Thursday, May 08, 2014

National Climate Assessment 2014

On Tuesday, the latest National Climate Assessment (NCA) was released. Its findings are sobering and leave no room for doubt regarding anthropogenic climate change and its impact on the United States. The report documents a pattern of drought in California and the Southwest, an increase in flooding in the Northeast, increases in extreme weather across the country, and the melting of sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost (with attendant releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas) in Alaska.

The National Climate Assessment is an intergovernmental effort to collect and synthesize studies of climate change from government, academic, and private-sector sources. It was established by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. Previous reports were issued in 2000 and 2009. Reports are peer-reviewed in a process that includes the participation of a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report is detailed and thoroughly documented. It includes both thematic and regional assessments. Here are just a few of the findings:
  • "Temperatures at Earth’s surface, in the troposphere (the active weather layer extending up to about 5 to 10 miles above the ground), and in the oceans have all increased over recent decades." (Read more here.)
  • "Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, especially over the last three to five decades. The heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent, and the amount of rain falling on the heaviest rain days has also increased. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling in very heavy precipitation events has been significantly above average." (Read more here.)
  • "Warmer and drier conditions have already contributed to increasing wildfire extent across the western United States, and future increases are projected in some regions. Long periods of record high temperatures are associated with droughts that contribute to dry conditions and drive wildfires in some areas." (Read more here.)
Also this week, former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., in a New York Times op-ed, urged fellow Republicans to stop "denying the science" and "get back to [their] foundational roots as catalysts for innovation and problem solving." Huntsman wrote, "If Republicans can get to a place where science drives our thinking and actions, then we will be able to make progress." It is good that Huntsman is defending science as a driver of policy--but sad that it should be necessary to do so in addressing the entire Republican Party.