Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Warning Signs

This isn't new. For some time, we've been warned of the frightening effects of climate change. We've even been experiencing it first hand here in Nevada.

And now, we're beginning to see more major signs of the coming climate crisis in our backyard. Believe it or not, we're seeing those signs at Lake Tahoe. UC Davis today released this year's State of the Lake Report, and it notes some critical warning signs for Tahoe.

• Annual average surface temperature was 52.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest ever recorded for Lake Tahoe.
• Snow has decreased as a fraction of total precipitation, from an average of 51 percent in 1910 to 36 percent in 2012.
• A continued long-term trend of fewer days with below-freezing temperatures caused snowmelt to peak on May 4, earlier than historical conditions.
• Lake level experienced a net loss in 2012. It rose by only 1.3 feet during the snowmelt, compared with 3.9 feet in 2011. During summer and fall, lake level fell by 2.3 feet.

To be fair, the report isn't all bad news. Clarity actually slightly improved, though that may be mostly due to lower than average precipitation (dropping fewer pollutants into the lake). Also, overall algae levels are down.

Still, the higher temperatures, lower snowpack, and lower lake level are of concern. And again, it's hard to deny that the extended Western Drought brought to us by climate change isn't having an impact here.

And that's not all. We also found out this morning that last year was the hottest on record for the US and one of the Top 10 hottest years ever recorded globally.

In a press conference Tuesday, Kathryn Sullivan, acting NOAA administrator and co-author of the report, said the findings in the report paint a picture of a “new normal” for the Earth, and could help shape U.S. policy for addressing and becoming more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The peer-reviewed report, which was released Tuesday, painted a sobering picture of climate change, with record sea-level rise, Arctic melting, and warming oceans. Globally, 2012 ranked either as the 8th or 9th warmest year ever recorded, depending on what dataset was used. The report also found summer Arctic sea ice reached a record low — 18 percent lower than the previous record — in 2012, due in part to the Arctic continuing to warm at about twice the rate of other areas.

“Many of the planning models used in infrastructure planning count on the future being statistically a lot like the past,” Sullivan said. Trends of temperature increases and sea level rise highlighted in the report should challenge those models and should be used as reference for city planners, especially on the coast. Sullivan also warned that the U.S. should be prepared for the likelihood that extreme weather events will only get more intense and more frequent as the planet warms.

Yesterday, Senators Harry Reid (D) & Dean Heller (R) joined their California colleagues, Dianne Feinstein (D) & Barbara Boxer (D), to introduce the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. It authorizes $415 million in critical investment in improving environmental quality in the Tahoe region. It's nice to see all the region's US Senators come together for this. And it would be quite nice if this can actually pass and help bring to an end the insane austerity fetish on Capitol Hill.

However, this isn't enough. Senator Reid has already said so himself, along with Senator Boxer.

It's saddening enough that Lake Tahoe faces a new threat in the climate crisis. However, it doesn't end there. Ultimately, we're all at risk if we don't act soon. We need to take heed of the warning signs now.

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