Climate Report Highlights Impacts on Northeast

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

A recently released draft of a federal climate change assessment presents some disturbing predictions for the Northeast. Most of the expected impacts are nothing new, such as more frequent heat waves, sea-level rise, flooding and more intense storms.

But the predictions get dire, especially if carbon emissions continue to climb. Under the worst-case scenario, temperatures jump 4.5-10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080. Even if emissions are substantially reduced, temperatures still climb between 3 and 6 degrees. Under any scenario, the heat and weather will get much more unpleasant, according to the report.

Sea level will rise between 1 and 4 feet by the end of the century, depending on the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. A 1.5-foot-rise exposes $6 trillion worth of real estate between Baltimore and Boston to flooding, according to the report. Higher sea level causes 1-in-10 year floods to occur 1 in 3 years.

This more powerful weather will damage the environment and social structures — low-income populations, in particular. The region’s aging infrastructure and the economy also gets socked, according to the report. Damage is expected to cell towers, power plants, bridges, sewage treatment plants, waste storage areas, drinking water systems and ports. Power outages will be more frequent. Highways such as I-95 and rail system like Amtrak will close more often because of flooding.

The some 180,000 farms across 12 Northeast states might enjoy a longer growing season, but adapting to intense weather will be costly due to both drought and increased precipitation. The longer growing season will increase pest populations, weed damage and the range of invasive plant habitats.

State climate change adaptation strategies, such as those in Rhode Island, are only in the beginning stages, according to the report. Massachusetts was noted for including climate change impacts into standard environmental reviews. The cap-and-trade program of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Rhode Island is a member, was recognized for helping cut carbon emissions.

The report was written by a 60-member federal advisory commission led by the Department of Commerce, and supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). After a review period that ends April 12, the report will become the Third National Climate Assessment Report.

The document contains research and conclusions about the existence of climate change, such as, “Emissions of CO2 from human activities in the U.S. continue to increase and exceed ecosystem CO2 uptake by more than three times. As a result, North America remains a net source of CO2 into the atmosphere by a substantial margin.”

It also contains a rich source of information and visual aids relating to climate chnage causes, adaptation, mitigation and policy strategies. Other interesting stats related to the Northeast from the report include:

64 million people live in the Northeast, a region from Washington, D.C., through New England.

Between 1895 and 2011, the average temperature increased nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit; annual precipitation increased about 5 inches; sea level climbed a foot.

Rapid sea level rise accelerated due to land subsidence and a weakening of the Gulf Stream.

Between 1958 and 2010, precipitation increased 74 percent in heavy rain and snow events.