NEW YORK, 7 August 2006
Dear EarthTalk: In what ways is global warming already affecting us in
— Tyler Merson, New York, NY
There are many examples of
climate change’s real and present impact. For one, the 20 hottest years
since record keeping began in the 1880s have all occurred since 1983, and
until this year 2005 was the hottest year ever. Now, according to a new
U.S. climate report, 2006 is well on its way to taking the top
If you like New England’s maple syrup, you'll be
dismayed to know that producers report seeing global warming’s effect on
their seasonal harvesting cycles. Farmers are tapping their trees a month
earlier than their ancestors did, and some fear that global warming will
eventually reduce the trees’ ability to produce high-quality sap. "I think
the sugar maple industry is on its way out," says University of New
Hampshire professor Barrett Rock, who led research on regional risks
related to climate change.
Some ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest blame global warming for the
warm weather that shut down the 2004-2005 season before it even began.
University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences Cliff Mass
reports that less snow has been falling in Washington State for the last
20 years. "Global warming is occurring," he concludes. Also in trouble due
to declining snow are New England and Midwestern resorts.
loss of sandy beaches due to climate-aggravated sea level rises is also
troubling, and the problem is accelerating. The National Science
Foundation’s Metro East Coast report says that beach erosion will likely
double by the 2020s, increase from three- to six-fold by the 2050s and by
as much as 10-fold by the 2080s. Already, sand loss has led to large beach
replenishment efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers.
keep plenty of calamine lotion on hand. Researchers at Duke University
found that some vines—including poison ivy— may thrive exponentially in a
warmer climate. Experiments showed that poison ivy growing in a carbon
dioxide-rich environment grew about three times larger than normal and
produced significantly more urushiol, the allergenic substance that causes
Another indicator of increased warming is the retreat
of glaciers across western North America. This troubling phenomenon is
especially noticeable in the Waterton-Glacier park complex on the
U.S.-Canada border. Several major glaciers there have shrunk by half or
more in recent decades. On the U.S. side of the border, the number of
glaciers in Glacier National Park has dropped from 150 in 1850 to 35
Wildlife is also feeling the heat. A 2004 study by the
Wildlife Society, a 9,000-member group of wildlife professionals, found
that global warming is affecting many North American species and could
cause major shifts in ecosystems. The group concluded that caribou, polar
bears, migratory songbirds and other species have already responded to
climate change by shifting habitat, altering their breeding patterns or
changing their migration routes.
Finally, stronger storms
Katrina in recent years may be partially explained by global warming.
Researchers have found that both the intensity and number of category 4
and 5 storms have greatly increased in the past 35 years, and have linked
that phenomenon to warming ocean temperatures.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, www.ipcc.ch.
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