exports. Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are in a dispute over water for drinking, recreation, farming, environmental purposes, and hydropower in the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee– Flint River system.175,176

The State Water Project in California is facing a variety of problems in the Sacramento Delta, including endangered species, saltwater intrusion, and potential loss of islands due to flood- or earthquake-caused levee failures.177-182 A dispute over endangered fish in the Rio Grande has been ongoing for many years.183 The Klamath River in Oregon and California has been the location of a multi-year disagreement over native fish, hydropower, and farming.184,185 The Colorado River has been the site of numerous interstate quarrels over the last century.186,187 Large, unquantified Native American water rights challenge existing uses in the West (see Southwest region).188 By changing the existing patterns of precipitation and runoff, climate change will add another stress to existing problems.

Changing water demands

Water demands are expected to change with increased temperatures. Evaporation is projected to increase over most of the United States as temperatures rise. Higher temperatures and longer dry periods are expected to lead to increased water demand for irrigation. This may be partially offset by more efficient use of water by plants due to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. Higher temperatures are projected to increase cooling water withdrawals by electrical generating stations. In addition, greater cooling requirements in summer will increase electricity use, which in turn will require more cooling water for power plants. Industrial and municipal demands are expected to increase slightly.146

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Long-Term Aridity Changes in the West
The black line shows the percentage of the area affected by drought (Palmer Drought Severity Index less than –1) in the West over the past 1,200 years. The red line indicates the average drought area in the years 900 to 1300. The blue horizontal line in the yellow box indicates the average during the period from 1900 to 2000, illustrating that the most recent period, during which population and water infrastructure grew rapidly in the West, was wetter than the long-term average (thin horizontal black line).189 Droughts shown in the period 1100-1300 significantly exceed those that have occurred over the past 100 years.


The past century is no longer a reasonable guide to the future for water management.

Water planning and management have been based on historical fluctuations in records of stream flows, lake levels, precipitation, temperature, and water demands. All aspects of water management including reservoir sizing, reservoir flood operations, maximum urban stormwater runoff amounts, and projected water demands have been based on these records. Water managers have proven adept at balancing supplies and demand through the significant climate variability of the past century.142 Because climate change will significantly modify many aspects of the water cycle, the assumption of an unchanging climate is no longer appropriate for many aspects of water planning. Past assumptions derived from the historical record about supply and demand will need to be revisited for existing and proposed water projects.142,151,174

Drought studies that consider the past 1,200 years indicate that in the West, the last century was significantly wetter than most other centuries. Multi-decade “megadroughts” in the years 900 to 1300 were substantially worse than the worst droughts of the last century, including the Dust Bowl era. The causes of these events are only partially known; if they were to reoccur, they would clearly stress water management, even in the absence of climate change (see figure below).97,149,189

The intersection of substantial changes in the water cycle with multiple stresses such as population growth and competition for water supplies means that water planning will be doubly challenging. The ability to modify operational rules and water allocations is likely to be critical for the protection of infrastructure, for public safety, to ensure reliability of water delivery, and to protect the environment. There are, however, many institutional and legal barriers to such changes in both the short and long term.190 Four examples:

• The allocation of the water in many interstate rivers is governed by compacts, international treaties, federal laws, court decrees, and other agreements that are difficult to modify.
• Reservoir operations are governed by “rule curves” that require a certain amount of space to be saved in a reservoir at certain times of year to capture a potential flood. Developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers based on historical flood data, many of these rule curves have never been modified, and modifications might require Environmental Impact Statements.151
• In most parts of the West, water is allocated based on a “first in time means first in right” system, and because agriculture was developed before cities were established, large volumes of water typically are allocated to agriculture. Transferring agricultural rights to municipalities, even for short periods during drought, can involve substantial expense and time and can be socially divisive.
• Conserving water does not necessarily lead to a right to that saved water, thus creating a disincentive for conservation.

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Highlights of Water-Related Impacts by Sector
Sector / Examples of Impacts
Human Health / Heavy downpours increase incidence of waterborne disease and floods, resulting in potential hazards to human life and health.163

Energy Supply / and Use Hydropower production is reduced due to low flows in some regions. Power generation is reduced in fossil fuel and nuclear plants due to increased water temperatures and reduced cooling water availability.191

Transportation Floods and droughts disrupt transportation. Heavy downpours affect harbor infrastructure and inland waterways. Declining Great Lakes levels reduce freight capacity.192

Agriculture and Forests / Intense precipitation can delay spring planting and damage crops. Earlier spring snowmelt leads to increased number of forest fires.193

Ecosystems / Coldwater fish threatened by rising water temperatures. Some warmwater fish will expand ranges.70


Total U.S. water diversions peaked in the 1980s, which implies that expanding supplies in many areas to meet new needs are unlikely to be a viable option, especially in arid areas likely to experience less precipitation. However, over the last 30 years, per capita water use has decreased significantly (due, for example, to more efficient technologies such as drip irrigation) and it is anticipated that per capita use will continue to decrease, thus easing stress.149

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Adaptation: New York City Begins Planning for Climate Change
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency in charge of providing the city’s drinking water and wastewater treatment, is beginning to alter its planning to take into account the effects of climate change – sea-level rise, higher temperatures, increases in extreme events, and changing precipitation patterns – on the city’s water systems. In partnership with Columbia University, DEP is evaluating climate change projections, impacts, indicators, and adaptation and mitigation strategies.

City planners have begun to address these issues by defining risks using probabilistic climate scenarios and considering potential adaptations that relate to operations/management, infrastructure, and policy. For example, DEP is examining the feasibility of relocating critical control systems to higher floors in low-lying buildings or to higher ground, building flood walls, and modifying design criteria to reflect changing hydrologic processes.

Important near-term goals of the overall effort include updating the existing 100-year flood elevations using climate model projections and identifying additional monitoring stations needed to track changes. DEP will also establish a system for reporting the impacts of extreme weather events on the City’s watershed and infrastructure. In the immediate future, DEP will evaluate flood protection measures for three existing water pollution control plants that are scheduled for renovation.194


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Spotlight on the Colorado River
The Colorado River system supplies water to over 30 million people in the Southwest including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver. Reservoirs in the system, including the giant lakes Mead and Powell, were nearly full in 1999, with almost four times the annual flow of the river stored. By 2007, the system had lost approximately half of that storage after enduring the worst drought in 100 years of record keeping.29 Runoff was reduced due to low winter precipitation, and warm, dry, and windy spring seasons that substantially reduced snowpack.

Numerous studies over the last 30 years have indicated that the river is likely to experience reductions in runoff due to climate change. In addition, diversions from the river to meet the needs of cities and agriculture are approaching its average flow. Under current conditions, even without climate change, large year-to-year fluctuations in reservoir storage are possible.152 If reductions in flow projected to accompany global climate change occur, water managers will be challenged to satisfy all existing demands, let alone the increasing demands of a rapidly growing population.167,195

Efforts are underway to address these challenges. In 2005, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation began a process to formalize operating rules for lakes Mead and Powell during times of low flows and to apportion limited water among the states.196


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Matching photographs taken 18 months apart during the most serious period of recent drought show a significant decrease in Lake Powell.

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Change in Water Volume of Lakes Mead and Powell
The filling of Lake Mead (green) was initiated in 1935, and that of Lake Powell (blue) in 1963. In 1999, the lakes were nearly full, but by 2007, the lakes had lost nearly half of their storage water after the worst drought in 100 years.


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Water and Energy Connections
Water and energy are tightly interconnected; water systems use large amounts of energy, and energy systems use large amounts of water. Both are expected to be under increasing pressure in the future and both will be affected by a changing climate. In the energy sector, water is used directly for hydropower, and cooling water is critical for nearly all other forms of electrical power generation. Withdrawals of freshwater used to cool power plants that use heat to generate electricity are very large, nearly equaling the water withdrawn for irrigation. Water consumption by power plants is about 20 percent of all non-agricultural uses, or half that of all domestic use.197

In the water sector, two very unusual attributes of water, significant weight due to its relatively high density, and high heat capacity, make water use energy intensive. Large amounts of energy are needed for pumping, heating, and treating drinking water and wastewater. Water supply and treatment consumes roughly 4 percent of the nation’s power supply, and electricity accounts for about 75 percent of the cost of municipal water processing and transport. In California, 30 percent of all non-power plant natural gas is used for water-related activities.198,199 The energy required to provide water depends on its source (groundwater, surface water, desalinated water, treated wastewater, or recycled water), the distance the water is conveyed, the amount of water moved, and the local topography. Surface water often requires more treatment than groundwater. Desalination requires large amounts of energy to produce freshwater. Treated wastewater and recycled water (used primarily for agriculture and industry) require energy for treatment, but little energy for supply and conveyance. Conserving water has the dual benefit of conserving energy and potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions if fossil fuels are the predominant source of that energy.


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Water and energy are intimately connected. Water is used by the power generation sector for cooling, and energy is used by the water sector for pumping, drinking water treatment, and wastewater treatment. Without energy, there would be limited water distribution, and without water, there would be limited energy production.
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Thu Dec 03, 2015 10:41 pm

Energy Supply and Use

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Key Messages:

• Warming will be accompanied by decreases in demand for heating energy and increases in demand for cooling energy. The latter will result in significant increases in electricity use and higher peak demand in most regions.
• Energy production is likely to be constrained by rising temperatures and limited water supplies in many regions.
• Energy production and delivery systems are exposed to sea-level rise and extreme weather events in vulnerable regions.
• Climate change is likely to affect some renewable energy sources across the nation, such as hydropower production in regions subject to changing patterns of precipitation or snowmelt.

