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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora