ALABAMA is 52,237 sq. mi. (135,293 sq. km.) wide, with inland water making up 962 sq. mi. (2,491 sq. km.), and coastal water 519 sq. mi. (1,344 sq. km.) Alabama's average elevation is 500 ft. (152 m.) above sea level, with a range in elevation from sea level on the Gulf of Mexico to 2,405 ft. (733 m.) at Cheaha Mountain. Alabama's varied topography includes plateaus, uplands (northeastern section of the state), forested ridges, rolling prairie, and fertile valleys. Most drainage flows to the Gulf of Mexico, or, as in the case of the Tennessee River, drains into the Ohio River, then drains into the Mississippi River. The bodies of water in Alabama are mostly reservoirs. Alabama's coastline on the Gulf of Mexico is only 53 mi. (85 km.) long; Mobile Bay, an inlet 35 mi. (56 km.) long at the mouth of the Mobile River, along with smaller bays and inlets, creates a much longer shoreline. Barrier islands block part of the entrance to Mobile Bay. Other islands extend along Alabama's western coast.
Alabama's temperate subtropical climate means its long summers are hot and humid, while winters are mild. Temperature extremes are unusual, though the highest temperature recorded in the state was 112 degrees F (44 degrees C) on September 5, 1925, and the lowest temperature recorded in the state was minus 27 degrees F (minus 33 degrees C) on January 30, 1966.
In winter, mild humid air masses from the Gulf alternate with cold air masses from the north. Snow occasionally falls in the north. The average annual precipitation is
56 in. (1.4 m.); most rainfall occurs in winter and spring with droughts common from August through October. River overflow and flooding occurs one time per year on average. Tornadoes occur November to May, and March to April is the most frequent storm season. Hurricanes occur between July and November.
Fossil fuel is important to Alabama's economy, with coal mining (in the north-central region, especially near Birmingham), natural gas, and petroleum, along with thousands of acres offshore leased for oil and gas. Agriculture is also important. A variety of crops (cotton, corn, and hay) are grown, though in some places the soil requires fertilization. In 1980, Alabama instituted a conservation program of forest management and replanted 22 million acres of forest for logging. Alabama is already experiencing the effects of higher temperatures and rising sea levels (9 in. in the last century) and hurricane and other major storms have increased in intensity and duration by about 50 percent since the 1970s, noted in the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
While climate models vary, temperature increases for Alabama, from 1-4 degrees F (0.5-2 degrees C) in winter and summer, from 1-5 degrees F (0.5-2.7 degrees C) in spring, and from 2-7 degrees F (1-4 degrees C) in fall, are predicted by the end of the century. Potential risks include anticipated rising sea levels of an additional 20 in. (51 cm.) (causing flooding, loss of coastal wetlands, beach erosion, saltwater contamination of drinking water, and damage/decreasing stability of low-lying property and infrastructure), possible increase in frequency and intensity of summer thunderstorms, decreased water supplies, population (both human and animal) displacement, changes in agriculture (cotton yield unaffected, but rising corn and hay yields), and forest loss with persistent drought, as well as loss of trees unsuited to higher temperatures.
Human health risks include contracting certain infectious diseases from water contamination or disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents. Warmer temperatures increase the incidence of heat-related illnesses and lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone pollution, which could cause respiratory illnesses (diminished lung function, asthma, and respiratory inflammation), especially in Birmingham, which sometimes already exceeds the national standard for ozone.
Based on energy consumption data from EIA's State Energy Consumption, Price, and Expenditure Estimates (SEDS) released June 1, 2007, Alabama's total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in million metric tons CO2 for 2004 was 140.48, including contributions from: commercial 2.08, industrial 24.57, residential 3.1, transportation 34.89, and electric power 75.84. Alabama joined the Climate Registry in 2007, and by doing so agreed to develop and manage a greenhouse gas emissions reporting system as well as provide an accurate assessment of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Geological Survey of Alabama is taking part in the Southeastern Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB) investigating the potential for using coal as a sink for carbon dioxide. They will perform field-testing and monitoring in the Black Warrior basin; an assessment indicated more than 5.9 trillion cu. ft. of CO2 could be sequestered in established coal bed methane fields. Air quality water, and land protection and conservation in the state falls under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. However, in terms of climate change initiatives, more is being done on the local level and in the private sector.
The Alabama Power Company and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) are working to improve greenhouse gas emissions. The Alabama Power Company is updating technology for reducing CO2 discharges. TVA must meet federal and other environmental statutes and regulations for air and water quality, as well as managing the disposal of wastes (including hazardous materials). These regulations are becoming more stringent with clean air requirements and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
sEE ALso: Carbon Sequestration; Coal.
BIBLIoGRAPHY. A.N. Garwood, Weather America: Latest Detailed Climatological Data for Over 4,000 Places and Rankings (Toucan Valley Publications, 1996); Geological Survey of Alabama, "Carbon Sequestration Research," www.gsa.state.al.us (cited September 2007); Tennessee Valley Authority, "Environmental Performance Update," www.tva.gov (cited September 2007); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Climate Change in Alabama," www.epa.gov (cited September 2007).
Lyn Michaud Independent Scholar
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