Energy is at the heart of the global warming challenge.3 It is humanity’s production and use of energy that is the primary cause of global warming, and in turn, climate change will eventually affect our production and use of energy. The vast majority of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, about 87 percent, come from energy production and use.200

At the same time, other U.S. trends are increasing energy use: population shifts to the South, especially the Southwest, where air conditioning use is high, an increase in the square footage built per person, increased electrification of the residential and commercial sectors, and increased market penetration of air conditioning.201

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Sources of U.S. Greenhouse Emissions (2003)
About 87 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from energy production and use, as shown in the left pie chart. The right pie chart breaks down these emissions by greenhouse gas.


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Primary Energy Consumption by Major Source (1949 to 2007)
U.S. energy supply is dominated by fossil fuels. Petroleum, the top source of energy shown above, is primarily used for transportation (70 percent of oil use). Natural gas is used in roughly equal parts to generate electricity, power industrial processes, and heat water and buildings. Coal is primarily used to generate electricity (91 percent of coal use). Nuclear power is used entirely for electricity generation.


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U.S. Electricity Sources (2007)
Coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants together account for about 90 percent of current U.S. electricity production.


Many of the effects of climate change on energy production and use in the United States are not well studied. Some of the effects of climate change, however, have clear implications for energy production and use. For instance, rising temperatures are expected to increase energy requirements for cooling and reduce energy requirements for heating.164,201 Changes in precipitation have the potential to affect prospects for hydropower, positively or negatively.201 Increases in hurricane intensity are likely to cause further disruptions to oil and gas operations in the Gulf, like those experienced in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina and in 2008 with Hurricane Ike.201 Concerns about climate change impacts will almost certainly alter perceptions and valuations of energy technology alternatives. These effects are very likely to be relevant for energy policies, decisions, and institutions in the United States, affecting courses of action and appropriate strategies for risk management.201

The overall scale of the national energy economy is very large, and the energy industry has both the financial and the managerial resources to be adaptive. Impacts due to climate change are likely to be most apparent at sub-national scales, such as regional effects of extreme weather events and reduced water availability, and effects of increased cooling demands on especially vulnerable places and populations.204

Warming will be accompanied by decreases in demand for heating energy and increases in demand for cooling energy. The latter will result in significant increases in electricity use and higher peak demand in most regions.

Research on the effects of climate change on energy production and use has largely been limited to impacts on energy use in buildings. These studies have considered effects of global warming on energy requirements for heating and cooling in buildings in the United States.205 They find that the demand for cooling energy increases from 5 to 20 percent per 1.8°F of warming, and the demand for heating energy drops by 3 to 15 percent per 1.8°F of warming.205 These ranges reflect different assumptions about factors such as the rate of market penetration of improved building equipment technologies.205

Studies project that temperature increases due to global warming are very likely to increase peak demand for electricity in most regions of the country.205 An increase in peak demand can lead to a disproportionate increase in energy infrastructure investment.205

Since nearly all of the cooling of buildings is provided by electricity use, whereas the vast majority of the heating of buildings is provided by natural gas and fuel oil,201,206 the projected changes imply increased demands for electricity. This is especially the case where climate change would result in significant increases in the heat index in summer, and where relatively little space cooling has been needed in the past, but demands are likely to increase in the future.205 The increase in electricity demand is likely to be accelerated by population movements to the South and Southwest, which are regions of especially high per capita electricity use, due to demands for cooling in commercial buildings and households.205 Because nearly half of the nation’s electricity is currently generated from coal, these factors have the potential to increase total national carbon dioxide emissions in the absence of improved energy efficiency, development of non-carbon energy sources, and/or carbon capture and storage.205

Other effects of climate change on energy consumption are less clear, because little research has been done.205 For instance, in addition to cooling, air conditioners also remove moisture from the air; thus the increase in humidity projected to accompany global warming is likely to increase electricity consumption by air conditioners even further.205 As other examples, warming would increase the use of air conditioners in highway vehicles, and water scarcity in some regions has the potential to increase energy demands for water pumping. It is important to improve the information available about these other kinds of effects.

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Change in Population from 1970 to 2008
The map above, showing percentage changes in county population between 1970 and 2008, graphically illustrates the large increases in places that require air conditioning. Areas with very large increases are shown in orange, red, and maroon. Some places had enormous growth, in the hundreds of thousands of people. For example, counties in the vicinity of South Florida, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas, and Houston all had very large increases.


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Shifting Energy Demand in the United States by 2080-2099
“Degree days” are a way of measuring the energy needed for heating and cooling by adding up how many degrees hotter or colder each day’s average temperature is from 65ºF over the course of a year. Colder locations have high numbers of heating degree days and low numbers of cooling degree days, while hotter locations have high numbers of cooling degree days and low numbers of heating degree days. Nationally, the demand for energy will increase in summer and decrease in winter. Cooling uses electricity while heating uses a combination of energy sources, so the overall effect nationally and in most regions will be an increased need for electricity. The projections shown in the chart are for late this century. The higher emissions scenario91 used here is referred to as “even higher” on page 23.


Energy production is likely to be constrained by rising temperatures and limited water supplies in many regions.

In some regions, reductions in water supply due to decreases in precipitation and/or water from melting snowpack are likely to be significant, increasing the competition for water among various sectors including energy production (see Water Resources sector).191,208

The production of energy from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) is inextricably linked to the availability of adequate and sustainable supplies of water.191,208 While providing the United States with the majority of its annual energy needs, fossil fuels also place a high demand on the nation’s water resources in terms of both quantity and quality impacts.191,208 Generation of electricity in thermal power plants (coal, nuclear, gas, or oil) is water intensive. Power plants rank only slightly behind irrigation in terms of freshwater withdrawals in the United States.191

There is a high likelihood that water shortages will limit power plant electricity production in many regions. Future water constraints on electricity production in thermal power plants are projected for Arizona, Utah, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, California, Oregon, and Washington state by 2025.191 Additional parts of the United States could face similar constraints as a result of drought, growing populations, and increasing demand for water for various uses, at least seasonally.209 Situations where the development of new power plants is being slowed down or halted due to inadequate cooling water are becoming more frequent throughout the nation.191

The issue of competition among various water uses is dealt with in more detail in the Water Resources sector. In connection with these issues and other regional water scarcity impacts, energy is likely to be needed to move and manage water. This is one of many examples of interactions among the impacts of climate change on various sectors that, in this case, affects energy requirements.

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Nuclear, coal, and natural gas power plants require large amounts of water for cooling.191

In addition to the problem of water availability, there are issues related to an increase in water temperature. Use of warmer water reduces the efficiency of thermal power plant cooling technologies. And, warmer water discharged from power plants can alter species composition in aquatic ecosystems. 210 Large coal and nuclear plants have been limited in their operations by reduced river levels caused by higher temperatures and thermal limits on water discharge.191

The efficiency of thermal power plants, fossil or nuclear, is sensitive to ambient air and water temperatures; higher temperatures reduce power outputs by affecting the efficiency of cooling.191 Although this effect is not large in percentage terms, even a relatively small change could have significant implications for total national electric power supply.191 For example, an average reduction of 1 percent in electricity generated by thermal power plants nationwide would mean a loss of 25 billion kilowatt-hours per year,211 about the amount of electricity consumed by 2 million Americans, a loss that would need to be supplied in some other way or offset through measures that improve energy efficiency.

Energy production and delivery systems are exposed to sea-level rise and extreme weather events in vulnerable regions.

Sea-level rise

A significant fraction of America’s energy infrastructure is located near the coasts, from power plants, to oil refineries, to facilities that receive oil and gas deliveries.191 Rising sea levels are likely to lead to direct losses, such as equipment damage from flooding or erosion, and indirect effects, such as the costs of raising vulnerable assets to higher levels or building new facilities farther inland, increasing transportation costs.191 The U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast have been identified as particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise because the land is relatively flat and also sinking in many places.191

Extreme events

Observed and projected increases in a variety of extreme events will have significant impacts on the energy sector. As witnessed in 2005, hurricanes can have a debilitating impact on energy infrastructure. Direct losses to the energy industry in 2005 are estimated at $15 billion,191 with millions more in restoration and recovery costs. As one example, the Yscloskey Gas Processing Plant (located on the Louisiana coast) was forced to close for six months following Hurricane Katrina, resulting in lost revenues to the plant’s owners and employees, and higher prices to consumers, as gas had to be procured from other sources.191

The impacts of an increase in severe weather are not limited to hurricane-prone areas. For example, rail transportation lines, which carry approximately two-thirds of the coal to the nation’s power plants,212 often follow riverbeds, especially in the Appalachian region.191 More intense rainstorms, which have been observed and projected,68,112 can lead to rivers flooding, which can “wash out” or degrade nearby railbeds and roadbeds.191 This is also a problem in the Midwest, which experienced major flooding of the Mississippi River in 1993 and 2008.213

Development of new energy facilities could be restricted by siting concerns related to sea-level rise, exposure to extreme events, and increased capital costs resulting from a need to provide greater protection from extreme events.191

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Regional Spotlight: Gulf Coast Oil and Gas
The Gulf Coast is home to the U.S. oil and gas industries, representing nearly 30 percent of the nation’s crude oil production and approximately 20 percent of its natural gas production. One-third of the national refining and processing capacity lies on coastal plains adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. Several thousand offshore drilling platforms, dozens of refineries, and thousands of miles of pipelines are vulnerable to damage and disruption due to sea-level rise and the high winds and storm surge associated with hurricanes and other tropical storms. For example, hurricanes Katrina and Rita halted all oil and gas production from the Gulf, disrupted nearly 20 percent of the nation’s refinery capacity, and closed many oil and gas pipelines.214 Relative sea-level rise in parts of the Gulf Coast region (Louisiana and East Texas) is projected to be as high as 2 to 4 feet by 2050 to 2100, due to the combination of global sea-level rise caused by warming oceans and melting ice and local land sinking.215 Combined with onshore and offshore storm activity, this would represent an increased threat to this regional energy infrastructure. Some adaptations to these risks are beginning to emerge (see Adaptation box, page 58).

