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Rising Sea Levels, Other U.S. Climate Impacts Predicted in Draft Report by Advisory Panel

Monday, January 14, 2013

By Avery Fellow  

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Climate change is projected to cause coastal and river flooding in the Northeast United States, compromising infrastructure and increasing the vulnerability of the region's residents, in addition to heat waves, droughts, and other impacts throughout the country, according to a draft report on climate change impacts released by a federal advisory panel Jan. 11.

The final National Climate Assessment is expected to be issued in February 2014, according to Kathy Jacobs, assistant director for climate assessment and adaptation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and director of the National Climate Assessment. Jacobs was speaking at a meeting on the draft assessment Jan. 11. The draft report will undergo several more periods of review before being finalized, she said.

The National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee approved release of the draft during the meeting. The draft will be open for public comment for three months starting Jan. 14 and ending April 12, according to Jacobs.

Rise in Temperature, Sea Levels

U.S. temperatures will rise between 2 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit in most areas in the next few decades, according to the draft report. Sea levels are expected to rise between 1 foot and 4 feet globally by 2100, the draft states. Nearly 5 million Americans live within four feet of local high-tide levels, according to the report.

Heat waves, extreme precipitation events, and flooding in the Northeast will pose a challenge to the region's environmental, social, and economic systems, according to the draft. “While a majority of state and several municipalities have begun to incorporate the risk of climate change into their planning activities, implementation of adaptation is still at early stages,” the draft states.

Ocean temperatures will continue to rise in the future, the draft report states. Ocean acidification, which results from the ocean absorbing human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, will alter marine ecosystems “in dramatic yet uncertain ways,” impacting the entire marine food chain, the draft states. The draft projects significant habitat loss for ocean life due to climate change, particularly in the Arctic and in coral reef systems. Also, climate change may significantly increase costs to U.S. businesses related to ocean transportation and recreation while disrupting public access to and enjoyment of ocean areas, according to the draft report.

Extensive Feedback Anticipated

The committee expects to receive thousands of comments during the comment period, said Jerry Melillo, a scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and chairman of the 60-member advisory committee. Melillo was speaking at the meeting via teleconference.

A report on climate science and climate change impacts is due to Congress every four years under the Global Change Research Act of 1990. Only two reports have been completed since the law passed, however, one in 2000 and one in 2009 (69 WCCR, 4/10/12).

The draft, which has more than 1,000 pages, contains 30 chapters covering climate and science, different regions of the United States, and other topics, Jacobs said. More than 240 authors contributed to the report. In addition to making the report publicly available, the committee provided a draft to the National Research Council Jan. 11 for comment.

At the end of the comment period, the committee will review and respond to comments, and then submit the report to the government in the fall.

The current version is a product of the federal advisory committee and is not yet an official federal document, Jacobs said. It will become a federal document when the committee submits it to the National Science Technology Council Oct. 7. The council is expected to review, modify, and approve a final draft by Jan. 30, 2014.

The final version will be available only electronically, Jacobs said, though a paper summary will be available.

Recent Changes to Report

Recent changes made to the draft include the addition of a number of climate change mitigation activities currently under way at the local, regional, and federal levels, Melillo said. The committee has also made changes to portions of the report dealing with sea level rise projections after holding conference calls with experts on the issue, Melillo said. “The upper bounds of sea level rise are dependent on ice sheet dynamics,” which are complex, he said.

“This is a day we've been waiting for,” Melillo said. “Now we have to await the comments both from the Academy and the public. It's a very good start on a critical issue for the nation and the world.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), said in a Jan. 11 statement on the draft assessment, “This draft report sends a warning to all of us: we must act in a comprehensive fashion to reduce carbon pollution or expose our people and communities to continuing devastation from extreme weather events and their aftermath.”

The advisory committee plans to issue interim reports in between the four-year assessments, Jacobs said, including reports on food security and international issues.

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