US Climate Study: Cities Center of Risk, Opportunity
Posted Jan 17, 2013 by Warren Karlenzig
The US National Climate Assessment, a new draft study by 13 federal agencies under the Dept. of Commerce, warns that climate change is introducing to cities ample societal and business risks, but also economic opportunities. Because extreme weather is expected to increase, our changing climate is our future, especially in urban areas, where 80% of the nation lives.
The unprecedented 1000+ page draft report–the most ambitious scientific exercise ever undertaken to catalog the real-time effects of climate change, and predict possible future outcomes–came out Friday from top federal research agencies, state agencies, private industry and university experts. Today the report became available for public comment.
- Distributed systems of all types will proliferate: renewable energy; wastewater, water and waste reuse. These technologies in many cases will provide better alternatives to large-scale centralized energy generation or water treatment systems and their outdated regional transmission networks, which are at risk to coastal flooding, severe storm outages, wildfires, and critical drought. Some of the large historic Northeast US power outages (2003: 55 million impacted in US and Canada) are prime examples of events that could regularly occur as a result of such threats.
- Smart grids and energy systems incorporating system redundancy. The Netherlands grid provides an example of a circular grid (versus hub and spoke) that is almost completely ensconced safely underground.
- Water efficiency systems and water-conserving buildings, landscapes and materials
- Cooling technologies and heat mitigating building design and urban landscapes
- New materials, sensors and automated feedback systems that protect against, and warn and respond to extreme events of heat, wind, flooding, drought and wildfire
- U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since record keeping began in 1895; more than 80% of this increase has occurred since 1980. The most recent decade was the nation’s warmest on record. U.S. temperatures are expected to continue to rise.
- Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.
- Heavy downpours are increasing in most regions of the U.S. Further increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events are projected for most U.S. areas.
- Certain types of extreme weather events in some regions have become more frequent and intense, including heat waves, floods, and droughts. The increased intensity of heat waves has been most prevalent in the West, while the intensity of flooding events has been more prevalent over the East. Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves everywhere are projected to become more intense in the future.
- There has been an increase in the overall strength of hurricanes and in the number of strong hurricanes in the North Atlantic since the early 1980s. Strongest hurricane (Category 4 and 5) intensities are projected to continue to increase as the oceans continue to warm.
- Winter storms will increase. Other severe storms, including the numbers of hurricanes and the intensity and frequency of tornadoes, hail, and damaging thunderstorm winds are uncertain and are being studied intensively.
- Rising temperatures are reducing ice volume and extent on land, lakes, and sea. This loss of ice is expected to continue.
- The oceans are currently absorbing about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere annually and are becoming more acidic as a result, leading to concerns about potential impacts on marine ecosystems.
- The length of the frost-free season (and the corresponding growing season) has been increasing nationally since the 1980s. The largest increases have occurred in the Western U.S., affecting snow-pack water supplies and related ecosystems and agriculture.