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Global Warming Effects and the Northeast USA

written by: Georgia Alton•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 6/27/2011

Global warming could have a particularly drastic effect on the Northeast region of the U.S. as it disrupts ocean circulation, resulting in rising ocean levels. Temperature increases could alter the New England landscape beyond recognizability.

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    Introduction

    The effects of global warming in the Northeast USA could transform the distinctive character of the region. New England is already feeling the effects of global warming, according to a 2007 report from the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA). If current trends in greenhouse emissions continue, the distinctive flora, agricultural products, commercial fishing, and recreational activities of the U.S. Northeast could disappear or be dramatically transformed.

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    Temperature Changes

    The two-year study from the NECIA, "Climate Changes in the U.S. Northeast," reports that average temperatures in northeastern states have risen by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit per decade between 1970 and the present. During winter months, temperatures have increased 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit per decade over the same time period. "Climate Changes in the U.S. Northeast" estimates that if energy policies do not change, global warming could result in the growth of temperatures in the northeast of between 6.2 and 12.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

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    Ocean Levels

    Jianjun Yin, a researcher at Florida State University, recently published a study in "Nature Geoscience" that places the possible sea level rise along the northeastern coast of the United States at around 18 inches within the next century. Aixue Hu, author of a paper on the effects of Greenland ice melting in "Geophysical Research Letters," agrees that the sea could rise between 12 and 20 inches by 2100.

    The northeastern U.S. would experience greater increases in sea levels than other regions because of the circulation patterns of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the northeastern U.S. These patterns keep water flowing between the north and the south. Warm water flowing from tropical areas travels northward, where it cools and sinks to form a layer of cold water. If temperatures rise, this layer will become warmer and expand, which will, in turn, raise sea levels off the northeastern coast of the United States.

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    Economic Effects

    New England is known for its cod and lobsters, both of which could find the waters off the northeastern coast of the U.S. unsuitable if global warming continues unabated. Agriculture in the northeastern United States would suffer from warmer temperatures. Apples, blueberries and cranberries might not be able to grow in the warmer climates of places like Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Northeastern trees such as the spruce and fir, which not only contribute to the look of New England but also contribute wood to manufacturing, could shift northward as the northeast becomes warmer. Cities like Boston and Atlantic City could experience intense flooding as ocean levels rise.

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    Recreational Impacts

    Global warming could also adversely affect tourism in the form of winter sports as winter precipitation more frequently appears as rain and snow melts earlier in the year. According to the NECIA study, only western Maine would continue to have a viable ski season if emissions are not checked. Fly fishermen might discover that the native brook trout that live in many of New England's streams cannot flourish under warmer temperatures. Hemlock stands keep the trout's habitats cool and shaded, and warmer weather could eradicate hemlock from the N.E. region.

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    What Can Be Done?

    "Climate Changes in the U.S. Northeast" suggests that Americans could help ameliorate the effects of global warming in the Northeast USA by taking immediate action to reduce carbon emissions. These actions could include decreasing dependence on fossil fuels by switching to clean energy sources, like wind power. Individuals can also install energy-efficient appliances in their homes, carpool and make use of public transportation to reduce carbon emissions.

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    Resources

    "Melting Greenland Ice May Threaten Northeast." Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine. 27 May 2009. http://artsandsciences.colorado.edu/magazine/2009/05/melting-greenland-ice-may-threaten-northeast/

    "Sea Level Rise Due to Global Warming Poses Threat to New York City." Science Daily. 16 March 2009. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090315155112.htm

    Union of Concerned Scientists. "Climate Choices in the Northeast." http://www.climatechoices.org/ne/index.html