Last summer was the hottest on record for the US. This one will be hotter.
By Cayte Bosler
The Northeast has the highest probability in the U.S. of being hotter than usual this summer, along with parts of the West, according to the monthly climate report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The above-average temperatures for June, July and August are expected across nearly all the lower 48 states.
The duration of summer temperatures has increased globally by almost two weeks in the last 70 years. This trend is more prominent in the northern hemisphere and is expected to intensify in a 2-degree Celsius world, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts is locked in from greenhouse gas emissions. In his New York Times op-ed “Can You Even Call Deadly Heat ‘Extreme’ Anymore?” David Wallace-Wells reminds us that “…over half of all the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that have ever been produced in the history of humanity have been produced in the past 30 years.”
Air temperatures shape a place, how its cultures, communities, and landscapes form. In the Adirondacks, the protected forests and other natural areas play a big role in keeping temperatures lower than surrounding treeless zones, but an analysis of recent summer temperatures suggests that global warming trends are catching up to the park, bringing higher-than-average summer temperatures.
Twenty years ago, leading climate scientists and ecologists in the Adirondacks showed that the temperature trends in the park were not following the steeply rising averages elsewhere, particularly cities. It’s well known that urban areas suffer from the “heat island effect,” whereby the lack of vegetation, coupled with runaway air conditioning use and higher greenhouse gas emissions all worsen the effects of manmade climate change. Policy efforts around the country are attempting to increase vegetation in cities to mitigate these “heat islands.” Impressive results have been reported, mostly from lining the suburban streets with trees.
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Expansive forests, like the estimated 1 billion trees of the Adirondacks, help keep the planet cool by sequestering carbon; also in part by transpiring water and even releasing molecules that help water condense into clouds. Trees create microclimates of their own, by affecting cloud cover, rain patterns, and myriad of other processes that make up ecological niches with uniquely adapted biodiversity. This is why climate scientists and conservationists are flabbergasted by the continued destruction of the Amazon and other forested areas. Deforestation and climate-driven reduced rainfall aggravates an already dire climate crisis.
Averages are just that: they combine all temperatures over a month or a season. As a result, the extremes aren’t always gleaned by a display of averages – to raise an average even just 2 degrees, it means several temperature extremes (several days above average) need to occur. In the worst cases—in cities like New York or states like Texas—this means heat strokes and the failure of power grids, under pressure from constant air-conditioning use.
In the Adirondacks, the longer, warmer seasons have significant effects on the biodiversity of the ecosystem. Most animals and plants have evolved in precise temperature ranges. Unseasonably warm temperatures can disrupt the migration of birds, letting them linger too long in the park’s lakes, eventually trapped. Recent studies have shown that the boreal bird species often found in the park are starting to decline in numbers, and other species are also being found more often at higher altitudes where temperatures are lower. Longer summers and warmer winters also affect tick populations and the spread of Lyme disease, in both animals and humans. Climate change is affecting the recovery of soil and water from decades of acidification due to pollution, and warming trends of lakes, especially at higher depths, seems to be making lake water murkier.
Air temperature determines how nonhuman and human communities exist in any given place. Signs of climate change are all around us. Questions surrounding the hard impacts and how to best respond are what many scientists and conservationists are exploring now.
Gina McCarthy says
Wow. This article is so informative and really shows how the Adirondacks fit into the global picture. Easy to understand and grounded in specific examples. Finally some more relevant reporting in this magazine. Way to upgrade, from “jet-ski in my lake” and endless interviews. Please publish more of this type of stories and I’ll consider donating more.
David Cahill says
Those graphs! I’ve surely noticed the hotter summers + the bugs that go with it including ticks. I don’t see the same animals around either. It would be cool if you could do this same thing for other towns in the park besides Saranac. Nobody else does this. Great service to the residents!
Another consequence of warming temperatures: changes in plant phenology. An impressive local study to this effect from the folks at New York Phenology Project was published last month: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2745.13926.
I was happy to see that a major theme of the paper (similarly to this story) was an emphasis on the importance of looking at many different variables, in addition to average temperature. There was a correlation, for example, between phenological changes over the past 200 years and localized urbanization. Interestingly, leafing and flowering times have changed in urban locales more than would be expected, even when considering the heat island effect on temperatures.
This idea — that things are more complicated than they may seem — is not something that should be limited to statistical analysis. It needs to be a guiding principle for urban planners and conservation managers, who struggle to find a healthy balance between the extremes of “we know everything” and “we know nothing”. …And modern-day humans in general, whose attitudes about our natural environment tend towards either “all is lost” or “ignorance is bliss”.
LeRoy Hogan says
Using ice as a Co2 amount time table, we are are at the level when there was no ice caps. Explains why our ice is now melting away.