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The 2018 release of Volume II focuses on the human welfare, societal, and environmental elements of climate change and variability for 10 regions and 18 national topics, with particular attention paid to observed and projected risks, impacts, consideration of risk reduction, and implications under different mitigation pathways.
Ocean acidification has been linked to the disturbance of food webs and changing species distributions. Together with other biogeochemical changes, increasing ocean acidification may compromise the health of marine ecosystems as well as negatively impact many ocean goods and services and the communities that rely on them.
Billion-dollar disasters are happening across the country, and climate change is often linked. These weather and climate disasters are becoming more frequent and more costly. Costs can be reduced with climate adaptation measures, such as restoring coastal marshes, increasing the flood-preparedness of homes, and treating stressed vegetation in wildfire-prone areas. But according to the recent National Climate Assessment, climate change is still outpacing our planning. To minimize our risks, we must reduce our carbon emissions as quickly as possible.
In a warming climate, more precipitation will be expected to fall as rain rather than snow in most areas—reducing the extent and depth of snowpack. Changes in mountain snowpack can affect agriculture, winter recreation, and tourism in some areas, as well as plants and wildlife.
Key changes to ocean systems include acidification, rising sea levels, and strengthening storms. Impacts to ocean habitats are detailed in the discussion of coral bleaching and reef degradation in the species and habitats section.
Temperatures are rising. Climate change has already increased average temperatures enough to shift seasons — spring comes earlier and fall frosts arrive later. These shifts in seasons compel some species to migrate farther north or to higher elevations. Trends indicating more extreme temperatures have been observed in both air temperatures and water temperatures.
Climate change impacts to grasslands and prairies include increased seasonal, annual, minimum, and maximum temperature and changing precipitation patterns. Because these ecosystems are relatively dry with a strong seasonal climate, they are sensitive to climatic changes and vulnerable to shifts in climatic regime.
The warmer air and ocean surface temperatures brought on by climate change impact corals and alter coral reef communities by prompting coral bleaching events and altering ocean chemistry. These impacts affect corals and the many organisms that use coral reefs as habitat. Reef degradation also reduces the ability of these systems to respond to change and mitigate storm surge events – a valuable ecosystem service.
As global temperatures continue to rise, Knoxville is experiencing earlier springs, ushering in longer allergy seasons. Pollen intensity is increasing, inducing sickening impacts for asthmatics and those vulnerable to hay fever. “We’ve already seen this happen on a national scale,” says David Peden, who estimates that an additional 10 to 15 percent of the population will be afflicted with allergies by 2050. With national allergy management costs averaging $18 billion per year, the financial burden can weigh heavily on lower income families.
Modern climate change is already changing many aspects of our environment — warmer temperatures, more frequent droughts, rising sea levels — and is expected to impact the planet for centuries. While there is still potential to reduce the extent of climate change through mitigation efforts, since we cannot stop climate change in the near-term, we must plan for climate change impacts today and into the future.