Geographers have always relied on maps to display their research findings. Research on global warming is no different. In fact, computer cartography, GIS, and remote sensing are widely used by climatolo-gists, trained in many disciplines, as a way to catalogue the evidence for climate change in the past and to organize evidence for climate change now and into the future. Geographers can construct mathematical models that incorporate many independent variables related to temperature, precipitation, topography, atmospheric gases, population growth, industrial development, and rates of deforestation, to predict how the manifestations of climate change will vary by geographic scale and region.
Some of the data needed to build these models, such as historic temperature records, can be gleaned from secondary sources. However, much of the data needed, such as land cover or atmospheric gas composition, needs to be gathered using satellite images and other remote-sensing techniques. Satellite imagery is particularly useful for detecting changes in vegetation. Vegetation stressed due to drought, disease, or human activity can be detected using infrared filters on satellite images.
Maps, the stock-in-trade of geographers, are used by every major research and policy agency on the planet, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the National Aeronautical and Space Agency (NASA) to display information related to global warming. NASA websites offer online cartographical movie clips that show future scenarios for regional impacts of climate change.
nature and society
Geographers in this subgroup are interested in the human dimensions of global change. They are interested in the human causes and consequences of global warming. Consider the issue of water resources. The uneven distribution of water resources has caused many political confrontations in the past. Water scarcity and related water diversion projects in California, the former Soviet Union, and along the Nile River have all created regional and/or international political strife. Global warming is likely to exacerbate these issues as precipitation decreases further in some places and intensifies in others. Water resource geographers attempt to understand how human behaviors affect water supplies and how policies can be crafted to increase the supply of potable water to those who need it most.
An understanding of the geography of energy production and consumption is central to understanding the causes and consequences of global warming. Energy geography will also be essential to the development of strategies to combat global warming. Energy geographers work with climatologists to identify places with good wind energy potential. Some communities actively recruit wind power development. Others are not so sanguine. Hence, energy geographers work with land-use planners to find sites for wind turbines that are energy efficient and acceptable to communities in the area.
Geographers interested in natural resource management, tourism, and recreation also have an interest in global warming. Ski resorts increasingly rely on artificial snow to extend their seasons because of declining winter precipitation. Hence, some ski resorts may be forced out of business if alternative water supplies cannot be found. Large inland bodies of water are also affected by climate change. In 2007, the water levels in Lake Superior reached record lows. Declining water levels hinder navigation and beach access for recreation and commerce. This could have dire economic consequences for many communities that depend on tourism dollars.
Coastal and marine geographers study how temperature changes could increase sea levels, the intensity of hurricanes, and the extent of beachfront erosion. Many beach communities along the Atlantic Coast spend millions of dollars replenishing beaches that have been destroyed by severe wave action. If sea levels rise and storms become more intense, these communities will have to spend even more money maintaining their coastlines.
Damage and flooding to coastlines as a result of climate change will, of course, do more than just affect tourism. There are many large cities and population centers that exist, near or even below, sea level. Examples of at-risk regions certainly include Bangladesh, islands of the Indian Ocean, such as the Maldives, but also the Netherlands, the Florida Keys, and large cities of North America and Western Europe including New Orleans, New York City, Venice, and Copenhagen.
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