The central contradiction The climate change is that it is immediately the most epic problem our species has ever hit, but it is largely invisible to the average human being. From your home, you may not realize how climate change already affects mental health or destroys ecosystems, or how cities like Los Angeles take drastic measures to prepare for water shortages.
The challenge for researchers raises the alarm for something that is difficult to conceptualize. But a new interactive map is perhaps one of the best visualizations yet on how climate change will transform America. Click on your city and the map will identify a modern analog city that matches what your climate might be in 2080. New York City will feel more like today's Jonesboro, Arkansas; Bay Area more like LA; and LA more like the very tip of Baja California. If this does not put the serious threat of climate change into perspective for you, I am not sure what it will be.
The data behind it is nothing new, but publicly friendly repacking Of these data, known as climate-analog mapping, represent a shift in how science reaches the public. "The idea is to translate global forecasts into something that is less distant, less abstract, it is more psychologically local and relevant," says University of Maryland ecologist Matt Fitzpatrick, lead author of a new paper in nature Communications describes the system.
Fitzpatrick looked at 540 urban areas in North America using three primary datasets. One captured current climatic conditions (an average of the years between 1960 and 1990), the other contained projections of future climates, and the third assumed historical climate change from year to year taken from NOAA weather records. (Depending on the city, the climate may be more "stable" or swing more wildly between years.) The researchers especially considered temperature and rainfall, although of course it is not the only two variables that model the climate – more on it in a little while.
If you click around the interactive map, you will see some trends in a scenario where emissions continue to rise for 60 years. "Many east coast towns are becoming more like southwestern, on average about 500 miles away," says Fitzpatrick. On the west coast, cities generally see places just south of them. For example, in 2080, Portland will feel more like California's Central Valley, which is generally warmer and dry. The card also has an option (on the left) that uses a different calculation to show how the shifts would look if the emissions jump around 2040 and begin to fall.
The implications are shocking, but also potentially useful. "Framing results in a digestible way for the public sector, informing politics, and for the scientific community is notoriously difficult," said University of Wisconsin-Madison climate scientist Kevin Burke, who was not involved in the study. "A remarkable result of this work is the potential for cities and their analogue pairs to transfer knowledge and coordinate climate adaptation strategies."
Take extreme heat, for example. It is a norm in a place like Phoenix, a city filled with air conditioning. But in a place like San Francisco, air conditioning is a rarity. If San Francisco really ends up with a climate like LA for 60 years, it will be a major public health problem. Extreme heat kills easily, as in Europe's deadly heat waves in 2017.
Another important consideration is water. Many urban areas become dry, but others may see their total rainfall remain unchanged. However, the patterns of precipitation can change – until everyone falls in the winter. "So even if it gets the same amount, it can have really big consequences for places not used to having a longer summer drought, or what do you have," Fitzpatrick says.
San Francisco could stand to learn some water management techniques from its 2080 analog. Climate models predict that LA will see fewer but more intense rain storms in the coming decades. So, to prepare, the city has begun an ambitious program to catch the big dumps of water with a network of cisterns built into road mediators. The rainfall program reduces its dependence on water that is moved into the city far from it.
The bay area, which has historically been blessed with more rainwater than its neighbor south, has not been so forward-looking. Rich communities have thrown hissy suits when new water demands meant their lawns would-gasp-Tur brown. "Los Angeles is far ahead of the Bay Area to have introduced incentives to move away from the more water-intensive outdoor landscaping that we still have in the progressive Bay Area," said Michael Kiparsky, director of the Wheeler Water Institute at UC Berkeley, who was not involved in this new work.
Changes in precipitation would, of course, have serious consequences for agriculture. But something more subtle will also unfold: When the climate changes, it will also make makeup of local ecosystems. Pests like mosquitos, for example, could boom in your community. Some plant species may not be able to cope with the sudden change and die out.
"People can adapt to some extent and move, but animals and ecosystems cannot in the short term," said climate researcher Reto Knutti, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the study. "So we are pursuing a risky experiment with Earth, with some unknown consequences."
"It's actually my biggest concern," Fitzpatrick says. "It is not necessarily the direct changes in the climate, these are the indirect effects on natural and agricultural systems given the size and speed of these changes."
Even more frighteningly, some of the North American cities explored by Fitzpatrick will not have a modern equivalent in 2080. That is, you cannot compare them to a climate we see today. Making it more difficult to respond to the threat, the Bay Area can expect to feel more like Los Angeles for 60 years and adapt accordingly, but if you don't have a good idea of what's coming, it's hard to soften threat.
To be clear, this climate technology simplifies things – for example, researchers have omitted complicating factors such as the urban heat island effect, where cities absorb more heat than the surrounding lands. And this is average climate, not weather. Thus, the recent cold knob on the east coast was generated by warmer temperatures in the Atlantic.
"None of these are being caught by these analogues," said Andrew Jarvis, a scientist at CGIAR, an agricultural research institute. "So from a communication perspective, it's one of the dangers of it. It's all for simplicity." And necessarily so: The climate systems are monumentally complex, though scientists gradually get a better understanding of how our planet will turn into the time of climate change . A card alone cannot convey all that knowledge.
However, the idea of this new interactive map is better to visualize – both for ordinary citizens and politicians – what has previously been presented as impenetrable datasets. "I hope more than anything, it is an eye-opener and that it starts more of these discussions so more planning can take place," Fitzpatrick says.
Climate change is here and it is already devastating. Consider this so a road map to help navigate the chaos.
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