The heat is on

Northeast U.S. warming is off the charts, study finds

Flickr/Vasilios Sfinarolakis

A new study by researchers at the UMass Amherst Northeast Climate Science Center (NECSC) suggests that temperatures in their neck of the woods will increase much faster than the global average. Published in PLOS ONE, the study found that temperatures across the northeastern United States could reach the critical 2-degrees Celsius warming threshold up to two decades before the rest of the world does.

The Paris Agreement, which was ratified late last year and which President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to undermine, calls for the global community to limit temperature rise to 2°C (3.6°F), and even 1.5°C (1.8°F) if possible.

UMass geosciences professor Raymond Bradley, an author on the study, said this benchmark lulls many “into a false sense of security, thinking that the 2-degrees C target is somehow a ‘safe’ limit for climate change.”

“But the 2°C number is a global average, and many regions will warm more, and warm more rapidly, than the earth as a whole,” he said in a statement. “Our study shows that the northeast United States is one of those regions where warming will proceed very rapidly, so that if and when the global target is reached, we will already be experiencing much higher temperatures, with all of the related ecological, hydrological and agricultural consequences.”

According to the climate models used by Bradley and NECSC postdoctoral researcher Ambarish Karmalkar, the contiguous United States—the lower 48—is projected to cross the 2°C warming threshold about 10 to 20 years earlier than the global mean annual temperature. The Northeast is projected to warm by 3°C (5.2°F) by the time global warming reaches 2°C (3.6°F).

“Although there is uncertainty in the timing of exactly when the 1.5 and 2°C thresholds will be crossed regionally, over 80% of the models project at least 2°C warming by 2050 for all regions for the high emissions scenario,” they write.

They also note that regional precipitation projections for the eastern U.S. under a warmer climate anticipate wetter winters.

Many studies consider the 2°C target of global warming to be overly optimistic as global emissions are still tracking to high-end plausible scenarios, according to the researchers. One recent study found that the 2°C target won’t be met unless clean technologies are developed and implemented at rates 10 times faster than in the past.

Even if countries do meet their pledges under the Paris Agreement, a recent United Nations report found that warming of between 2.9°C to 3.4°C—or up to 6.1°F—is likely by the end of the century if countries don’t commit to cutting another quarter off predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, significant warming is already here. The world recently passed the 1°C threshold, and the average global temperature for large parts of 2016 approached the 1.5°C warming threshold agreed to by COP 21 negotiators.

Last year was the second warmest on record in the U.S.— only 2012 was warmer.

“The breadth of the 2016 warmth is unparalleled in the nation’s climate history,” NOAA said in a statement about the news. “No other year had as many states breaking or close to breaking their warmest annual average temperature.”

Maybe if the Northeast gets warm enough soon enough, the steadfast climate change deniers in the region will start to be swayed by the local empirical evidence, since not much else seems to have an impact.

For now, the U.S. is bogged down in confirmation hearings that highlight how low a priority climate change is for the incoming Cabinet and the Trump administration as a whole. On Wednesday, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, said the risk of climate change does exist, but he dramatically played down the potential consequences.

Tillerson employed a common climate change denier tactic of placing the blame on climate scientists, saying we (they) have a “very limited” ability to predict what is happening to the planet’s climate due to our emissions. With studies like this one on local U.S. temperature changes, scientists are doing their best to predict human impact on the planet. As part of the process, they acknowledge any inherent uncertainty of their research right there in the studies themselves. To brush aside their findings as inconclusive and irrelevant is to insult the scientific process and to ignore reality.