News / Science & Technology

    Report: Ecosystems More Stressed Than Ever

    Scientists predict that marshes in the Plum Island Estuary in Massachusetts will submerge if sea level rises as expected. (Matthew Kirwan/USGS)
    Scientists predict that marshes in the Plum Island Estuary in Massachusetts will submerge if sea level rises as expected. (Matthew Kirwan/USGS)
    Rosanne Skirble
    Natural ecosystems in the United States are under greater stress from climate change than at any previous time in human history, according to a new report.

    Experts from government agencies, academia and environmental organizations say these stressed ecosystems are also stressing wild plant and animal species, threatening the nation’s biodiversity.
        
    When Super Storm Sandy ravaged the U.S. East Coast and inundated New York City in late October, many wondered if such extreme weather events might be linked to climate change, the gradual warming of the planet caused, in part, by decades of industrial emissions.

    Climate Change Threatens Biodiversity
    Climate Change Threatens Biodiversityi
    || 0:00:00
    ...    
     
    X

    For New York governor Andrew Cuomo, there was no doubt.

    “Climate change is a reality,” he said after Sandy struck.

    Wreaking havoc

    The same global reality that swamped New York City is also wreaking havoc on the nation’s wild places, according to a warning contained in the new report, "Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services."  

    • Adult female walruses on ice floe with young in waters of the Eastern Chukchi Sea, Alaska, face the threat of melting sea ice. (S.A. Sonsthagen/USGS)
    • Forest die-off in the America Southwest is projected to occur more frequently due to the impact of a warmer world. (Craig D.Allen/USGS)
    • The Meltwater stonefly is the first insect species being considered for listing due to climate change. (Joe Giersch/USGS)
    • Scientists predict that marshes in the Plum Island Estuary in Massachusetts will submerge under a conservative sea-level rise scenario. (Matthew Kirwan/USGS)
    • A USGS scientist shoots a repeat photograph of Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park to illustrate glacial recession due to impacts of climate change. (Lisa McKeon, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center)
    • Climate change projections in the Sprague River Basin, Oregon predict indicate a steady increase in temperature progressing through the 21st century, generally resulting in snow pack reductions, changes to the timing of snow melt, altered stream flows, an
    • In the drier Arizona upland plant communities some species will likely decline with forecasted climate while cacti may well increase in abundance and range. (Sarah Studd/National Park Service)
    • Climate change and warming temperatures affect all landscapes high and low – including these delicate alpine meadow ecosystems in Yosemite National Park, California. (Ben Young Landis/USGS)
    • Some Polar bears in the Arctic can swim more than 300 kilometers at a stretch. They depend on ice sheets which are in decline. (Mike Lockhart/USGS)
    • The Spectacled Eider has declined by 96 percent at a primary breeding area in Alaska because of declining ice and warming temperatures. The species is listed as threatened. (USGS)
    • These subsiding marshes in the Mississippi River Delta are important habitat for wildlife and serve as protective buffers against storms and hurricanes. (K. L. McKee/USGS)


    Bruce Stein, a scientist with the National Wildlife Federation and a co-author of the report, says one of its key findings is that climate change is causing many plant and animal species to shift their geographic range and distribution faster than anticipated.

    “What that means is that, as these species shift out of their historic ranges, we’re starting to see biological events happening earlier," Stein says. "We’re starting to see mismatches between things like flowers and their pollinators, and species that actually depend on one another.”

    The impact of a warmer world isn’t just felt in more intense heat waves, droughts and storms every summer, but also in winters that are less cold.

    “And those cold temperatures are a critical regulator of species outbreaks and also of species distributions," says ecologist Peter Groffman with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and also a co-author of the report. "And so what we’ve seen is that these pest outbreaks are much worse than they would be because we’ve lost these very cold temperatures.”

    Assault on trees

    Bug infestations are killing millions of trees in U.S. forests. If that assault continues, the report warns, tree mortality rates in western U.S. forests could double every 17 to 29 years. The loss of trees would lead to earlier melting of mountain snowpack and reduce the amount of water available for spring planting season.

    “These changes in the winter affect ecosystems, biodiversity, during the summer period," Groffman says. "There are big changes in the timing of spring and fall, which affects the success for a variety of plant and animal species, and it affects the ability of ecosystems to hold on to improved water quality and air quality.”

    That also means less water for people and communities to drink, says another report co-author, Mary Ruckelshaus, managing director of the Natural Capital Project.

    “By most projections, climate change is going to triple the fraction of countries that are at high, or at very high, risk of running out of water," Ruckelshaus says. "People’s source of water is going to be increasingly imperiled due to climate change.”

    High stakes

    The report’s authors call for improved monitoring and better coordination among federal and state agencies to adapt to the impacts of climate change.  
        
    Bruce Stein, with the National Wildlife Federation, says the need is urgent and the stakes are high.

    “I think the bottom line is that these impacts are not just going to happen in 50 or 100 years, many of them already are here and are only projected to get worse over time," Stein says. "The good news though, is that climate adaptation finally is being taken seriously, and many state and federal land management agencies, as well as cities and towns, are beginning to put that in practice.”        

    For example, according to Stein, efforts are being made to prevent a recurrence of what happened during Super storm Sandy: salty ocean water driven by the storm surge breached the freshwater marsh systems on the Atlantic coast, contaminating critical shore bird habitats.  

    “Because just this type of breach was anticipated given rising sea levels, National Wildlife Federation and the State of Delaware are already working to create comparable marsh further inland and up slope that is better protected from heightened sea levels and storm surges," he says.   
     
    The report released this week is one of several major technical studies being done as part of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, due out in 2013.

    You May Like

    Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    Video Canine Reading Buddies Help Students With Literacy

    Idea behind reading program is that sharing book with nonjudgmental companion boosts students' confidence and helps instill love of reading

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Manda Ginjiro from: South of Osaka
    December 22, 2012 11:13 PM
    It is popularly believed that global climate is changing and the climate change is the cause of big hurricane and draughts.
    Are you sure?
    Nobody understand the mechanism of climate and no scientist can simulate climate change with good accuracy.
    Why are they talking about global climate change without good knowledge?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora