December 19th, 2012 by James Ayre
The eastern part of the United States is expected to experience everything from extreme drought to enormous hurricanes in the near future as a result of climate change, a new study from the University of Tennessee confirms.
“Joshua Fu, a civil and environmental engineering professor, and Yang Gao, a graduate research assistant, developed precise scales of cities which act as a climate crystal ball seeing high resolution climate changes almost 50 years into the future.”
The research found that severe heat waves will become much more regular in most of the eastern United States and that on the whole the region will receive much more precipitation. When the increased precipitation is combined with much higher sea levels it means that there will likely be massive and costly flooding to many areas, including New York City.
Modern climate change is caused entirely, or almost entirely, by human activities, primarily the large-scale burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and agriculture.
“Harnessing the supercomputing power of UT’s Kraken and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Jaguar (now Titan, the fastest in the world), the researchers combined high-resolution topography, land use information and climate modeling. Then they used dynamical downscaling to develop their climate model results. Dynamical downscaling allowed the researchers to develop climate scales as small as four square kilometers.”
“Instead of studying regions, which is not useful when examining extreme weather, dynamical downscaling allows us to study small areas such as cities with a fine resolution,” said Fu, who is also a professor within the UT-ORNL Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education (CIRE).
“The researchers evaluated extreme events along with daily maximum and minimum temperatures and daily precipitation. For the 23 states east of the Mississippi River, they analyzed the present-day climate from 2001 to 2004 and predicted the future climate from 2057 to 2059. This is the first study to predict heat waves for the top 20 cities in the eastern U.S. For example, Nashville will see a temperature rise of 3.21 degrees Celsius and Memphis will see a rise of 2.18 degrees Celsius.”
Compared to the climate of the present, in the future heat waves will simultaneously become more common and more severe all throughout the eastern part of the nation. “The Northeast and eastern Midwest will experience a greater increase in heat waves than the Southeast, which will almost equalize the temperatures between the future North and current South.”
“Currently, the mean heat wave duration is about four days in the Northeast and eastern Midwest and five days in the Southeast,” said Fu. “By the end of the 2050s, the Northeast and eastern Midwest will be gaining on the Southeast by increasing two days.”
The severity of heat waves is also going to increase exponentially in the Northeast and the eastern Midwest.
“While the Southeast has the highest intensity in heat waves, the northeast is likely to experience the highest increase,” said Fu. “We are looking at temperature increases of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius, with New York experiencing the highest hike.”
“Both the Northeast and Southeast will experience an increase of precipitation of 35 percent or more. Most coastal states will see the greatest increase, of about 150 millimeters a year. Taking into consideration heat waves and extreme precipitation, the Northeast shows the largest increases in precipitation. This suggests a greater risk of flooding.”
“It is important that the nation take actions to mitigate the impact of climate change in the next several decades,” said Fu. “These changes not only cost money — about a billion a year in the U.S. — but they also cost lives.”
The best options available currently are to rapidly switch to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, these energy sources and their infrastructure result in far lower emissions of greenhouse gases.
The new findings are published in the November 6th edition of Environmental Research Letters.
Image Credits: Hurricane Sandy via Wikimedia Commons
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