Cold Drought Wetwildfires

6 Infobase Publishing

This map represents significant U.S. weather and climate events for 2007. (NOAA)

extremes. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the warming projected by climate models over the next several decades suggests increases in rain episodes over frozen ground or rapid snow melting events that can increase flooding. Over the coming century, winter snowfalls and periods of extreme cold will probably decrease. Of major concern for this area are changes in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes.

The estuaries, bays, and wetlands of the Northeast coastal zone are highly valued as unique ecosystems, major recreational sites, migratory waterfowl habitats, and fishery sources. As global warming causes ocean temperatures to rise, it will increase stresses on these ecosystems. Changes in precipitation and runoff will negatively affect coastal salinity. This is important because both temperature and salinity have significant effects on fish populations, as well as human and ecosystem health. As sea levels continue to rise, wetlands and marshes located along the coasts will be destroyed as ocean water invades and contaminates these areas. Because there are already other stresses on the ecosystems in the Northeast, such as the flow of excess nutrients into the bays from industrial, urban, and rural sources, as well as pollution, additional stresses from global warming will exacerbate the already stressed environment. One way to help protect the coastal wetlands from the effects of global warming and sea-level rise is to utilize the lands adjacent to the coastal wetlands as a zone of wetland expansion, enabling wetlands to migrate inland as the sea level rises.

Global warming will also have a significant impact in major urban areas. In many cities, the existing infrastructure (water supply, communication systems, energy delivery, and waste disposal) is aged, worn out, and has not been well maintained. In its weakened state, the stresses from global warming (such as drought, flooding, extreme weather) could be more than the systems can handle, causing major emergencies. Other stresses in urban areas that may also be affected are crime, chronic air quality problems, and inadequate power supply to meet peak energy demands. One positive aspect is that if winters are less severe, there will be fewer winter stresses and casualties. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the major potential consequences of global warming include the impacts of rising sea level and elevated storm surges on transportation systems, increased heat-related illness and death associated with temperature extremes, increased ground-level ozone pollution associated with warming, and the impact of precipitation and evaporation changes on relatively inflexible water supply systems. Their suggestions for solutions include changing water supply management programs, replacing aging infrastructure with more climate-resilient systems, strengthening water quality and air quality controls to minimize the compounding of climate impacts, and using early warning systems and measures such as changing roofing colors and adding shade trees to limit urban heat that can contribute to heat-related stresses and deaths.

There also will be limitations in the recreation industry, principally the ski industry, activities at beaches and freshwater reservoirs, and sightseeing in the forested areas, as well as hiking, camping, and fishing. Suggested adaptations strategies will need to reflect a regional shift in recreational activity as people make trade-offs in terms of the type, location, and season of their activities.

In addition, there will be changes in species composition, possibly changes in predator-prey relationships, changes in pest types and populations, invasive species, and in key species that are truly characteristic of a region or are of economic significance. The lobster population is expected to migrate farther northward in order to stay in the cool water environment that it thrives in. Warmer waters are expected to start limiting the trout population, especially in locations such as Pennsylvania. Changes in species mix and the introduction of climate-driven invasive species are also likely to induce unanticipated feedbacks on ecosystems.

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