Climate change will hit the Northeast hard and soon, bringing threats to our health — and to fruit crops, ski resorts and the Atlantic cod.
Those are some conclusions from the fourth National Climate Assessment, which was released on Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — in what some see as an attempt to blunt media coverage. Thirteen federal agencies contributed to the 1,656-page report, which is mandated by law and produced every four years.
The report devoted one chapter to the Northeast. Here are five takeaways for our region:
1. Temperatures are rising faster here than in the rest of the lower 48, and that affects your health: By 2035, the Northeast will be 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) warmer than in the pre-industrial era, hitting that mark up to two decades before the global average. By 2050, average annual temperatures in the Northeast will have increased between 4 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to about 650 more deaths from extreme heat each year.
Warmer, longer seasons also mean more pollen and hay fever, more asthma attacks, and Lyme disease-bearing ticks hanging around longer than before.
2. Changing seasons also mean trouble for fruit farmers... Seasons are going to get less distinct around here, meaning an earlier spring. Early budding of fruit trees, followed by hard freezes, has already led to the loss of crops, and could get worse.
3. ...and ski resorts: The winter recreation industry supports about 44,500 jobs in the Northeast, the report says, and generates up to $2.7 billion a year. Ski resorts need at least 100 days of skiing to stay economically viable, and milder winters, with more rain, will shorten the snow-making season. Sports relying on natural snow and ice cover will only remain economically viable in the far northern reaches of the region by the end of the century.
4. Warmer oceans mean less Atlantic cod, but more black sea bass: Ocean temperatures along the Northeast Continental Shelf have warmed .06 degrees Fahrenheit since 1982, three times faster than the global average, and will continue to experience more warming than most other marine ecosystems. Species like northern shrimp, surf clams and Atlantic cod will continue to decline, as will important zooplankton that local fish and whales eat. Other species, like black sea bass, will increase.
5. More flooding means more crap in the water: Sea levels in the Northeast could rise an average of 11 feet by the end of the century under the worst-case scenario. Along with more rain and stronger hurricanes, higher waters will lead to more frequent storm surges and high-tide flooding.
Because much of New England was built along rivers and coasts, we tend to have more contaminated sites, waste management facilities and fuel tanks in river and coastal flood zones. When these facilities get flooded, water gets contaminated. Another problem: Many Northeast cities have combined sewer systems that collect both stormwater and wastewater. During heavy rain, these systems overflow and release untreated sewage, as recently happened in the Merrimack River. Expect to see more of this unless cities invest in major infrastructure improvements.
Any good news?
- Longer growing seasons could help some farmers and increase livestock production; seasonal changes might lead to more colorful fall foliage.
- The report applauded the region's landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to cap carbon emissions from power plants, and also Boston's proactive approach to guard against flooding and sea level rise.
- Climate change could create opportunities to increase green space in Boston as the city creates storm buffers, and to grow our “green economy” in sectors like offshore wind.