13 january 2017

Northeast warming more rapidly than most of US

By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff, January 13, 2017

New England is likely to experience significantly greater warming over the next decade, and beyond, than the rest of the planet, according to new findings by climate scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The region’s temperatures are projected to rise by an average of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2025, according to the study, published this week in PLOS One, a journal published by the Public Library of Science.

The scientists found that the Northeast is warming more rapidly than any other part of the country except Alaska — and that the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit rise in the region is likely to come two decades before the rest of the world gets to that point.

“I tell my students that they’re going to be able to tell their children, ‘I remember when it used to snow in Boston,’ ” said Ray Bradley, an author of the study and director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts. “We’ll have occasional snow, but we won’t have weeks and weeks of snow on the ground.”

The authors’ findings, based on 32 different computer models for how climate change will unfold, also show that the Northeast is likely to experience increasingly wet winters and more flooding, while the Great Plains and the Northwest will see drier summers and more prolonged droughts.

Scientists have called on policy makers around the world to reduce carbon emissions in hopes of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees, or 2 degrees Celsius, a threshold considered critical to avoiding a catastrophic rise in sea levels and other major damage attributed to climate change.

Temperatures in the Northeast have already risen faster than global averages. Since 1895, Massachusetts has warmed by an average of 1.3 degrees Celsius, compared with 1 degree globally. Global temperatures tend to be lower than specific temperatures on land, however, as they include ocean temperatures, which rise more slowly.

That disparity will rapidly accelerate in the coming years for a combination of reasons, including the region’s relatively high latitude, its position relative to the prevailing winds that blow west across the United States, and the drastic rise in temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, which has warmed faster than nearly any other body of water on the planet, the authors concluded.

How quickly the region warms will depend on how fast carbon emissions are reduced, they said.

More drastic action to reduce the use of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels, as called for by the 2015 climate accord signed in Paris, could slow the pace.

In the study, the authors noted that the 2-degree Celsius threshold is an arbitrary means of assessing risk.

“There is no real scientific basis to why global warming of 2 degrees C should be considered ‘safe,’ ” they wrote, noting that “it emerged as ‘the least unattractive course of action’ and has been used as an easily understood, politically useful marker to communicate the urgency of the climate change problem.”


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