Global Warming Alert Issued For U.S. Gulf States

Conflicts over fresh water are in the future for the five U.S. states that
border the Gulf of Mexico, a new report from the Union of Concerned
Scientists predicts.

Conflicts over fresh water are in the future for the five U.S. states that
border the Gulf of Mexico, a new report from the Union of Concerned
Scientists predicts.

The study on the impacts of global warming was conducted by scientists from
the Gulf states: Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. It
details potential threats to the
region’s agriculture, forestry, shipping, and tourism industries.

“Climate change will likely magnify the harmful side effects of human
activity on the region’s environment,” said the lead author of the report,
Dr. Robert Twilley of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. “Our natural
resources contribute more than $160 billion a year to the region’s economy. We
must act now to protect our valuable heritage.”

“Confronting Climate Change in the Gulf Coast Region: Prospects for
Sustaining Our Ecological Heritage” is a joint effort by the Ecological
Society of America and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report
represents the current state of scientific knowledge about the impacts of
climate change on the Gulf Coast’s unique environments.

Using the work of climate scientists worldwide, Gulf
states scientists projected a temperature rise in the region of three to
seven degrees Fahrenheit during the 21st century.

This degree of warming will lead to more extreme rainfall events and longer
dry periods, accelerating sea level rise, coastal flooding,
and northward extension of ranges of nonnative plants and animals, the
scientists found.

“This report is a wake-up call to everyone in the Gulf region that climate
change is real and must be taken seriously,” said Dr. Denise Reed from the
University of New Orleans. “Problems with freshwater supplies for
agriculture, industry, and urban areas are likely to get worse.”

Global warming is linked to the emission of gases that trap the heat of the
Sun’s rays close to Earth by forming a layer in the atmosphere that
functions the way the roof of a greenhouse keeps the Sun’s warmth within.

Carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas, and most scientists worldwide
agree that carbon dioxide pollution emitted from fossil fueled power plants
and motor vehicles is contributing to rising global temperatures and a
changing climate.

The ongoing deforestatation in both northern and tropical countries
contributes to global warming by removing the trees who would otherwise
absorb the excess carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels: coal,
oil, and gas.

Besides carbon dioxide, contributors to global warming include ozone in the
high atmosphere, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons
(HFCs), perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride, nitrous oxide, and black
carbon (soot) particles.

The Gulf states scientists conclude that the effect of global warming on their
region may intensify its historically variable and sometimes extreme
climate and threatens to undermine the efforts along the coast to restore
wetlands and beaches.

Accelerated sea level rise brought about by melting polar ice caps together
with local land subsidence could lead to higher ocean levels by the end of
the 21st century, the report says. In Texas, a mid-range sea-level rise
figure “would result in ocean levels 17 inches higher by 2100.”

Salt-water intrusion in coastal groundwater sources &#151 a problem already
occurring during droughts &#151 is likely to increase as sea level rises.
Rationing of groundwater withdrawal may become more common, the scientists
say.

If the climate becomes drier in the future, a change in the intensity and
frequency of wildfires is likely to result in severe impacts on the timber
industry in the region. If the climate becomes wetter, on the other hand,
the region’s forestry industry could also be threatened by a
higher incidence of pests such as the Southern pine bark beetle.

Agriculture, crucial to the Gulf states’ economy, might also have to deal
with increased pest incidence, droughts, and fires. While fewer freeze
events and higher carbon dioxide concentrations would have positive
implications for the industry, the challenges to meet the water needs of
crops will be increasingly serious, even if rainfall stays at current
levels, the new report predicts.

Public health in the region is not immune to the threats of a changing
climate, the scientists warn. Increased maximum summer temperatures and
heat index increases could give rise to more frequent heat waves and more
heat-related illnesses and deaths each year.

Higher temperatures would lead to increased production of ground-level
ozone &#151 smog &#151 which, when combined with higher concentrations of air
pollutants and higher pollen counts, could seriously compromise air
quality, the study says.

Higher water temperatures and increased salinity in estuarine waters could
also increase viral and bacterial contamination of shellfish along the Gulf
Coast, negatively impacting the recreational and commercial fishing industries.

But the scientists say the outlook is not hopeless. “Prudent steps now to
protect our land and water resources can pay big dividends in the future,”
said Dr. Susanne Moser, staff scientist for
the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Massachusetts-based organization that
coordinated the study. “Leaders from Corpus Christi to the Florida Keys
should act without delay to minimize the impacts of climate change,” she
urged.

The report suggests that reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by reducing
the dependence on fossil fuels would reduce global-warming gas emissions.
The development of clean energy sources would create jobs and new economic
opportunities for region.

By implementing the best practices in land and water resource use, policy
and decision makers
can minimize ecologically harmful side effects of climate change.

Ecological scientists from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette,
University of New Orleans, University of Alabama, Rice University, the
University of Florida, University of South Florida, and University of Miami
wrote the report jointly with scientists from two federal government
agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and
the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Author: Environmental News Network

News Service: Environmental News Network

URL: http://www.enn.com/news/enn-stories/2001/10/10252001/s_45362.asp