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Gloomy Outlook for Northeast Climate

11 July 2007 (All day)
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Tides of change.
A new report predicts sea- level rise leading to massive erosion of Northeastern U.S. coastal areas, including Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Mass disappearances of cod and lobster, the end of commercial skiing in New Hampshire, and weeks of heatwaves over 38 Celsius in New York City and Boston, Massachusetts: That's the future the Northeast U.S. faces if world carbon emissions trends continue, says a major report on future climate impacts out today. The report, which its authors called "relatively conservative" in its conclusions, was assembled by researchers funded by the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and several foundations.

The 146-page report, roughly 3 years in the making, draws on research conducted for this effort. The authors envisioned two scenarios: One in which current emissions trends continue, and a second in which emissions are stabilized at 550 ppm--twice pre-industrial levels--by 2100. Then, they added reams of regional data to three well-respected global climate models to compare impacts in the Northeast states. Even under the second scenario, the report predicts a much warmer region facing broad challenges in terms of coastal flooding, species loss, and health problems such as asthma. Even fall foliage and maple syrup are at risk. "The very character of the Northeast is at stake," the report says.

One of the most sobering projections involves rising sea levels along the U.S. eastern seaboard. Under the lower emissions scenario, coastal floods that are now projected to occur once a century would occur "every year or two" in Boston and Atlantic City, New Jersey. (The even gloomier emissions scenario involves more coastal cities facing floods). Another possibility explored is summer heat, which under the high emissions scenario could even depress milk production 5 to 20% in cows under stress. The researchers identified several potential positive impacts of rising temperatures, including new lobster fishing possibilities.

David Bader, an expert on climate models at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, questioned the report's specific prediction of the number of extreme heat days in seven cities. "This is the kind of precision the [climate] models just don't have," says Bader. "What's lacking is the ability to relate the uncertainty inherent in their assumptions."

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