Preparing for climate change: The potential consequences of climate variability and change

Findings of the Gulf Coast Regional Assessment
By: , and 

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Abstract

Over the past decades, scientific research has greatly advanced the knowledge and understanding of global environmental change. Research supported by the U. S. Global Change Research Programme (USGCRP) and research and assessment results by international organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Climate Research Program (WCRP), and the International Geosphere and Biosphere Programme (IGBP) have demonstrated that human activities exert powerful environmental influences on global, regional, and local scales. Recent findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 1997) indicate that human activities are increasing the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide (NOx), methane (CH4), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS), partially halogenated fluorocarbons, and ozone (O3), which alter radiative balances, and tend to warm the Earth’s surface.

These changes in greenhouse gases and aerosols constitute key factors in global and regional changes in temperature, precipitation, and other climate variables, resulting in local and regional changes in soil moisture, an increase in global mean sea level, and prospects for more severe extreme high temperature events, floods, and droughts in some places. In the United States and elsewhere in the industrialized world, energy use contributes to global warming more than any other human activity. This is because most of our energy comes from carbon-based fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). Fossil fuels provide energy for a variety of purposes, including transporting goods and people, manufacturing products, heating and cooling buildings, lighting spaces, and cooking foods. Each year U.S. energy use releases more than 5.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Present global CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are 130% of pre-industrial levels (Figure 1). The global surface temperature last century is warmer than any other century in the past millennium. The global average temperature has increased by about 1F over the last century and is projected to rise another 2-6.5F by year 2100 (Figure 2). The last two decades have been the warmest last century. Average global sea level has risen about 4 to 10 inches in the last hundred years, and is projected to rise another 6-38 inches by year 2100. Mid- and low- latitude mountain glaciers have retreated world-wide last century.

As greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, it is expected that an increase in rainfall amount and consequent increase in river flooding will occur. Recent floods in the Gulf Coast areas (1993, 1997) are examples of such events, and perhaps indicate the high sensitivity of flood occurrence to changing climate. Because of its unique location adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Coast region of the United States is particularly vulnerable to various environmental alterations resulting from climate change. 

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Title Preparing for climate change: The potential consequences of climate variability and change
Series title Findings of the Gulf Coast Regional Assessment
ISBN 1930129009
Year Published 2003
Language English
Publisher GCRCC
Contributing office(s) National Wetlands Research Center
Description iv, 80 p.
Country United States
State Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas