Impacts of Climate Change
Impacts of Climate Change
From developing countries that do not have the resources to combat climate change to Washington state itself, addressing climate change immediately is essential to protecting our future. Analyzing local and global effects of climate change can help us understand our impact on humans, animals, plants, and ecosystems around the world.
Sea Level Rise
As a coastal state Washington is sure to experience a multitude of serious environmental issues, starting with continued sea level rise. Sea level in Puget Sound is projected to rise between 14 to 54 inches by 2100, and it has already risen by 8.6 inches in the past 18 years (UW CIG, 2015). These figures indicate that parts of greater Seattle will be permanently inundated in the near future (Ecology, 2018). Consequently, sea level rise will displace many coastal residents, put commercialand industrial infrastructure at risk, and reduce harvest for commercial fishing operations like shellfish and salmon.
Sea level rise may also cause habitat loss and a decrease in marine diversity in the Puget Sound, especially in low-lying areas and pristine wetland habitats (UW CIG, 2015). Coastal wetlands in Washington provide flood/erosion protection to local communities, filter water, and act as nurseries for local fisheries. However, the Port Susan, Nisqually and Skokomish wetlands are expected to lose more than half their vegetation to sea level rise, putting the wetland ecosystems out of balance (Burns, 2018).
Also, Washington’s coastal bluffs, like those in San Juan County, are expected to erode more rapidly due to sea level rise, putting habitats and homes nearby in danger (UW CIG, 2015). Coastal landowners often have to consider building a sea wall or paying to move their house back away from the beach. However, natural bluffs as opposed to man-made seawalls have proven to save millions of dollars every year, especially when taking into account natural habitats like eelgrass beds, saltwater marshes and spawning areas.
Extreme weather events that are currently uncommon are expected to occur monthly. Notably, Western Washington will have a 50-75% higher risk of coastal flooding by the year 2030 (Mahr, 2009). Flood events are sure to put a huge toll on Washington’s transportation systems.
For example, extreme precipitation is expected to cause more roadside mudslide and rock fall accidents, as well as severe wind related road closures. Coastal storms are expected to affect drainage systems and block roadways
and bridges (WSDOT, 2017). In response to rising sea levels, Western Washington has already implemented floating bridges such as the 520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (the longest floating bridge in the world) opened in April 2016.
In 2007, flooding of the Chehalis River Basin in Chehalis, Washington caused Interstate 5 to close down for several days. The area was estimated to have suffered well over $166 million of damage to private and public infrastructure (Tomtas, 2017).
Washington has also seen an increase in extreme heat events. Heat waves reduce spring snowpack, negatively affect water quality, and lead to devastating wildfires and prolonged drought (Ecology, 2018). About 2.7 million acres of wildfire in Eastern Washington are considered vulnerable to wildfire (Farley, 2018).
In 2017 itself, the Pacific Northwest suffered from 3,404 fires which burned 1,121,442 acres (Farley, 2018). Notably, the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire on the border of Oregon and Washington spread over 50,000 acres and caused thousands of evacuations along the Columbia River Gorge, and last year’s Diamond Creek Fire on the northern border of Washington burned almost 130,000 acres, closing over 60 roads/trails (Clarridge, 2017). In summer of 2018, smoke from wildfires in Siberia, Canada, Chelan, and Eastern Washington drifting towards Western Washington paired with prolonged drought and an especially dry summer classified air quality in the area as "Very Unhealthy", and Seattle made news for having worse air quality than in Beijing (King, 2018).
Heat waves and wildfires will also affect tree growth, as the climatic suitability and growth rate for the Douglas Fir and Pine tree species is expected to decline in Washington State (CSES, 2013).
The melting of glaciers in the North Cascade mountain range poses immediate issues to the Pacific Northwest Area. Rising global temperatures have led to rapid melting of Washington State glaciers. Following current trends, the South Cascade Glacier in Skagit County is about 10 years away from being completely melted (Strauss, 2012). Olympic National Park reported that 82 glaciers disappeared from 1982 to 2009 (Haugen-Goodman, 2016).
Mountain glacier melt is extremely dangerous for Washington’s western population, as a significant part of the area’s drinking water is derived from glaciers. Washington’s coastline population will soon bedisplaced because of coastal flooding, while the inland population will have to find a new drinking water source in the near future, and possibly move because of a shortage of water (Strauss, 2012).
South Cascade Glacier in 1955 (left) vs 2004 (right). Image comparisons like these show evidence that glaciers in the Cascades are shrinking (Cauvel, 2016).
It is estimated that over half of the world’s population lives within 60km of a coastline, and demand for clean drinking water in populated coastal areas is immense (Hinrichsen, 2010). Also, a recent report by the Global Humanitarian Forum estimated that 300,000 people die each year as a consequence of climate change and 300 million people are affected (Gray, 2009). Therefore, addressing climate change is essential to protecting our global population.
As a result of sea level rise, fresh drinking water sources all over the world are being contaminated by saltwater. Saltwater intrusion, a process in which water from the ocean encroaches into freshwater aquifers, is a paramount concern for those that depend on aquifers for their drinking water (Barlow, 2017).
Sea level rise and saltwater intrusion also have adverse effects on natural coastline habitats, causing the degradation of Florida’s Everglades, the largest tropical wetland in the United States. The Everglades are currently home to 67 endangered plant and animal species. Due to changes in the water’s salinity, certain parts of the Everglades no longer able to support life. Changes in water salinity also allow invasive plant and animal species that would not usually succeed in the wetland environment to thrive, out-competing the native species and putting them in even more danger (Gonzales, 2018). The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council has now identified 61 invasive plants and over 190 invasive animals that are known to cause significant ecological and economical impacts in South Florida (Everglades).
In China, over 80% of underground wells have been claimed unfit for drinking and even bathing, and over 75% of China’s water is highly contaminated, but people continue to access the water for agriculture, industry and their households, because in their situation they have no other choice of where to get water (Strauss, 2012).
In coastal regions of Bangladesh, rising sea levels paired with salt water intrusion have made fresh
drinking water so saline that people get on average 50 - 100% of their recommended daily salt intake just from drinking water (Ahmed, 2014).
For example, southeast Florida's mangroves, a vital part of the Everglades ecosystem, have suffered extensively from sea level rise. Mangroves play a crucial role in protecting Florida's coast against sea level rise However, the mangroves have been moving deeper and deeper inland at a rate of 100 feet per year, and are expected to become completely submerged within the next 30 years (Milman, 2018).
Mangroves are made up of coastal vegetation that grows in salty water, so they are crucial buffers to saltwater intrusion. However, as they retreat this buffer weakens, and in turn the vulnerability of other Everglades habitats to saltwater intrusion increases (Milman, 2018). Mangrove retreat also reduces habitat available for niche species that live in the Everglades, like the Mangrove Tree Crab and the Mangrove Snapper fish. In total, an estimated 75% of game fish and 90% of commercial species in south Florida are dependent upon the mangrove system in their life time (Florida Museum, 2018).
Also, since mangrove systems act as safety barriers against coastal flooding and storms, retreating mangrove forests have caused the range and intensity of storms to amplify. For example, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 tore far into the coast of Florida partially because of the decreased protection provided by mangrove forests (Vandette, 2018).
Climate change has adverse impacts on agriculture and growing seasons all over the world. For example, in Taiwan and China, prolonged monsoon seasons and increased daily rainfall are putting tea harvests are in danger and forcing farmers to consider changing their management techniques (Collins, 2016). In the United States, a spike in global average temperatures and more frequent and intense droughts put harvests of wheat, soybeans and corn in danger of dropping yields up to 50% (Balaraman, 2017).
On the other hand, the growing season of high-latitudinal areas is actually getting longer (NOAA, 2018). Because average temperatures are expected to rise more near the north and south poles than near the equator, the shift in climate zones will be more pronounced at higher latitudes (Lindsey, 2012). Such shifts could strongly affect agricultural and livestock production, as higher latitudes will develop climates more suitable for growing (UNFCCC, 2000).
Also, due to rising global temperatures, the seasons are shifting with early springs and shorter winters. This gradual change has adverse effects on global ecosystems, especially since many species respond to environmental cues that rely on other species, and certain species can’t adapt as easily as others. Misalignment of environmental cues as a result of shifting seasons disrupts the natural cycle of the ecosystem (Land Trust Alliance, 2018).
The shift in seasons is harmful to birds that rely on their internal environmental clock to migrate. One of the main concerns is breeding, as some migratory birds have very short breeding periods and need to arrive at their destination within the correct time frame (Pynn, 2018). For example, Arctic Barnacle Geese have been forced to speed up their migration as they fight against rising temperatures to reach their breeding grounds on time. However, the geese's early arrival tires them out, limiting their ability to lay eggs on time (Cell Press, 2018).
Another consequence of shifting seasons is range expansion. The red fire ant, an invasive pest currently residing in south-eastern United States and originating from South America, thrives in the United States because of shifting seasons and increasing temperatures ideal for their,survival. The range of fire ants in the US continues to expand further north as a result (Seitz, 2017)
Similarly, the range of mosquitoes, which consists of hot and humid areas, has been expanding. Mosquito-borne diseases already affect over 700 million people worldwide, and their expanding range will just increase this number (Atkins, 2017).
Of course, the impacts of climate change don't just stop here. The effects described above are only a small portion of what people, animals and ecosystems have to go through every single day as a result of climate change, and their problems will only worsen if we don't take action soon. That being said, there are many actions you can take in your community, big and small, to help combat climate change!
Coastal Resilience: http://maps.coastalresilience.org/washington/
Land Trust Alliance: http://climatechange.lta.org/climate-impacts/shifting-seasons/
Puget Sound: https://www.eopugetsound.org/magazine/is/slr-tides