Offshore oil production is particularly susceptible to extreme weather events. Hurricane Ivan in 2004 destroyed seven platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, significantly damaged 24 platforms, and damaged 102 pipelines. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 destroyed more than 100 platforms and damaged 558 pipelines. For example, Chevron’s $250 million “Typhoon” platform was damaged beyond repair. Plans are being made to sink its remains to the seafloor.


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Significant Weather-Related U.S. Electric Grid Disturbances
The number of incidents caused by extreme weather has increased tenfold since 1992. The portion of all events that are caused by weather-related phenomena has more than tripled from about 20 percent in the early 1990s to about 65 percent in recent years. The weather-related events are more severe, with an average of about 180,000 customers affected per event compared to about 100,000 for non-weather-related events (and 50,000 excluding the massive blackout of August 2003).201 The data shown include disturbances that occurred on the nation’s large-scale “bulk” electric transmission systems. Most outages occur in local distribution networks and are not included in the graph. Although the figure does not demonstrate a cause-effect relationship between climate change and grid disruption, it does suggest that weather and climate extremes often have important effects on grid disruptions. We do know that more frequent weather and climate extremes are likely in the future,68 which poses unknown new risks for the electric grid.


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Adaptation: Addressing Oil Infrastructure Vulnerabilities in the Gulf Coast
Port Fourchon, Louisiana, supports 75 percent of deepwater oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, and its role in supporting oil production in the region is increasing. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, located about 20 miles offshore, links daily imports of 1 million barrels of oil and production of 300,000 barrels in the Gulf of Mexico to 50 percent of national refining capacity. One road, Louisiana Highway 1, connects Port Fourchon with the nation. It transports machinery, supplies, and workers and is the evacuation route for onshore and offshore workers. Responding to threats of storm surge and flooding, related in part to concerns about climate change, Louisiana is currently upgrading Highway 1, including elevating it above the 500-year flood level and building a higher bridge over Bayou LaFourche and the Boudreaux Canal.217


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Regional Spotlight: Florida's Energy Infrastructure
Florida’s energy infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm impacts. Most of the petroleum products consumed in Florida are delivered by barge to three ports, two on the east coast and one on the west coast. The interdependencies of natural gas distribution, transportation fuel distribution and delivery, and electrical generation and distribution were found to be major issues in Florida’s recovery from recent major hurricanes.191


The electricity grid is also vulnerable to climate change effects, from temperature changes to severe weather events.191 The most familiar example is effects of severe weather events on power lines, such as from ice storms, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. In the summer heat wave of 2006, for example, electric power transformers failed in several areas (including St. Louis, Missouri, and Queens, New York) due to high temperatures, causing interruptions of electric power supply. It is not yet possible to project effects of climate change on the grid, because so many of the effects would be more localized than current climate change models can depict; but, weather-related grid disturbances are recognized as a challenge for strategic planning and risk management.

Climate change is likely to affect some renewable energy sources across the nation, such as hydropower production in regions subject to changing patterns of precipitation or snowmelt.

Renewable sources currently account for about 9 percent of electricity production in the United States.203 Hydroelectric power is by far the largest renewable contributor to electricity generation,191 accounting for about 7 percent of total U.S. electricity. 218 Like many things discussed in this report, renewable energy resources have strong interrelationships with climate change; using renewable energy can reduce the magnitude of climate change, while climate change can affect the prospects for using some renewable energy sources.

Hydropower is a major source of electricity in some regions of the United States, notably in the Northwest.191 It is likely to be significantly affected by climate change in regions subject to reduced precipitation and/or water from melting snowpack. Significant changes are already being detected in the timing and amount of streamflows in many western rivers,164 consistent with the predicted effects of global warming. More precipitation coming as rain rather than snow, reduced snowpack, earlier peak runoff, and related effects are beginning to affect hydropower availability.164

Hydroelectric generation is very sensitive to changes in precipitation and river discharge. For example, every 1 percent decrease in precipitation results in a 2 to 3 percent drop in streamflow;219 every 1 percent decrease in streamflow in the Colorado River Basin results in a 3 percent drop in power generation.191 Such magnifying sensitivities occur because water flows through multiple power plants in a river basin.191

Climate impacts on hydropower occur when either the total amount or the timing of runoff is altered, such as when natural water storage in snowpack and glaciers is reduced under hotter conditions. Glaciers, snowpack, and their associated runoff are already declining in the West, and larger declines are projected.164

Hydropower operations are also affected by changes to air temperatures, humidity, or wind patterns due to climate change.191 These variables cause changes in water quantity and quality, including water temperature. Warmer air and water generally increase the evaporation of water from the surface of reservoirs, reducing the amount of water available for power production and other uses. Huge reservoirs with large surface areas, located in arid, sunny parts of the country, such as Lake Mead (located on Arizona-Nevada border on the Colorado River), are particularly susceptible to increased evaporation due to warming, meaning less water will be available for all uses, including hydropower.191 And, where hydropower dams flow into waterways that support trout, salmon or other coldwater fisheries, warming of reservoir releases might have detrimental consequences that require changes in operations that reduce power production.191 Such impacts will increasingly translate into competition for water resources.

Climate change is also likely to affect other renewable energy sources. For example, changing cloud cover affects solar energy resources, changes in winds affect wind power, and temperature and water availability affect biomass production (particularly related to water requirements for biofuels).191 The limited research to date on these important issues does not support firm conclusions about where such impacts would occur and how significant they would be.205 This is an area that calls for much more study (see An Agenda for Climate Impacts Science section, Recommendation 2).

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Hydroelectric dam in the Northwest

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Regional Spotlight: Energy Impacts of Alaska's Rapid Warming
Significant impacts of warming on the energy sector can already be observed in Alaska, where temperatures have risen about twice as much as the rest of the nation. In Alaska, frozen ground and ice roads are an important means of winter travel, and warming has resulted in a much shorter cold season. Impacts on the oil and natural gas industries on Alaska’s North Slope have been one of the results. For example, the season during which oil and gas exploration and extraction equipment can be operated on the tundra has been shortened due to warming. In addition, the thawing of permafrost, on which buildings, pipelines, airfields, and coastal installations supporting oil and gas development are located, adversely affects these structures and increases the cost of maintaining them.191

Different energy impacts are expected in the marine environment as sea ice continues to retreat and thin. These trends are expected to improve shipping accessibility, including oil and gas transport by sea, around the margins of the Arctic Basin, at least in the summer. The improved accessibility, however, will not be uniform throughout the different regions. Offshore oil exploration and extraction might benefit from less extensive and thinner sea ice, although equipment will have to be designed to withstand increased wave forces and ice movement.191,220
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:32 am

Transportation

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Key Messages:

• Sea-level rise and storm surge will increase the risk of major coastal impacts, including both temporary and permanent flooding of airports, roads, rail lines, and tunnels.
• Flooding from increasingly intense downpours will increase the risk of disruptions and delays in air, rail, and road transportation, and damage from mudslides in some areas.
• The increase in extreme heat will limit some transportation operations and cause pavement and track damage. Decreased extreme cold will provide some benefits such as reduced snow and ice removal costs.
• Increased intensity of strong hurricanes would lead to more evacuations, infrastructure damage and failure, and transportation interruptions.
• Arctic warming will continue to reduce sea ice, lengthening the ocean transport season, but also resulting in greater coastal erosion due to waves. Permafrost thaw in Alaska will damage infrastructure. The ice road season will become shorter.

The U.S. transport sector is a significant source of greenhouse gases, accounting for 27 percent of U.S. emissions.221 While it is widely recognized that emissions from transportation have a major impact on climate, climate change will also have a major impact on transportation.

Climate change impacts pose significant challenges to our nation’s multimodal transportation system and cause disruptions in other sectors across the economy. For example, major flooding in the Midwest in 1993 and 2008 restricted regional travel of all types, and disrupted freight and rail shipments across the country, such as those bringing coal to power plants and chlorine to water treatment systems. The U.S. transportation network is vital to the nation’s economy, safety, and quality of life.

