The ecosystems in South America are vulnerable to changes in water availability brought about by global warming. Higher global temperatures along with more frequent El Niño events bring increased drought. In addition, melting glaciers in the Andes threaten the future water supply of mountain communities. The population of South America is very dependent on the continent's natural resources, making any compromises to them by global warming—such as drying of the rangelands at the foothills of the Andes, damage of the fisheries off the coast of Peru, or destruction of the Amazon rain forest—devastating to human survival and health. Signs of global warming are already occurring at high elevations (in glacial retreat and shifting ranges of disease-carrying mosquitoes) and along the coasts (in rising sea levels and coral bleaching).
The climate of Central America plays a large factor in both the social and economic conditions through its impacts on agriculture, tourism, and human health. The devastating effects of the 1997-98 El Niño serves as an example of what the future will look like if global warming increases. For example, that year saw forest fires burn out of control and high sea surface temperatures bleach the corals in the adjacent seas. If warming continues, future changes in the frequency of extreme events such as hurricanes, droughts, and floods may damage important export crops such as bananas. It may also negatively affect human settlements on unstable hillsides and encourage the outbreak of infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.
The North American continent spans a multitude of climatic zones: from the lush subtropical ecosystems of Florida to the frozen landscapes of Alaska. This area represents a diverse range of ecosystems, many of which are at risk due to global warming; risks include polar warming in Alaska, coral reef bleaching in Florida, animal range shifts in California, glaciers melting in Montana, and marsh loss along the East Coast.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defense, National Environmental Trust, World Resources Institute, and World Wildlife Fund have identified the following global warming impacts in this region:
• Andes Mountains, Peru: Glacial retreat is accelerating. The Qori Kalis glacier was retreating 13 feet (4 m) each year between 1963 and 1978. By 1995, however, the rate had increased up to 99 feet (30 m) per year.
• Tropical Andes: There has been an increase in the average annual temperature. It has increased by about 0.18°F (0.1°C) per decade since 1939.
• Argentina and Venezuela: Glaciers are melting at accelerated rates. Glaciers in Patagonia have receded almost a mile (1.5 km) over the last 13 years. Of six glaciers in the Venezuelan Andes in 1972, only two remain, and scientists predict that these will be gone within the next 10 years.
• Andes Mountains, Colombia: Disease-carrying mosquitoes are spreading dengue and yellow fever viruses at higher elevations.
• Caribbean, Galapagos, and Ecuador: Massive coral reef bleaching is occurring.
• Pampas region, Argentina/Uruguay: The worst flooding on record in 2001 occurred. Nearly 8 million acres (3.2 million hectares) of land in the Pampas region were flooded after three months of high rainfall.
• Bermuda: Rising sea level is leading to saltwater inundation of coastal mangrove forests, causing massive die-offs.
• Andes Mountains: Disease-carrying mosquitoes are spreading dengue and yellow fever viruses from 3,300 feet (1,006 m) to 7,200 feet (2,195 m).
• Mexico: Dengue fever is being spread to higher elevations. It is now appearing at 5,600 feet (1,707 m).
• Central America: Dengue fever is being spread to 4,000 feet (1,219 m).
• Mexico and Nicaragua: Wildfires have burned massive areas of land.
• Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean: Sea ice is shrinking.
• Canadian Rockies: Glaciers such as the Athabasca Glacier are retreating.
• Western Hudson Bay, Canada: Polar bears are becoming stressed. Decreased weight in adult polar bears and a decline in birthrate since the early 1980s has been attributed to the earlier spring breakup of sea ice.
• Banks Island, Canada: Species are expanding their natural ranges. The Inuit report seeing species common much farther south that were never previously seen on the island, such as robins and barn swallows.
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