Changing Ecosystems And Weather

Another possible effect associated with climate change is the potential danger it holds for marine ecosystems. As the sea-level rises, coupled with increased warming of the ocean waters, marine biodiversity will be further threatened by the myriad impacts on all marine ecosystems, from tropical coral reefs (especially in the Maldives), to polar ecosystems. Coral reefs are already under severe stress from human activities, and have experienced unprecedented increases in the extent of coral bleaching, emergent coral diseases, and widespread die-offs. Damages to coral reefs lead to depletion of important habitat for fish food.

Changes in ocean temperatures, currents, and net productivity will affect the distribution, abundance, assemblages, and productivity of marine populations, with unpredictable consequences to marine ecosystems and fisheries. As the Earth's surface temperature warms, species may either migrate to a cooler, more suitable habitat, or die. Species that are particularly vulnerable to climate change effects include polar animals, such as seals, penguins, and polar bears, coral reefs, and many other endangered animal and plant species.

Climate change has the potential to alter the hydro-logic cycle. In many regions of the world, global climate change will have significant effects on precipitation and evapotranspiration. Heavier rainfall could lead to flooding in many regions as warmer temperatures speed up the hydrologic cycle. Flood frequencies in some areas are likely to change. In northern latitudes and snowmelt-driven basins, floods may become more frequent, although the increase in flooding for any given climate scenario is uncertain and impacts will vary among basins.

Over the past century, it is estimated that there has been a 5-10 percent increase in precipitation. Climate-induced changes in hydrology will affect the magnitude, frequency, and cost of extreme events, which have the greatest economic and social impact on humans. Flooding, the most costly and destructive natural disaster, is becoming a common and extreme event as a result of climate-induced variations. Severe weather events are becoming more common and extreme, as well.

Climate change researchers have indicated that the number and strength of anthropogenic-induced climate extreme events such as storms, hurricanes, typhoons, floods, and tornadoes have increased over the past 10-20 years. For example, a record breaking 28 tropical storms hit the United States in 2005, alone. All these phenomena are traceable to variations in radiative forcing brought about by anthropogenic GHGs in the atmosphere. Increases in precipitation and runoff are likely to intensify the stresses on streams, lakes, bays, estuaries, and rivers in some regions of the world by strengthening the transport of nutrients and contaminants loading to coastal ecosystems. Higher latitudes are more likely to receive increased precipitation and runoff, while lower latitudes are more likely to experience decreased runoff.

Regions with snowfall, such as the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, California, will experience seasonal shifts in runoff, with increases in winter and early spring runoff, decreases in late spring and summer runoff, and possible increased flood intensities. The frequency and severity of droughts could increase in some areas as a result of a decrease in total rainfall, more frequent dry spells, and greater evapotranspiration.

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