Extreme events present major challenges for transportation, and such events are becoming more frequent and intense. Historical weather patterns are no longer a reliable predictor of the future.222 Transportation planners have not typically accounted for climate change in their long-term planning and project development. The longevity of transportation infrastructure, the long-term nature of climate change, and the potential impacts identified by recent studies warrant serious attention to climate change in planning new or rehabilitated transportation systems.223

The strategic examination of national, regional, state, and local networks is an important step toward understanding the risks posed by climate change. A range of adaptation responses can be employed to reduce risks through redesign or relocation of infrastructure, increased redundancy of critical services, and operational improvements. Adapting to climate change is an evolutionary process. Through adoption of longer planning horizons, risk management, and adaptive responses, vulnerable transportation infrastructure can be made more resilient.215

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Buildings and debris float up against a railroad bridge on the Cedar River during record flooding in June 2008, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Sea-level rise and storm surge will increase the risk of major coastal impacts, including both temporary and permanent flooding of airports, roads, rail lines, and tunnels.

Sea-level rise

Transportation infrastructure in U.S. coastal areas is increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise. Given the high population density near the coasts, the potential exposure of transportation infrastructure to flooding is immense. Population swells in these areas during the summer months because beaches are very important tourist destinations.222

In the Gulf Coast area alone, an estimated 2,400 miles of major roadway and 246 miles of freight rail lines are at risk of permanent flooding within 50 to 100 years as global warming and land subsidence (sinking) combine to produce an anticipated relative sea-level rise in the range of 4 feet.217 Since the Gulf Coast region’s transportation network is interdependent and relies on minor roads and other low-lying infrastructure, the risks of service disruptions due to sea-level rise are likely to be even greater.217

Coastal areas are also major centers of economic activity. Six of the nation’s top 10 freight gateways (measured by the value of shipments) will be threatened by sea-level rise.222 Seven of the 10 largest ports (by tons of traffic) are located on the Gulf Coast.222 The region is also home to the U.S. oil and gas industry, with its offshore drilling platforms, refineries, and pipelines. Roughly two-thirds of all U.S. oil imports are transported through this region224 (see Energy sector). Sea-level rise would potentially affect commercial transportation activity valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually through inundation of area roads, railroads, airports, seaports, and pipelines.217

Storm surge

More intense storms, especially when coupled with sea-level rise, will result in far-reaching and damaging storm surges. An estimated 60,000 miles of coastal highway are already exposed to periodic flooding from coastal storms and high waves.222 Some of these highways currently serve as evacuation routes during hurricanes and other coastal storms, and these routes could become seriously compromised in the future.

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Gulf Coast Area Roads at Risk from Sea-Level Rise
Within 50 to 100 years, 2,400 miles of major roadway are projected to be inundated by sea-level rise in the Gulf Coast region. The map shows roadways at risk in the event of a sea-level rise of about 4 feet, within the range of projections for this region in this century under medium- and high-emissions scenarios.91 In total, 24 percent of interstate highway miles and 28 percent of secondary road miles in the Gulf Coast region are at elevations below 4 feet.217


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Regional Spotlight: Gulf Coast
Sea-level rise, combined with high rates of subsidence in some areas, will make much of the existing infrastructure more prone to frequent or permanent inundation; 27 percent of the major roads, 9 percent of the rail lines, and 72 percent of the ports in the area shown on the map on the previous page are built on land at or below 4 feet in elevation, a level within the range of projections for relative sea-level rise in this region in this century. Increased storm intensity may lead to increased service disruption and infrastructure damage. More than half of the area’s major highways (64 percent of interstates, 57 percent of arterials), almost half of the rail miles, 29 airports, and virtually all of the ports, are below 23 feet in elevation and subject to flooding and damage due to hurricane storm surge. These factors merit consideration in today’s transportation decisions and planning processes.217


Coastal areas are projected to experience continued development pressures as both retirement and tourist destinations. Many of the most populous counties of the Gulf Coast, which already experience the effects of tropical storms, are expected to grow rapidly in the coming decades.222 This growth will generate demand for more transportation infrastructure and services, challenging transportation planners to meet the demand, address current and future flooding, and plan for future conditions.223

Land

More frequent inundation and interruptions in travel on coastal and low-lying roadways and rail lines due to storm surge are projected, potentially requiring changes to minimize disruptions. More frequent evacuations due to severe storm surges are also likely. Across the United States, many coastal cities have subways, tunnels, parking lots, and other transportation infrastructure below ground. Underground tunnels and other low-lying infrastructure will experience more frequent and severe flooding. Higher sea levels and storm surges will also erode road base and undermine bridge supports. The loss of coastal wetlands and barrier islands will lead to further coastal erosion due to the loss of natural protection from wave action.

Water

Impacts on harbor infrastructure from wave damage and storm surges are projected to increase. Changes will be required in harbor and port facilities to accommodate higher tides and storm surges. There will be reduced clearance under some waterway bridges for boat traffic. Changes in the navigability of channels are expected; some will become more accessible (and extend farther inland) because of deeper waters, while others will be restricted because of changes in sedimentation rates and sandbar locations. In some areas, waterway systems will become part of open water as barrier islands disappear. Some channels are likely to have to be dredged more frequently as has been done across large open-water bodies in Texas.222

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Regional Spotlight: New York Metropolitan Area
With the potential for significant sea-level rise estimated under continued high levels of emissions, the combined effects of sea-level rise and storm surge are projected to increase the frequency of flooding. What is currently called a 100-year storm is projected to occur as often as every 10 years by late this century. Portions of lower Manhattan and coastal areas of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Nassau County, would experience a marked increase in flooding frequency. Much of the critical transportation infrastructure, including tunnels, subways, and airports, lies well within the range of projected storm surge and would be flooded during such events.222,225,369


Air

Airports in coastal cities are often located adjacent to rivers, estuaries, or open ocean. Airport runways in coastal areas face inundation unless effective protective measures are taken. There is the potential for closure or restrictions for several of the nation’s busiest airports that lie in coastal zones, affecting service to the highest density populations in the United States.

Flooding from increasingly intense downpours will increase the risk of disruptions and delays in air, rail, and road transportation, and damage from mudslides in some areas.

Heavy downpours have already increased substantially in the United States; the heaviest 1 percent of precipitation events increased by 20 percent, while total precipitation increased by only 7 percent over the past century.112 Such intense precipitation is likely to increase the frequency and severity of events such as the Great Flood of 1993, which caused catastrophic flooding along 500 miles of the Mississippi and Missouri river system, paralyzing surface transportation systems, including rail, truck, and marine traffic. Major east-west traffic was halted for roughly six weeks in an area stretching from St. Louis, Missouri, west to Kansas City, Missouri and north to Chicago, Illinois, affecting one-quarter of all U.S. freight, which either originated or terminated in the flood-affected region.222

The June 2008 Midwest flood was the second record-breaking flood in the past 15 years. Dozens of levees were breached or overtopped in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, flooding huge areas, including nine square miles in and around Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Numerous highway and rail bridges were impassable due to flooding of approaches and transport was shut down along many stretches of highway, rail lines, and normally navigable waterways.

Planners have generally relied on weather extremes of the past as a guide to the future, planning, for example, for a “100-year flood,” which is now likely to come more frequently as a result of climate change. Historical analysis of weather data has thus become less reliable as a forecasting tool. The accelerating changes in climate make it more difficult to predict the frequency and intensity of weather events that can affect transportation.222

Land

The increase in heavy precipitation will inevitably cause increases in weather-related accidents, delays, and traffic disruptions in a network already challenged by increasing congestion.215 There will be increased flooding of evacuation routes, and construction activities will be disrupted. Changes in rain, snowfall, and seasonal flooding will impact safety and maintenance operations on the nation’s roads and railways. For example, if more precipitation falls as rain rather than snow in winter and spring, there will be an increased risk of landslides, slope failures, and floods from the runoff, causing road closures as well as the need for road repair and reconstruction222 (see Water Resources sector).

Increased flooding of roadways, rail lines, and underground tunnels is expected. Drainage systems will be overloaded more frequently and severely, causing backups and street flooding. Areas where flooding is already common will face more frequent and severe problems. For example, Louisiana Highway 1, a critical link in the transport of oil from the Gulf of Mexico, has recently experienced increased flooding, prompting authorities to elevate the road (see Adaptation Box page 58).217 Increases in road washouts, damage to railbed support structures, and landslides and mudslides that damage roads and other infrastructure are expected. If soil moisture levels become too high, the structural integrity of roads, bridges, and tunnels, which in some cases are already under age-related stress and in need of repair, could be compromised. Standing water will have adverse impacts on road base. For example, damage due to long term submersion of roadways in Louisiana was estimated to be $50 million for just 200 miles of state-owned highway. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development noted that a total of 1,800 miles of roads were under water for long periods, requiring costly repairs.217 Pipelines are likely to be damaged because intense precipitation can cause the ground to sink underneath the pipeline; in shallow river-beds, pipelines are more exposed to the elements and can be subject to scouring and shifting due to heavy precipitation.217

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Adaptation: Climate Proofing a Road
Completion of a road around the 42-square mile island of Kosrae in the U.S.-affiliated Federated States of Micronesia provides a good example of adaptation to climate change. A road around the island’s perimeter existed, except for a 10-mile gap. Filling this gap would provide all-weather land access to a remote village and allow easier access to the island’s interior.

