Climate change pushing people out of their homelands in US, says report

Alaska particularly affected by rapid pace of temperature rise, ice and snow melt, and permafrost thaw

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Monday 12 May 2014

Damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in the US (2012), which climate scientists called one of the most powerful in history and reportedly claimed over 100 lives across North America (Credit: DVIDSHUB)

A report released by the US Global Change Research Program (USGRP) last week has raised concern over the adverse impacts of climate change in the country.

The average temperature of the United States has increased from 1.3°F to 1.9°F since 1895, and most of this increase has occurred since the 1970s. New findings and observations suggest that increase in extreme weather events in recent years are related to human activities. The changing climate has more adverse impact on vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, sick and the poor. An alarming situation exists in Alaska with the Arctic state of US shrinking at a high rate. The adverse impact of climate change is visible with communities relocating from their traditional homelands, state the key findings of National Climate Assessment report released on May 6 by USGCRP, a presidential initiative that began in 1989 and coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society.

Apart from giving a national perspective on key climatic changes in the country, the report also analyses region-specific changes which can help frame micro policies and track changes in the future. The authors have identified 12 results from a plethora of issues that are of utmost importance.

Some of these results are:

  • Alaska and British Columbia are shrinking drastically.
  • Arctic summer sea ice is receding faster than previously projected and is expected to virtually disappear before mid-century.
  • The resultant rise in sea water will take over land in the two Arctic states of the US.
  • The climate has become drier and is causing havoc with more wildfires, altered wildlife habitat and increased cost of maintaining infrastructure.

The report notes that there have been substantial advances in our understanding of the US temperature record since the 2009 assessment. One major reason for the same is that the year 2012 was the warmest on record for the United States.

Water stresses, conflicts

Average precipitation has increased since 1900, but it has not been uniform. For instance, precipitation since 1991 increased the most in the north-east (8per cent), mid-west (9 per cent), and southern Great Plains (8 per cent), while much of the south-east and south-west had a mix of areas of increases and decreases. imagePredicting the future, the report says the northern US is projected to experience more precipitation in the winter and spring while the south-west is projected to experience less, particularly in the spring. A worrisome consequence of such changes is that the wet areas will get wetter and the dry areas will get drier.

In yet another finding, the report shows that increased demand for water is stressing the surface and ground water supplies. The ground water recharge is affected badly. In some regions, particularly the southern part of the country and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands, competition for water among people is increasing. Another issue is water quality, which too is diminishing due to increasing sediment and contaminant concentrations after heavy downpours.

The impact of such changes is already visible among human beings. In parts of Alaska, Louisiana, the Pacific Islands, and other coastal locations, climate change impacts through erosion and inundation are so severe that some communities are already relocating from historical homelands. Particularly in Alaska, the rapid pace of temperature rise, ice and snow melt, and permafrost thaw are significantly affecting critical infrastructure and traditional livelihoods.

Report: Climate change impacts in the United States

Report: Climate change and agriculture in the United States: effects and adaptation

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