Climate Change Impacts
Our climate is changing. Sea level rose over 7 inches in the last 100 years along our coast. Ocean temperatures have warmed by 3 degrees F in parts of New England in the last 50 years while surface water salinity is becoming fresher.
“We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting,” said James E. Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures." NASA scientists have produced a visualization that depicts the recent rise in global temperatures as felt over a span of 130 years.
Sea Level Rise
While incremental increase in temperatures around the world of just a very few degrees may not seem like much, given the variation we experience over a year, or even over a day, it is enough to trigger some serious global changes. As temperatures creep upward, the melting of sea ice increases in the polar regions and glaciers around the world at an alarming rate, which in turn leads to an increase in global sea level. Records show an increase of seven inches for the past century. Read about the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program sets new estimate of global sea level rise by 35 to 63 inches by 2100, up from the 2007 projection of 7 to 23 inches when the melting of Greenland's massive ice sheet is included in calculations.
Frequency and Intensity of Storms
The global temperature increases that are already leading to sea level rise are putting heat energy into our oceans, lands, and atmosphere. This energy increase will drive much more active weather patterns, leading to a greater number of storms and an increase in storm severity. Climatic patterns on the planet are normally quite variable from year to year, and the factors that shape our climate are complex, but it is predicted that this variability will become more extreme and less predictable. The impact of future storms will exacerbate many of the other effects of climate change, including sea level rise, coastal storm surge, flooding, and drought.
Even the seemingly modest increase in overall global temperature that we already experience is expected to lead to significant changes in climate patterns around the world. In some regions, this will lead to higher amounts of precipitation, while in other regions will experience less, and some will experience highly variable and unpredictable climatic patterns. The regions that are expected to suffer from drought the most are those that are already arid, leading to significant crop failure with a significant impact on local populations.
As a direct result of human emissions of CO2, the ocean is becoming more acidic. It has absorbed about half of the CO2 that humans have generated over the last 200 years. Currently, the ocean is absorbing 22-25 million tons of CO2 a day, which has already caused a decrease in the ocean's pH! The average ocean waters pH has been 8.2. It is now at 8.1, and scientists are predicting a drop of 0.4 pH if CO2 emissions are not cut dramatically. While this may not sound like much, it is. Already species at the lowest level of the ocean food chain are being seriously impacted. Calcium-based animals may be on the road to extinction.
According to fossil records, mass exinctions of living organisms on Earth have occurred five times previously, the last major event coinciding with the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Due to a combination of factors, primarily habitat loss and climate change, life on the planet is now undergoing the sixth major extinction event. Of all the impacts of human-induced climate change, species loss is one that is entirely irreversible.
How will our communities and ecosystems adapt to changes that are already in the works?
Good planning takes into account that the future will be different than the past and needs to incorporate different information which includes future climate change projections. More than ever adaptative management is necessary.
As a Regional Coordinator for the Mass Bays Program, SSCW is a partner in EPA's Climate Ready Estuaries pilot program with the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program. Salem Sound Coastwatch will provide a local community link between federal, state and municipal entities, as we learn how communities along the coast can prepare for climate change.
Climate Change and its many impacts are truly global issues that can seem much larger than any one individual could possibly combat. But rather than feel overwhelmed, there are lots of little things that each of us can do to help counter runaway carbon emissions and resulting changes to the planet's climate. These problems are not beyond our collective abilities to solve, but the window of opportunity to reverse many decades of human-induced global damage is closing. Read on to learn about just a few of many things we all can do to contribute to a better tomorrow for us and generations to come.