Climate Change in Your Backyard

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What kind of changes can you expect as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise? Here are some highlights of changes based on geographic region, from Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, a new report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program:

Northeast: Shorter winters with less snow and more rain; longer summers, more frequent extreme heat waves and declining air quality, especially in cities; more frequent short-term (one- to three-month) droughts; severe flooding from sea level rise and heavy downpours; lobster fisheries shift North; declines in dairy, fruit and maple syrup production.

Southeast: Higher summer temperatures will lead to more human illness, road buckling, a decline in forest growth and a decline in livestock production; decreased water availability, leading to increased conflict over water issues (like in Atlanta in 2007); rising sea levels, more intense hurricanes and bigger storm surges could threaten a large portion of the coast.

Midwest: Reduced public health in the summers due to more heat waves, reduced air quality and more insect and waterborne diseases; declining water levels in the Great Lakes, which will affect shipping, recreation and tourism; more precipitation in the winter and spring, with more heavy downpours; precipitation changes in the summer will bring both more droughts and more floods; managing agriculture and forests will be difficult in a time of rapidly changing climate patterns.

Great Plains: More frequent extreme events, including heat waves and droughts; increases in droughts, evaporation and temperature could exacerbate water management issues, particularly for agriculture and ranching; alterations to unique habitats, such as prairie potholes, could affect native plants and animals.

Southwest: Increasing water scarcity to lead to more conflict between states; higher temperatures, drought, wildfires and invasive species change the landscape of this region; more frequent flooding puts people at risk; tourism and recreation declines.Northwest: A declining snowpack leads to lower summer streamflows and less hydroelectric output; salmon threatened by the lower streamflows and higher water temperatures; more wildfires and insects and shifts in species threaten both ecosystems and the forest industry.

Alaska: Hotter, drier summers; more wildfires and insect problems; more lake evaporation, which could affect native bird populations and Native peoples who depend on hunting and fishing; thawing permafrost undermines infrastructure, including roads and buildings; loss of sea ice leads to more coastal storms, which threaten villages and fishing fleets; possible declines in key fisheries.

Hawaii, Puerto Rico and other islands: Less freshwater availability; sea level rise and more intense storms threaten island communities; changes to coastal and marine ecosystems will affect fisheries and tourism.

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