Hotter summers, rising sea levels and scarce water supplies are among the predictions for the Southwest in the third U.S. National Climate Assessment released Tuesday.
“We have a spectrum of problems like many places in the United States, but here we have an open coast and so rising sea levels are obviously an issue when they do start to rise again,” said Dan Cayan, a climate researcher at Scripps and a coordinating lead author of the Southwest Climate Change Assessment Report.
“They’ve been quiescent for the last 15 years or so but when we have big storms, high tides and an El Nino coinciding, that’s when we have our major problems,” Cayan said. “And those kinds of issues are going to recur. It’s just a matter of time.”
The full report summarizes the effects of climate change on national and regional levels, and offers guidance for mitigating the changes. Five scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego joined 300 scientists across public and private sectors to write the wide-ranging study.
Other changes expected for California and the Southwest, he said, include deeper, longer heat waves; an accentuated wildfire season as the natural landscape gets drier with longer, earlier springs and longer summers; more droughts such as the current one; and more extreme weather events. These combined changes will pose public safety and public health risks, and a drain on the energy grid.
The report’s Southwest chapter makes five points about climate changes.
• Declining snowpack and stream flow amounts are expected to decrease surface water reliability for both city use and agriculture.
• Reduced crop yields will be harmed by higher temperatures and competition for water and are predicted to displace jobs in some rural areas. “The Southwest produces more than half of the nation’s high-value specialty crops, which are irrigation-dependent and particularly vulnerable to extremes of moisture, cold and heat,” the report states.
• More wildfires, rising sea levels leading to increased flooding and erosion, and higher temperatures causing energy and public health problems are the three final points.
Margaret Leinen, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, also emphasized the importance of understanding that other aspects of life will see the effects of these changes.
“These are things that affect every aspect of our lives — whether that’s our property on the shore, whether it’s our ports, our water supply, our water quality, agriculture and public safety,” Leinen said. “Scripps Institute of Oceanography and our scientists are working with city government, state resource management and federal agencies to develop strategies for adapting to climate change and mitigating its effects.”
The authors and the report underscore the importance of industry, government and private collaboration to mitigate the changes and their effects.
“I can speak to our response on the coast,” said Catherine Kuhlman, deputy secretary for ocean and coastal policy for the California Natural Resources Agency.
“We are working with local planners to provide them the tools they need to anticipate and respond to sea-level rise and extreme-weather events. We are also tackling ocean acidification in partnership with Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Most importantly, the assessment draws upon the considerable energy and capacity in state, tribal and local governments, as well as the private sector, to effectively translate science into action.”
Kuhlman said the data in the report support claims that now is the time to act.
“The science is clear, and we are obliged to act now — our future depends on our willingness to take action now to mitigate risk,” she said. “The ocean is already rising and we know this is just the beginning. This report is a call to arms for us to all work together so we can maintain thriving communities and ecosystems in California.”
The entire report and the Southwest section can be found at www.globalchange.gov/ncadac.
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March 6, 2009 -- Rebecca Go interviews Tony Haymet, director at Scripp's Institution of Oceanography at UCSD, about the significance of the Revelle Prize awarded to Al Gore.