In planning this new section of road, authorities decided to “climate-proof” it against projected increases in heavy downpours and sea-level rise. This led to the section of road being placed higher above sea level and with an improved drainage system to handle the projected heavier rainfall. While there were additional capital costs for incorporating this drainage system, the accumulated costs, including repairs and maintenance, would be lower after about 15 years, equating to a good rate of return on investment. Adding this improved drainage system to roads that are already built is more expensive than on new construction, but still has been found to be cost effective.226


Water

Facilities on land at ports and harbors will be vulnerable to short term flooding from heavy downpours, interrupting shipping service. Changes in silt and debris buildup resulting from extreme precipitation events will affect channel depth, increasing dredging costs. The need to expand storm-water treatment facilities, which can be a significant expense for container and other terminals with large impermeable surfaces, will increase.

Air

Increased delays due to heavy downpours are likely to affect operations, causing increasing flight delays and cancellations.222 Storm-water runoff that exceeds the capacity of collection and drainage systems will cause flooding, delays, and airport closings. Heavy downpours will affect the structural integrity of airport facilities, such as through flood damage to runways and other infrastructure. All of these impacts have implications for emergency evacuation planning, facility maintenance, and safety.222

The increase in extreme heat will limit some transportation operations and cause pavement and track damage. Decreased extreme cold will provide some benefits such as reduced snow and ice removal costs.

Land

Longer periods of extreme heat in summer can damage roads in several ways, including softening of asphalt that leads to rutting from heavy traffic.164 Sustained air temperature over 90°F is a significant threshold for such problems (see maps page 34). Extreme heat can cause deformities in rail tracks, at minimum resulting in speed restrictions and, at worst, causing derailments. Air temperatures above 100°F can lead to equipment failure (see maps page 90). Extreme heat also causes thermal expansion of bridge joints, adversely affecting bridge operations and increasing maintenance costs. Vehicle overheating and tire deterioration are additional concerns.222 Higher temperatures will also increase refrigeration needs for goods during transport, particularly in the South, raising transportation costs.217

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Regional Spotlight: the Midwest
An example of intense precipitation affecting transportation infrastructure was the record-breaking 24-hour rainstorm in July 1996, which resulted in flash flooding in Chicago and its suburbs, with major impacts. Extensive travel delays occurred on metropolitan highways and railroads, and streets and bridges were damaged. Commuters were unable to reach Chicago for up to three days, and more than 300 freight trains were delayed or rerouted.222

The June 2008 Midwest floods caused I-80 in eastern Iowa to be closed for more than five days, disrupting major east-west shipping routes for trucks and the east-west rail lines through Iowa. These floods exemplify the kind of extreme precipitation events and their direct impacts on transportation that are likely to become more frequent in a warming world. These extremes create new and more difficult problems that must be addressed in the design, construction, rehabilitation, and operation of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.


Increases in very hot days and heat waves are expected to limit construction activities due to health and safety concerns for highway workers. Guidance from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration states that concern for heat stress for moderate to heavy work begins at about 80°F as measured by an index that combines temperature, wind, humidity, and direct sunlight. For dry climates, such as Phoenix and Denver, National Weather Service heat indices above 90°F might allow work to proceed, while higher humidity areas such as New Orleans or Miami should consider 80 to 85°F as an initial level for work restrictions.227 These trends and associated impacts will be exacerbated in many places by urban heat island effects (see Human Health and Society sectors).

Wildfires are projected to increase, especially in the Southwest (see Southwest region), threatening communities and infrastructure directly and bringing about road and rail closures in affected areas.

In many northern states, warmer winters will bring about reductions in snow and ice removal costs, lessen adverse environmental impacts from the use of salt and chemicals on roads and bridges, extend the construction season, and improve the mobility and safety of passenger and freight travel through reduced winter hazards. On the other hand, more freeze-thaw conditions are projected to occur in northern states, creating frost heaves and potholes on road and bridge surfaces and resulting in load restrictions on certain roads to minimize the damage. With the expected earlier onset of seasonal warming, the period of springtime load restrictions might be reduced in some areas, but it is likely to expand in others with shorter winters but longer thaw seasons. Longer construction seasons will be a benefit in colder locations.222

Water

Warming is projected to mean a longer shipping season but lower water levels for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway. Higher temperatures, reduced lake ice, and increased evaporation are expected to combine to produce lower water levels as climate warming proceeds (see Midwest region). With lower lake levels, ships will be unable to carry as much cargo and hence shipping costs will increase. A recent study, for example, found that the projected reduction in Great Lakes water levels would result in an estimated 13 to 29 percent increase in shipping costs for Canadian commercial navigation by 2050, all else remaining equal.222

If low water levels become more common because of drier conditions due to climate change, this could create problems for river traffic, reminiscent of the stranding of more than 4,000 barges on the Mississippi River during the drought in 1988. Freight movements in the region could be seriously impaired, and extensive dredging could be required to keep shipping channels open. On the other hand, a longer shipping season afforded by a warmer climate could offset some of the resulting adverse economic effects.

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Navigable Inland Waterways
Inland waterways are an important part of the transportation network in various parts of the United States. For example, these waterways provide 20 states with access to the Gulf of Mexico.217 As conditions become drier, these main transportation pathways are likely to be adversely affected by the resulting lower water levels, creating problems for river traffic. Names of navigable rivers are shown above.


In cold areas, the projected decrease in very cold days will mean less ice accumulation on vessels, decks, riggings, and docks; less ice fog; and fewer ice jams in ports.222

Air

Rising temperatures will affect airport ground facilities, runways in particular, in much the same way they affect roads. Airports in some areas are likely to benefit from reduction in the cost of snow and ice removal and the impacts of salt and chemical use, though some locations have seen increases in snowfall. Airlines could benefit from reduced need to de-ice planes.

More heat extremes will create added operational difficulties, for example, causing greater energy consumption by planes on the ground. Extreme heat also affects aircraft lift; because hotter air is less dense, it reduces the lift produced by the wing and the thrust produced by the engine – problems exacerbated at high altitudes and high temperatures. As a result, planes need to take off faster, and if runways are not sufficiently long for aircraft to build up enough speed to generate lift, aircraft weight must be reduced. Thus, increases in extreme heat will result in payload restrictions, could cause flight cancellations and service disruptions at affected airports, and could require some airports to lengthen runways. Recent hot summers have seen flights cancelled due to heat, especially in high altitude locations. Economic losses are expected at affected airports. A recent illustrative analysis projects a 17 percent reduction in freight carrying capacity for a single Boeing 747 at the Denver airport by 2030 and a 9 percent reduction at the Phoenix airport due to increased temperature and water vapor.222

Drought

Rising air temperatures increase evaporation, contributing to dry conditions, especially when accompanied by decreasing precipitation. Even where total annual precipitation does not decrease, precipitation is projected to become less frequent in many parts of the country.68 Drought is expected to be an increasing problem in some regions; this, in turn, has impacts on transportation. For example, increased susceptibility to wildfires during droughts could threaten roads and other transportation infrastructure directly, or cause road closures due to fire threat or reduced visibility such as has occurred in Florida and California in recent years. There is also increased susceptibility to mudslides in areas deforested by wildfires. Airports could suffer from decreased visibility due to wildfires. River transport is seriously affected by drought, with reductions in the routes available, shipping season, and cargo carrying capacity.

Increased intensity of strong hurricanes would lead to more evacuations, infrastructure damage and failure, and transportation interruptions.

More intense hurricanes in some regions are a projected effect of climate change. Three aspects of tropical storms are relevant to transportation: precipitation, winds, and wind-induced storm surge. Stronger hurricanes have longer periods of intense precipitation, higher wind speeds (damage increases exponentially with wind speed228), and higher storm surge and waves. Transportation planners, designers, and operators may need to adopt probabilistic approaches to developing transportation projects rather than relying on standards and the deterministic approaches of the past. The uncertainty associated with projecting impacts over a 50- to 100-year time period makes risk management a reasonable approach for realistically incorporating climate change into decision making and investment.215

Land

There will be a greater probability of infrastructure failures such as highway and rail bridge decks being displaced and railroad tracks being washed away. Storms leave debris on roads and rail lines, which can damage the infrastructure and interrupt travel and shipments of goods. In Louisiana, the Department of Transportation and Development spent $74 million for debris removal alone in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Mississippi Department of Transportation expected to spend in excess of $1 billion to replace the Biloxi and Bay St. Louis bridges, repair other portions of roadway, and remove debris. As of June 2007, more than $672 million had been spent.

There will be more frequent and potentially more extensive emergency evacuations. Damage to signs, lighting fixtures, and supports will increase. The lifetime of highways that have been exposed to flooding is expected to decrease. Road and rail infrastructure for passenger and freight services are likely to face increased flooding by strong hurricanes. In the Gulf Coast, more than one-third of the rail miles are likely to flood when subjected to a storm surge of 18 feet.217

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Spotlight on Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive and expensive natural disasters in U.S. history, claiming more than 1,800 lives and causing an estimated $134 billion in damage.217,229 It also seriously disrupted transportation systems as key highway and railroad bridges were heavily damaged or destroyed, necessitating rerouting of traffic and placing increased strain on other routes, particularly other rail lines. Replacement of major infrastructure took from months to years. The CSX Gulf Coast line was re-opened after five months and $250 million in reconstruction costs, while the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge took more than two years to reopen. Barge shipping was halted, as was grain export out of the Port of New Orleans, the nation’s largest site of grain exports. The extensive oil and gas pipeline network was shut down by the loss of electrical power, producing shortages of natural gas and petroleum products. Total recovery costs for the roads, bridges, and utilities as well as debris removal have been estimated at $15 billion to $18 billion.217

Redundancies in the transportation system, as well as the storm timing and track, helped keep the storm from having major or long-lasting impacts on national-level freight flows. For example, truck traffic was diverted from the collapsed bridge that carries highway I-10 over Lake Pontchartrain to highway I-12, which parallels I-10 well north of the Gulf Coast. The primary north-south highways that connect the Gulf Coast with major inland transportation hubs were not damaged and were open for nearly full commercial freight movement within days. The railroads were able to route some traffic not bound directly for New Orleans through Memphis and other Midwest rail hubs. While a disaster of historic proportions, the effects of Hurricane Katrina could have been even worse if not for the redundancy and resilience of the transportation network in the area.


