The central contradiction of climate change is that at one and the same time it is the most epic problem our species has ever encountered but it is largely invisible to the average man. From the comfort of your home, you may not realize how climate change is already affecting mental health or ripping ecosystems, or how cities like Los Angeles take drastic steps to prepare for water scarcity.
The challenge for researchers, then, raises the alarm for something that is difficult to conceptualize. But a new interactive map is perhaps one of the best visualizations than how climate change will transform America. Click on your city and the map will find 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 top of Baja California. If this does not put the threatening climate change in perspective for you, I am not sure what is coming.
The information behind it is not something new, but the publicly friendly repackaging of this data, known as climate-analog mapping, represents a shift in how science reaches the public . "The idea is to translate global forecasts into something that is less remote, 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 describing system.
Fitzpatrick looked at 540 urban areas in North America with three primary datasets. A captured current climatic conditions (an average of the years between 1960 and 1990), the other contained the projection of future climates, and the third gave historical climate variations from year to year taken from the NOAA weather records. (Depending on the city, the climate may be more "stable" or swing more wildly between years.) The researchers considered temperature and precipitation in particular, but it is of course not the only two variables when modeling the climate – more on it
If you click on the interactive map, you will see some trends in a scenario where emissions continue to rise for 60 years. "Many East Coast cities will be more like southwestern, an average of about 500 miles away," Fitzpatrick says. On the west coast, the cities generally look like places just south of them. Portland, for example, in 2080, will feel more like California's Central Valley, which is generally warmer and drier. The map also has an alternative (on the left) that uses a different calculation to show how the changes would look if the emissions peak 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 analogous couples to transfer knowledge and coordinate climate change strategies."
Take, for example, extreme heat. It's a norm in a place like Phoenix, a city loaded with air conditioners. But in a place like San Francisco, air conditioning is a rarity. If San Francisco really gets into a climate like LA in 60 years, it will be a major public health problem. Extreme heat kills easily, as in Europe's lethal heat waves in 2017.
Another important factor is water. Many urban areas will be drier, but others can see that their total rainfall remains unchanged. However, the rainbow pattern can change, for example in the winter. "So even if it gets as much, it can have major consequences for places that are not used to extended summer drought or what do you have," Fitzpatrick says.
San Francisco can stand to learn some water management techniques from the 2080 analog. predicts that in the coming decades LA will see fewer but more intense rainstorms, so preparing, the city has begun an ambitious program to capture these huge dumps of water with a network of cisterns built into road medians. Moving 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-thinking, rich communities have thrown hissy fit when new water demands mean their lawns would gasp tournament brown. "Los Angeles is well ahead of the Bay Area in terms of having ncitament to move from the more water-intensive outdoor facility we still have in the progressive Bay Area, "said Michael Kiparsky, head 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 be developed: When the climate changes, so will the makeup of local ecosystems. Pests like mosquitoes, for example, could boom in your community. Some plant species may not be able to handle the sudden shift and die out.
"People can adjust to some extent and move, but animals and ecosystems will not be able to do so in the short period of time," said Swiss Federal Climate Researcher Reto Knutti, who did not participate in the study. "So we pursue a risky experiment with the earth, with partially 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 the natural and agricultural systems, given the scale and extent of these changes."
Still frightening, some of the North American cities explored by Fitzpatrick will not have a modern equivalent in 2080. That means you can't compare them to a climate we see today. Which makes it harder to react to the threat – the Bay Area can predict the feeling more like Los Angeles in 60 years and adjust accordingly, but if you don't have a good idea of what's coming, it's difficult to mitigate the threat.
However, to be clear, this climate-related technology simplifies, for example, the researchers explored complicated factors such as the urban heat-power effect, where cities absorb more heat than surrounding rural areas. And this is the average climate not weather. Thus, the recently called snap on the east coast was generated by warmer temperatures in the Atlantic.
"None of what is captured by these analogs," says Andrew Jarvis, a researcher at CGIAR, an agricultural research institute. "So from a communication perspective it is one of the dangers of it. It is too simplistic." And necessarily so: The climate systems are monumentally complex, but a little researcher gets a better understanding of how our planet will change during the climate change period. A map alone cannot communicate all that knowledge.
Still, 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 is an eye-opener and that it starts more of these discussions so that more planning can take place," Fitzpatrick says.
Climate change is here and it is already devastating. Think of this, then a road map to help navigate the chaos.
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