Massachusetts has an area of 10,555 sq. mi. (2,737
sq. km.), with inland water making up 423 sq. mi. (1,095 sq. km.), and coastal water making up 977 sq. mi. (2,530 sq. km.), and access to territorial water of 1,314 sq. mi. (3,403 sq. km.). Massachusetts's average elevation is 500 ft. (152 m.) above sea level, and most of the state is quite level. Massachusetts has several river systems, and many lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.
Massachusetts has a humid, continental climate, with long, hot summers and cold winters. New England weather and climate are influenced by latitude (warm, moist air from the south and cold, dry air to the north), coastal orientation (position within the zone of the westerlies), and elevation changes. The sea breeze circulation, particularly along the east coast, tends to mitigate frequencies and intensities of thunderstorms in the coastal zone, while bringing relief in the form of mild temperatures in the peak summer heat. In winter, these waters remain warm relative to land. Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket experience cooler summers and warmer winters because of the moderating effects of the Atlantic Ocean. Annual average precipitation is 40-46 in (16-18 cm.) per year.
Massachusetts's agriculture includes diverse crops of cranberries, apples, corn, potatoes, and dairy products. Massachusetts has extensive commercial fishing, both in coastal waters and in the colder currents of more distant fishing banks, including the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Georges Bank off Cape Cod.
impact of climate change
Massachusetts already experiences the effects of higher temperatures and rising sea levels with eroding coastlines. On average, 65 acres of land are submerged each year due to a combination of rising seas and subsiding land in the state, with much of the loss occurring along the state's south-facing coast, including along Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. A blizzard in 1996 caused severe flooding.
Climate models vary for the Northeast on the amount of temperature increase during the 21st century, from 5-12 degrees F (2.7-6.6 degrees C) during the winter months, to 3-14 degrees F (1.6-7.7 degrees C) during the summer months. Anticipated rising sea level (7-14 in. [18-36 cm.] on the low-end, and 10-23 in. [25-58 cm.] on the high-end) is projected to increase shore line erosion and wetland loss. Using these estimates, the city of Boston might expect a coastal flood equivalent to today's 100-year flood every two to four years on average by mid-century, and almost annually by the end of the century under either scenario. Sea-level rise is also projected to increase shoreline erosion and wetland loss, particularly along the vulnerable coasts of Cape Cod, and will exacerbate flooding in the Charles River basin from storm surges stretching the limits of Boston's aging wastewater infrastructure.
The commercial fishing industry will suffer with rising ocean temperatures, with a northward habitat shift of many fish and shellfish species like cod and lobster. Under either high-end or low-end emissions scenarios, cod are expected to disappear from the region's waters south of Cape Cod during this century, and lobster populations south of Cape Cod are expected to dwindle by mid-century. With higher emissions, the fishing grounds of Georges Bank will likely lose their cod stocks. Impact is more severe under the higher-emissions scenario, with heat stress in cows decreasing milk production and the climate no longer suitable for cranberries and some apple varieties. Weeds and pests would proliferate. Under the lower-emissions scenario, changes would be less severe. Higher temperatures are expected to increase the frequency of summer heat waves. Health risks associated with rising temperatures include a potential increase in certain infectious diseases from water contamination or disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents, and heat-related illnesses.
addressing human-induced contributions
Based on energy consumption data from Energy Information Administration, Massachusetts's total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion in million metric tons for 2004 are 83.21, made up of contributions by source from: commercial, 6.54; industrial, 4.65; residential, 14.94; transportation, 33.41; and electric power, 23.67.
Massachusetts was the lead petitioner in a case on global warming that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this case, Massachusetts, et al., v. EPA, Massachusetts challenged the federal Environmental Protection Agency's refusal to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. On April 2, 2007, the court ruled in favor of Massachusetts. In May 2007, President George W. Bush announced that federal agencies, including the EPA, would develop regulations to reduce motor vehicle gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Massachusetts's Greenhouse Gas reduction target is to meet 1990 levels of six greenhouse gases by 2010, be 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 75-85 percent below 2001 levels in the long term. Massachusetts adopted California's law requiring vehicle tailpipe emissions reductions of approximately 30 percent below 2002 levels by 2016, beginning with the 2009 model year. Current state regulations also allow the purchase of tax-deductible wind energy certificates from a wind company with a turbine in Hull, and Massachusetts Electric offers a renewable energy option for consumers to purchase renewable electricity from small hydro, wind, biomass, and solar sources in New England.
Massachusetts joined the Climate Registry, a voluntary national initiative to track, verify, and report greenhouse gas emissions, with acceptance of data from state agencies, corporations, and educational institutions beginning in January of 2008. Massachusetts has joined all the states in New England (as well as others in the mid-Atlantic area) in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first multiple-state, market-based mandatory cap-and-trade program to reduce heat-trapping emissions from power plants. Carbon emissions from power plants will be capped at current level, 2009-15, and will be incrementally reduced by 10 percent before 2019.
sEE ALsO: Climate Models; Greenhouse Gases; Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
BIBLioGRAPHY. Massachusetts Government, www.mass. gov (cited November 2007); National Wildlife Federation, www.nwf.org (cited November 2007); Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org (cited November 2007).
Lyn Michaud Independent Scholar
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