Water

All aspects of shipping are disrupted by major storms. For example, freight shipments need to be diverted from the storm region. Activities at offshore drilling sites and coastal pumping facilities are generally suspended and extensive damage to these facilities can occur, as was amply demonstrated during the 2005 hurricane season. Refineries and pipelines are also vulnerable to damage and disruption due to the high winds and storm surge associated with hurricanes and other tropical storms (see Energy sector). Barges that are unable to get to safe harbors can be destroyed or severely damaged. Waves and storm surge will damage harbor infrastructure such as cranes, docks, and other terminal facilities. There are implications for emergency evacuation planning, facility maintenance, and safety management.

Air

More frequent interruptions in air service and airport closures can be expected. Airport facilities including terminals, navigational equipment, perimeter fencing, and signs are likely to sustain increased wind damage. Airports are frequently located in low-lying areas and can be expected to flood with more intense storms. As a response to this vulnerability, some airports, such as LaGuardia in New York City, are already protected by levees. Eight airports in the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana and Texas are located in historical 100-year flood plains; the 100-year flood events will be more frequent in the future, creating the likelihood of serious costs and disruption.217

Arctic warming will continue to reduce sea ice, lengthening the ocean transport season, but also resulting in greater coastal erosion due to waves. Permafrost thaw in Alaska will damage infrastructure. The ice road season will become shorter.

Special issues in Alaska

Warming has been most rapid in high northern regions. As a result, Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the nation, bringing both major opportunities and major challenges. Alaska’s transportation infrastructure differs sharply from that of the lower 48 states. Although Alaska is twice the size of Texas, its population and road mileage are more like Vermont’s. Only 30 percent of Alaska’s roads are paved. Air travel is much more common than in other states. Alaska has 84 commercial airports and more than 3,000 airstrips, many of which are the only means of transport for rural communities. Unlike other states, over much of Alaska, the land is generally more accessible in winter, when the ground is frozen and ice roads and bridges formed by frozen rivers are available.

Sea ice decline

The striking thinning and downward trend in the extent of Arctic sea ice is regarded as a considerable opportunity for shippers. Continued reduction in sea ice should result in opening of additional ice-free ports, improved access to ports and natural resources in remote areas, and longer shipping seasons, but it is likely to increase erosion rates on land as well, raising costs for maintaining ports and other transportation infrastructure.132,220

Later this century and beyond, shippers are looking forward to new Arctic shipping routes, including the fabled Northwest Passage, which could provide significant costs savings in shipping times and distances. However, the next few decades are likely to be very unpredictable for shipping through these new routes. The past three decades have seen very high year-to-year variability of sea ice extent in the Canadian Arctic, despite the overall decrease in September sea ice extent. The loss of sea ice from the shipping channels of the Canadian Archipelago might actually allow more frequent intrusions of icebergs, which would continue to impede shipping through the Northwest Passage.

Lack of sea ice, especially on the northern shores of Alaska, creates conditions whereby storms produce waves that cause serious coastal erosion.137,219 Already a number of small towns, roads, and airports are threatened by retreating coastlines, necessitating the planned relocation of these communities (see Alaska region).132,220

Thawing ground

The challenges warming presents for transportation on land are considerable.164 For highways, thawing of permafrost causes settling of the roadbed and frost heaves that adversely affect the integrity of the road structure and its load-carrying capacity. The majority of Alaska’s highways are located in areas where permafrost is discontinuous, and dealing with thaw settlement problems already claims a significant portion of highway maintenance dollars.

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Arctic Sea Ice Decline
The pink line shows the average September sea ice extent from 1979 through the present. The white area shows September 2007 sea ice extent. In 2008, the extent was slightly larger than 2007, but the ice was thinner, resulting in a lower total volume of sea ice. In addition, recent years have had less ice that persisted over numerous years and more first-year ice, which melts more quickly.139


Bridges and large culverts are particularly sensitive to movement caused by thawing permafrost and are often much more difficult than roads to repair and modify for changing site conditions. Thus, designing these facilities to take climate change into account is even more critical than is the case for roads.

Another impact of climate change on bridges is increased scouring. Hotter, drier summers in Alaska have led to increased glacial melting and longer periods of high stream-flows, causing both increased sediment in rivers and scouring of bridge supporting piers and abutments. Temporary ice roads and bridges are commonly used in many parts of Alaska to access northern communities and provide support for the mining and oil and gas industries. Rising temperatures have already shortened the season during which these critical facilities can be used. Like the highway system, the Alaska Railroad crosses permafrost terrain, and frost heave and settlement from thawing affect some portions of the track, increasing maintenance costs.28,132,220

A significant number of Alaska’s airstrips in the southwest, northwest, and interior of the state are built on permafrost. These airstrips will require major repairs or relocation if their foundations are compromised by thawing.

The cost of maintaining Alaska’s public infrastructure is projected to increase 10 to 20 percent by 2030 due to warming, costing the state an additional $4 billion to $6 billion, with roads and airports accounting for about half of this cost.230 Private infrastructure impacts have not been evaluated.217

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which stretches from Prudhoe Bay in the north to the ice-free port of Valdez in the south, crosses a wide range of permafrost types and varying temperature conditions. More than half of the 800-mile pipeline is elevated on vertical supports over potentially unstable permafrost. Because the system was designed in the early 1970s on the basis of permafrost and climate conditions of the 1950 to 1970 period, it requires continuous monitoring and some supports have had to be replaced.

Travel over the tundra for oil and gas exploration and extraction is limited to the period when the ground is sufficiently frozen to avoid damage to the fragile tundra. In recent decades, the number of days that exploration and extraction equipment could be used has dropped from 200 days to 100 days per year due to warming.220 With continued warming, the number of exploration days is expected to decline even more.
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Re: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- A

Postby admin » Fri Dec 04, 2015 1:41 am

Agriculture

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Key Messages:

• Many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels of warming, but higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and yields.
• Extreme events such as heavy downpours and droughts are likely to reduce crop yields because excesses or deficits of water have negative impacts on plant growth.
• Weeds, diseases, and insect pests benefit from warming, and weeds also benefit from a higher carbon dioxide concentration, increasing stress on crop plants and requiring more attention to pest and weed control.
• Forage quality in pastures and rangelands generally declines with increasing carbon dioxide concentration because of the effects on plant nitrogen and protein content, reducing the land’s ability to supply adequate livestock feed.
• Increased heat, disease, and weather extremes are likely to reduce livestock productivity.

Agriculture in the United States is extremely diverse in the range of crops grown and animals raised, and produces over $200 billion a year in food commodities, with livestock accounting for more than half. Climate change will increase productivity in certain crops and regions and reduce productivity in others (see for example Midwest and Great Plains regions).193

While climate change clearly affects agriculture, climate is also affected by agriculture, which contributes 13.5 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions globally. In the United States, agriculture represents 8.6 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions, including 80 percent of its nitrous oxide emissions and 31 percent of its methane emissions.231

Increased agricultural productivity will be required in the future to supply the needs of an increasing population. Agricultural productivity is dependent upon the climate and land resources. Climate change can have both beneficial and detrimental impacts on plants. Throughout history, agricultural enterprises have coped with changes in climate through changes in management and in crop or animal selection. However, under higher heat-trapping gas emissions scenarios, the projected climate changes are likely to increasingly challenge U.S. capacity to as efficiently produce food, feed, fuel, and livestock products.

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Relative Contributions to Agricultural Products, 2002

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Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold, 2002

Many crops show positive responses to elevated carbon dioxide and low levels of warming, but higher levels of warming often negatively affect growth and yields.

Crop responses in a changing climate reflect the interplay among three factors: rising temperatures, changing water resources, and increasing carbon dioxide concentrations. Warming generally causes plants that are below their optimum temperature to grow faster, with obvious benefits. For some plants, such as cereal crops, however, faster growth means there is less time for the grain itself to grow and mature, reducing yields.193 For some annual crops, this can be compensated for by adjusting the planting date to avoid late season heat stress.164

The grain-filling period (the time when the seed grows and matures) of wheat and other small grains shortens dramatically with rising temperatures. Analysis of crop responses suggests that even moderate increases in temperature will decrease yields of corn, wheat, sorghum, bean, rice, cotton, and peanut crops.193

Some crops are particularly sensitive to high nighttime temperatures, which have been rising even faster than daytime temperatures.68 Nighttime temperatures are expected to continue to rise in the future. These changes in temperature are especially critical to the reproductive phase of growth because warm nights increase the respiration rate and reduce the amount of carbon that is captured during the day by photosynthesis to be retained in the fruit or grain. Further, as temperatures continue to rise and drought periods increase, crops will be more frequently exposed to temperature thresholds at which pollination and grain-set processes begin to fail and quality of vegetable crops decreases. Grain, soybean, and canola crops have relatively low optimal temperatures, and thus will have reduced yields and will increasingly begin to experience failure as warming proceeds.193 Common snap beans show substantial yield reduction when nighttime temperatures exceed 80°F.

