A Changing Climate

As glaciers retreat at the poles and animals around the world slowly shift their ranges to adjust to changing environmental conditions on land and at sea, scientists  still struggle to communicate powerful messages to legislators and the public.  Climate change is a complex and controversial issue and it is important to seek out information to remain informed about the latest research, policy initiatives, and potential impacts to human communities and the natural environment.

Read more about the process behind climate change from the Union of Concerned Scientists and explore general information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NOAA, and the EPA, all recognized as global authorities on the issue.

Climate Predictions

Much of what we know about climate change is based on computer modeling and simulations.  Like any other complex environmental process, climate change is likely to have different effects on biodiversity, the oceans, the forests, the coasts, and local weather patterns all over the world.  For example, in the U.S., the Midwest and Southwest regions will likely become hotter and drier, while northern coastal areas may experience greater precipitation and Gulf States may experience more intense storms and hurricanes.  These regional changes are difficult to predict, but will likely alter the landscape of the country noticeably within the coming decades.

  • Modeling and mapping information from NASA and NOAA
  • According to an article in the Huffington Post, some noticeable changes and predictions have already been realized on a local scale
  • Treehugger compiles expected impacts in the U.S. Southeast
  • A 2003 article explores trends in wildlife characteristics that can likely be attributed to climate change
  • Key Findings in the latest report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program

Sea Level Rise

Rising sea levels have already been measured and have the potential to displace millions of people in cities, islands, and rural areas around the world.  Melting ice caps, receding glaciers, and general thermal expansion are the driving forces behind our rising seas.  Urban planners and security forces have been at work for years developing adaptation strategies that involve building coastal barriers, beach nourishment, reinforcing storm protection, and building farther from the coast.

Desertification

Precipitation and heat are often at the forefront of our minds when we think of climate change.  It only takes one chilly spring day for a co-worker to crack a joke along the lines of, “Climate change?  Ha!”  We know that changes in global mean temperature are rising slowly, but researchers do claim that while many areas will get hotter and drier, this is not universally the case.   Precipitation changes will likely occur because hotter or colder temperatures determine how much moisture reenters the water cycle through evaporation.  Without sufficient water, some landscapes may no longer support vegetation and the area can become a desert.

Ocean Acidification

Not only does carbon dioxide alter our atmospheres, but it also changes the chemistry of the ocean, leading to an overall acidification within the marine environment.  Animals and plants are adapted to the delicate balance of elements and nutrients within the ocean, and chemical changes such as this can have large consequences and make it difficult for animals to live and grow.

Ecological Ramifications

Animals and plants take their cues from nature when it comes to knowing when to fly south, when to flee a wildfire, when to stock up on food for the winter, and where to find water.  Even small changes can have huge ecological ramifications such as species expanding their ranges, living higher up in the mountains, invasive species pushing out native ones, or animals having to change what they eat because their traditional prey is no longer available.  The trouble is that human development and pollution have already limited the places that plants and animal communities can thrive, and if a changing environment further displaces them, they will not be as resilient to the altered conditions as they have in past centuries.

Human Landscapes

Climate change is a significant arising threat to national security and human health around the world.  Not only must communities struggle for access to water rights and agricultural land, but will also have to fend off new and emerging diseases from insects and viruses that may colonize new areas become more problematic in many regions with little access to health care.  In wealthy, developed nations, projected impacts include a rise in heat-related conditions and damages from natural disasters.

Policy and Legislative Frameworks

Climate change is difficult to address through legislation because it is simultaneously a global and local problem that is steeped in economics, politics, and contentious international relations.  However, governments and organizations around the world have united in efforts to minimize the impacts and build resilient communities ready to adapt.

Academic Resources

The study of climate is a well-established academic field dating back to the exciting days of documenting atmospheric composition and studying weather patterns in hurricane chasers.  These days, you can become an expert in countless different topics relating to climate change, such as paleobiology, marine science, historical meteorology, international negotiation, resource economics, or biogeochemistry.  Check out some of the programs listed below for some inspiration.

Women: Science,  Communication,  and Climate Advocacy

While the future impacts of climate change are difficult to predict, one thing is certain: there are many threats that are specific to women.  In many cultures around the world, women are responsible for gathering food and being family caregivers.  In the face of food shortages and changing agricultural patterns, women should be prepared to integrate their traditional customs with new ways of finding clean water, sufficient food, and combating arising diseases.  Read below to learn about organizations highlighting women’s prominent role in climate change.

In the Media and Further Reading

Stay Current!

While climate change is a slow process, researchers and institutions are talking about it all the time.  Stay knowledgeable about the latest models, predictions, and impacts.

  • Follow NOAA’s National Climate Data Center RSS Feed
  • Read the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions Blog
  • Calculate your own Carbon Footprint with the EPA

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