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Report details current and near-term warming effects in US

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  • 5/28 Washington Post
    Published Wednesday, May 28, 2008, by the Washington Post Report Details Effects of Climate Change Across U.S. By Juliet Eilperin Washington Post Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2008
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      Published Wednesday, May 28, 2008, by the Washington Post

      Report Details Effects of Climate Change Across U.S.

      By Juliet Eilperin
      Washington Post Staff Writer

      Global warming is already affecting the nation's forests, water
      resources, farmland and wildlife, and will have serious negative
      consequences over the next 25 to 50 years, according to a report
      issued yesterday by the federal government.

      The scientific assessment by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program,
      which was commissioned by the Agriculture Department and carried
      out by 38 scientists inside and outside the government, provides the
      most detailed look in nearly eight years at how climate change is
      reshaping the American landscape. The report, which runs 193 pages
      and synthesizes a thousand scientific papers, highlights how human-
      generated carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have
      already translated into more frequent forest fires, reduced snowpack
      and increased drought, especially in the West.

      Anthony C. Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Research
      Institute of the University of Maryland and the Pacific Northwest
      National Laboratory, said the document aims to inform federal
      resource managers and dispel the public's perception that global
      warming will not be felt until years from now.

      "They imagine all these ecological impacts are in some distant
      future," said Janetos, one of the lead authors, who noted that many
      animals and plants have shifted their migratory and blooming patterns
      to reflect recent changes in temperature. "They're not in some
      distant future. We're experiencing them now."

      The document concludes that Americans must face the fact that many
      of these changes are locked in even if the country takes significant
      steps to cut emissions in the coming decades.

      "Climate change is currently impacting the nation's ecosystems and
      services in significant ways, and those alterations are very likely
      to accelerate in the future, in some cases dramatically," the report
      says. "Even under the most optimistic CO2emission scenarios,
      important changes in sea level, regional and super-regional
      temperatures and precipitation patterns will have profound effects."

      Richard Moss, vice president and managing director for climate change
      at the advocacy group World Wildlife Fund, said in an interview that
      the report represents "the very first upfront acknowledgment from
      the administration that we are already experiencing climate change
      impacts."

      As recently as July 2007, the administration submitted a report to
      the United Nations that omitted any discussion of how global warming
      will affect wildfires, heat waves, agriculture or snowpack.

      Moss, who led the U.S. Climate Change Science Program coordination
      office during both the Clinton and Bush administrations, praised the
      program for producing the analysis, which is part of a long-delayed
      series of official climate reports. "At the same time," he added, "we
      all need to be looking at how the administration now intends to use
      the results of this information, because it really is worrisome."

      The researchers said that of 1,598 animal species examined in more
      than 800 studies, nearly 60 percent were found to have been affected
      by climate change.

      In addition, the number and frequency of forest fires and insect
      outbreaks are "increasing in the interior West, the Southwest, and
      Alaska," while "precipitation, stream flow, and stream temperatures
      are increasing in most of the continental United States" and snowpack
      is declining in the West.

      The Agriculture Department, the study's lead sponsor, issued a
      statement yesterday highlighting some of the report's findings for
      farmers, noting that the higher temperatures mean that grain and
      oilseed crops will mature more rapidly but face an increased risk
      of failure and "will negatively affect livestock."

      "The report issued today provides practical information that will
      help landowners and resource managers make better decisions to
      address the risks of climate change," said Agriculture Department
      chief economist Joseph Glauber.

      Agriculture Department spokesman William Hohenstein said the
      department is already incorporating climate change into all of its
      national forest management plans, and it is drafting a strategic
      research plan aimed at coping with global warming. "We will use this
      as a springboard in terms of identifying the questions we're going
      to focus on" for the strategic plan, he said of the report.

      Peter Backlund, another of the report's lead authors and director of
      research relations at the National Center for Atmospheric Research,
      said in an interview that the Departments of Agriculture and Interior
      and other federal agencies will be tested by changing climate
      conditions on both public and private land.

      "This is going to be a big challenge for agencies that haven't
      traditionally been big players in climate," Backlund said, adding
      the government's monitoring systems can chart major changes but are
      insufficient to serve as a climate warning system. "We lack the
      ability to identify the more subtle changes that are happening
      that could be much larger in the future. ... We're pulling this
      information from systems that weren't designed to look at that."

      The report predicts that some of the nation's most valued landscapes
      may change radically in the near future as precipitation and weather
      patterns continue to shift.

      "Management of Western reservoir systems is very likely to become
      more challenging as runoff patterns continue to change," it states.
      "Arid areas are very likely to experience increased erosion and fire
      risk. In arid ecosystems that have not co-evolved with a fire cycle,
      the probability of loss of iconic, charismatic megaflora such as
      Saguaro cacti and Joshua trees will greatly increase."

      One of the greatest challenges land managers will face over the next
      few decades, Janetos said, is uncertainty.

      "You can't really assume anymore the climate is going to be familiar
      or similar to what we've seen over the 20th century," he said. "We're
      moving into new territory."
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