Higher temperatures will mean a longer growing season for crops that do well in the heat, such as melon, okra, and sweet potato, but a shorter growing season for crops more suited to cooler conditions, such as potato, lettuce, broccoli, and spinach.193 Higher temperatures also cause plants to use more water to keep cool. This is one example of how the interplay between rising temperatures and water availability is critical to how plants respond to climate change. But fruits, vegetables, and grains can suffer even under well-watered conditions if temperatures exceed the maximum level for pollen viability in a particular plant; if temperatures exceed the threshold for that plant, it won’t produce seed and so it won’t reproduce.193

Temperature increases will cause the optimum latitude for crops to move northward; decreases in temperature would cause shifts toward the equator. Where plants can be efficiently grown depends upon climate conditions, of which temperature is one of the major factors.

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Corn and Soybean Temperature Response
For each plant variety, there is an optimal temperature for vegetative growth, with growth dropping off as temperatures increase or decrease. Similarly, there is a range of temperatures at which a plant will produce seed. Outside of this range, the plant will not reproduce. As the graphs show, corn will fail to reproduce at temperatures above 95°F and soybean above 102°F.


Plants need adequate water to maintain their temperature within an optimal range. Without water for cooling, plants will suffer heat stress. In many regions, irrigation water is used to maintain adequate temperature conditions for the growth of cool season plants (such as many vegetables), even in warm environments. With increasing demand and competition for freshwater supplies, the water needed for these crops might be increasingly limited. If water supply variability increases, it will affect plant growth and cause reduced yields. The amount and timing of precipitation during the growing season are also critical, and will be affected by climate change. Changes in season length are also important and affect crops differently.193

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Increase in Percent of Very Warm Nights
The graph shows the observed and projected change in percent of very warm nights from the 1950-1990 average in the United States. Under the lower emissions scenario,91 the percentage of very warm nights is projected to increase about 20 percent by 2100. Under the higher emissions scenario,91 it is projected to increase by about 40 percent.68 The shaded areas show the likely ranges while the lines show the central projections from a set of climate models. The projections appear smooth because they show the calculated average of many models.


Higher carbon dioxide levels generally cause plants to grow larger. For some crops, this is not necessarily a benefit because they are often less nutritious, with reduced nitrogen and protein content. Carbon dioxide also makes some plants more water-use efficient, meaning they produce more plant material, such as grain, on less water.193 This is a benefit in water-limited areas and in seasons with less than normal rainfall amounts.

In some cases, adapting to climate change could be as simple as changing planting dates, which can be an effective no- or low-cost option for taking advantage of a longer growing season or avoiding crop exposure to adverse climatic conditions such as high temperature stress or low rainfall periods. Effectiveness will depend on the region, crop, and the rate and amount of warming. It is unlikely to be effective if a farmer goes to market when the supply-demand balance drives prices down. Predicting the optimum planting date for maximum profits will be more challenging in a future with increased uncertainty regarding climate effects on not only local productivity, but also on supply from competing regions.193

Another adaptation strategy involves changing to crop varieties with improved tolerance to heat or drought, or those that are adapted to take advantage of a longer growing season. This is less likely to be cost-effective for perennial crops, for which changing varieties is extremely expensive and new plantings take several years to reach maximum productivity. Even for annual crops, changing varieties is not always a low-cost option. Seed for new stress-tolerant varieties can be expensive, and new varieties often require investments in new planting equipment or require adjustments in a wide range of farming practices. In some cases, it is difficult to breed for genetic tolerance to elevated temperature or to identify an alternative variety that is adapted to the new climate and to local soils, practices, and market demands.

Fruits that require long winter chilling periods will experience declines. Many varieties of fruits (such as popular varieties of apples and berries) require between 400 and 1,800 cumulative hours below 45°F each winter to produce abundant yields the following summer and fall. By late this century, under higher emissions scenarios,91 winter temperatures in many important fruit-producing regions such as the Northeast will be too consistently warm to meet these requirements. Cranberries have a particularly high chilling requirement, and there are no known low-chill varieties. Massachusetts and New Jersey supply nearly half the nation’s cranberry crop. By the middle of this century, under higher emissions scenarios,91 it is unlikely that these areas will support cranberry production due to a lack of the winter chilling they need.233,234 Such impacts will vary by region. For example, though there will still be risks of early-season frosts and damaging winter thaws, warming is expected to improve the climate for fruit production in the Great Lakes region.164

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Effects of Increased Air Pollution on Crop Yields
Ground-level ozone (a component of smog) is an air pollutant that is formed when nitrogen oxides emitted from fossil fuel burning interact with other compounds, such as unburned gasoline vapors, in the atmosphere,237 in the presence of sunlight. Higher air temperatures result in greater concentrations of ozone. Ozone levels at the land surface have risen in rural areas of the United States over the past 50 years, and they are forecast to continue increasing with warming, especially under higher emissions scenarios.91 Plants are sensitive to ozone, and crop yields are reduced as ozone levels increase. Some crops that are particularly sensitive to ozone pollution include soybeans, wheat, oats, green beans, peppers, and some types of cotton.193


A seemingly paradoxical impact of warming is that it appears to be increasing the risk of plant frost damage. Mild winters and warm, early springs, which are beginning to occur more frequently as climate warms, induce premature plant development and blooming, resulting in exposure of vulnerable young plants and plant tissues to subsequent late-season frosts. For example, the 2007 spring freeze in the eastern United States caused widespread devastation of crops and natural vegetation because the frost occurred during the flowering period of many trees and during early grain development on wheat plants.235 Another example is occurring in the Rocky Mountains where in addition to the process described above, reduced snow cover leaves young plants unprotected from spring frosts, with some plant species already beginning to suffer as a result236 (see Ecosystems sector).

Extreme events such as heavy downpours and droughts are likely to reduce crop yields because excesses or deficits of water have negative impacts on plant growth.

One of the most pronounced effects of climate change is the increase in heavy downpours. Precipitation has become less frequent but more intense, and this pattern is projected to continue across the United States.112 One consequence of excessive rainfall is delayed spring planting, which jeopardizes profits for farmers paid a premium for early season production of high-value crops such as melon, sweet corn, and tomatoes. Field flooding during the growing season causes crop losses due to low oxygen levels in the soil, increased susceptibility to root diseases, and increased soil compaction due to the use of heavy farm equipment on wet soils. In spring 2008, heavy rains caused the Mississippi River to rise to about 7 feet above flood stage, inundating hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland. The flood hit just as farmers were preparing to harvest wheat and plant corn, soybeans, and cotton. Preliminary estimates of agricultural losses are around $8 billion.213 Some farmers were put out of business and others will be recovering for years to come. The flooding caused severe erosion in some areas and also caused an increase in runoff and leaching of agricultural chemicals into surface water and groundwater.233

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U.S. Corn Yields 1960 to 2008
While technological improvements have resulted in a general increase in corn yields, extreme weather events have caused dramatic reductions in yields in particular years. Increased variation in yield is likely to occur as temperatures increase and rainfall becomes more variable during the growing season. Without dramatic technological breakthroughs, yields are unlikely to continue their historical upward trend as temperatures rise above the optimum level for vegetative and reproductive growth.


Another impact of heavy downpours is that wet conditions at harvest time result in reduced quality of many crops. Storms with heavy rainfall often are accompanied by wind gusts, and both strong winds and rain can flatten crops, causing significant damage. Vegetable and fruit crops are sensitive to even short-term, minor stresses, and as such are particularly vulnerable to weather extremes.193 More rainfall concentrated into heavy downpours also increases the likelihood of water deficiencies at other times because of reductions in rainfall frequency.

Drought frequency and severity are projected to increase in the future over much of the United States, particularly under higher emissions scenarios.90,91 Increased drought will be occurring at a time when crop water requirements also are increasing due to rising temperatures. Water deficits are detrimental for all crops.233

Temperature extremes will also pose problems. Even crop species that are well-adapted to warmth, such as tomatoes, can have reduced yield and/or quality when daytime maximum temperatures exceed 90°F for even short periods during critical reproductive stages (see maps page 34).112 For many high-value crops, just hours or days of moderate heat stress at critical growth stages can reduce grower profits by negatively affecting visual or flavor quality, even when total yield is not reduced.238

Weeds, diseases, and insect pests benefit from warming, and weeds also benefit from a higher carbon dioxide concentration, increasing stress on crop plants and requiring more attention to pest and weed control.

Weeds benefit more than cash crops from higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels.193 One concern with continued warming is the northward expansion of invasive weeds. Southern farmers currently lose more of their crops to weeds than do northern farmers. For example, southern farmers lose 64 percent of the soybean crop to weeds, while northern farmers lose 22 percent.239 Some extremely aggressive weeds plaguing the South (such as kudzu) have historically been confined to areas where winter temperatures do not drop below specific thresholds. As temperatures continue to rise, these weeds will expand their ranges northward into important agricultural agricultural areas.240 Kudzu currently has invaded 2.5 million acres of the Southeast and is a carrier of the fungal disease soybean rust, which represents a major and expanding threat to U.S. soybean production.234

Controlling weeds currently costs the United States more than $11 billion a year, with the majority spent on herbicides;241 so both herbicide use and costs are likely to increase as temperatures and carbon dioxide levels rise. At the same time, the most widely used herbicide in the United States, glyphosate (RoundUp®), loses its efficacy on weeds grown at carbon dioxide levels that are projected to occur in the coming decades (see photos below). Higher concentrations of the chemical and more frequent spraying thus will be needed, increasing economic and environmental costs associated with chemical use.233

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Herbicide Loses Effectiveness at Higher CO2
The left photo shows weeds in a plot grown at a carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration of about 380 parts per million (ppm), which approximates the current level. The right photo shows a plot in which the CO2 level has been raised to about 680 ppm. Both plots were equally treated with herbicide.233


Many insect pests and crop diseases thrive due to warming, increasing losses and necessitating greater pesticide use. Warming aids insects and diseases in several ways. Rising temperatures allow both insects and pathogens to expand their ranges northward. In addition, rapidly rising winter temperatures allow more insects to survive over the winter, whereas cold winters once controlled their populations. Some of these insects, in addition to directly damaging crops, also carry diseases that harm crops. Crop diseases in general are likely to increase as earlier springs and warmer winters allow proliferation and higher survival rates of disease pathogens and parasites.193,234 The longer growing season will allow some insects to produce more generations in a single season, greatly increasing their populations. Finally, plants grown in higher carbon dioxide conditions tend to be less nutritious, so insects must eat more to meet their protein requirements, causing greater destruction to crops.193

Due to the increased presence of pests, spraying is already much more common in warmer areas than in cooler areas. For example, Florida sweet corn growers spray their fields 15 to 32 times a year to fight pests such as corn borer and corn earworm, while New York farmers average zero to five times.193 In addition, higher temperatures are known to reduce the effectiveness of certain classes of pesticides (pyrethroids and spinosad).

A particularly unpleasant example of how carbon dioxide tends to favor undesirable plants is found in the response of poison ivy to rising carbon dioxide concentrations. Poison ivy thrives in air with extra carbon dioxide in it, growing bigger and producing a more toxic form of the oil, urushiol, which causes painful skin reactions in 80 percent of people. Contact with poison ivy is one of the most widely reported ailments at poison centers in the United States, causing more than 350,000 cases of contact dermatitis each year. The growth stimulation of poison ivy due to increasing carbon dioxide concentration exceeds that of most other woody species. Given continued increases in carbon dioxide emissions, poison ivy is expected to become more abundant and more toxic in the future, with implications for forests and human health.234

Higher temperatures, longer growing seasons, and increased drought will lead to increased agricultural water use in some areas. Obtaining the maximum “carbon dioxide fertilization” benefit often requires more efficient use of water and fertilizers that better synchronize plant demand with supply. Farmers are likely to respond to more aggressive and invasive weeds, insects, and pathogens with increased use of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Where increases in water and chemical inputs become necessary, this will increase costs for the farmer, as well as having society-wide impacts by depleting water supply, increasing reactive nitrogen and pesticide loads to the environment, and increasing risks to food safety and human exposure to pesticides.

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Winter Temperature Trends, 1975 to 2007
Temperatures are rising faster in winter than in any other season, especially in many key agricultural regions. This allows many insect pests and crop diseases to expand and thrive, creating increasing challenges for agriculture. As indicated by the map, the Midwest and northern Great Plains have experienced increases of more than 7ºF in average winter temperatures over the past 30 years.


Forage quality in pastures and rangelands generally declines with increasing carbon dioxide concentration because of the effects on plant nitrogen and protein content, reducing the land’s ability to supply adequate livestock feed.

Beef cattle production takes place in every state in the United States, with the greatest number raised in regions that have an abundance of native or planted pastures for grazing. Generally, eastern pasturelands are planted and managed, whereas western rangelands are native pastures, which are not seeded and receive much less rainfall. There are transformations now underway in many semi-arid rangelands as a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and the associated climate change. These transformations include which species of grasses dominate, as well as the forage quality of the dominant grasses. Increases in carbon dioxide are generally reducing the quality of the forage, so that more acreage is needed to provide animals with the same nutritional value, resulting in an overall decline in livestock productivity. In addition, woody shrubs and invasive cheatgrass are encroaching into grasslands, further reducing their forage value.193 The combination of these factors leads to an overall decline in livestock productivity.

While rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increases forage quantity, it has negative impacts on forage quality because plant nitrogen and protein concentrations often decline with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide.193 This reduction in protein reduces forage quality and counters the positive effects of carbon dioxide enrichment on carbohydrates. Rising carbon dioxide concentration also has the potential to reduce the digestibility of forages that are already of poor quality. Reductions in forage quality could have pronounced detrimental effects on animal growth, reproduction, and survival, and could render livestock production unsustainable unless animal diets are supplemented with protein, adding more costs to production. On shortgrass prairie, for example, a carbon dioxide enrichment experiment reduced the protein concentration of autumn forage below critical maintenance levels for livestock in 3 out of 4 years and reduced the digestibility of forage by 14 percent in mid-summer and by 10 percent in autumn. Significantly, the grass type that thrived the most under excess carbon dioxide conditions also had the lowest protein concentration.193

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Distribution of Beef Cattle and Pasture/Rangeland in Continental U.S.
The colors show the percent of the county that is cattle pasture or rangeland, with red indicating the highest percentage. Each dot represents 10,000 cattle. Livestock production occurs in every state. Increasing concentration of carbon dioxide reduces the quality of forage, necessitating more acreage and resulting in a decline in livestock productivity.


At the scale of a region, the composition of forage plant species is determined mostly by climate and soils. The primary factor controlling the distribution and abundance of plants is water: both the amount of water plants use and water availability over time and space. The ability to anticipate vegetation changes at local scales and over shorter periods is limited because at these scales the response of vegetation to global-scale changes depends on a variety of local processes including the rate of disturbances such as fire and grazing, and the rate at which plant species can move across sometimes-fragmented landscapes. Nevertheless, some general patterns of vegetation change are beginning to emerge. For example, experiments indicate that a higher carbon dioxide concentration favors weeds and invasive plants over native species because invasives have traits (such as rapid growth rate and prolific seed production) that allow a larger growth response to carbon dioxide. In addition, the effect of a higher carbon dioxide concentration on plant species composition appears to be greatest where the land has been disturbed (such as by fire or grazing) and nutrient and light availability are high.193

Increases in temperature lengthen the growing season, and thus are likely to extend forage production into the late fall and early spring. However, overall productivity remains dependent on precipitation during the growing season.193

Increased heat, disease, and weather extremes are likely to reduce livestock productivity.

Like human beings, cows, pigs, and poultry are warm-blooded animals that are sensitive to heat. In terms of production efficiency, studies show that the negative effects of hotter summers will outweigh the positive effects of warmer winters. The more the U.S. climate warms, the more production will fall. For example, an analysis projected that a warming in the range of 9 to 11°F (as in the higher emissions scenarios91) would cause a 10 percent decline in livestock yields in cow/calf and dairy operations in Appalachia, the Southeast (including the Mississippi Delta), and southern Plains regions, while a warming of 2.7°F would cause less than a 1 percent decline.

Temperature and humidity interact to cause stress in animals, just as in humans; the higher the heat and humidity, the greater the stress and discomfort, and the larger the reduction in the animals’ ability to produce milk, gain weight, and reproduce. Milk production declines in dairy operations, the number of days it takes for cows to reach their target weight grows longer in meat operations, conception rate in cattle falls, and swine growth rates decline due to heat. As a result, swine, beef, and milk production are all projected to decline in a warmer world.193

The projected increases in air temperatures will negatively affect confined animal operations (dairy, beef, and swine) located in the central United States, increasing production costs as a result of reductions in performance associated with lower feed intake and increased requirements for energy to maintain healthy livestock. These costs do not account for the increased death of livestock associated with extreme weather events such as heat waves. Nighttime recovery is an essential element of survival when livestock are stressed by extreme heat. A feature of recent heat waves is the lack of nighttime relief. Large numbers of deaths have occurred in recent heat waves, with individual states reporting losses of 5,000 head of cattle in a single heat wave in one summer.193

Warming also affects parasites and disease pathogens. The earlier arrival of spring and warmer winters allow greater proliferation and survival of parasites and disease pathogens.193 In addition, changes in rainfall distributions are likely to lead to changes in diseases sensitive to moisture. Heat stress reduces animals’ ability to cope with other stresses, such as diseases and parasites. Furthermore, changes in rainfall distributions could lead to changes in diseases sensitive to relative humidity.

Maintaining livestock production would require modifying facilities to reduce heat stress on animals, using the best understanding of the chronic and acute stresses that livestock will encounter to determine the optimal modification strategy.193

Changing livestock species as an adaptation strategy is a much more extreme, high-risk, and, in most cases, high-cost option than changing crop varieties. Accurate predictions of climate trends and development of the infrastructure and market for the new livestock products are essential to making this an effective response.
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