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Is Missouri Exempt from Abrupt Climate Change?

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In the previous post, I reported on a federal study that examined the likelihood that 14 climate change processes might lead to a sudden change in the earth’s climate. The report was written at a global level, and I know of no reports that address the issue with respect to Missouri. So this post will contain some speculation about whether these processes might affect Missouri. What follows is speculation based on the information I’ve learned in reading all the various studies reported on in this blog.

Let’s start with species extinction. The report concludes that the chances are very high that the world will see a major increase in species extinction, and the chances are high that it might involve abrupt events in this century. Missouri is home to 64 endangered species, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, and according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we are home to more than any other state in the Midwest. Many of them live in isolated, micro-habitats, or require very limited environmental conditions to survive. Thus, they are very vulnerable to climate perturbations. Not only that, but the DOC found that of 86 ecosystem types in Missouri, 41 of them were Imperiled or Critically Imperiled. In addition the Missouri Forest Resource Assessment and Plan, see here, found that Missouri forests were among the most vulnerable in the country to climate change. Thus, I see no reason to exempt Missouri – the concerns about species extinction probably apply here.

The federal report concludes that the chances that arctic sea ice will disappear in September are high in this century, and very high after that. The chances that it might disappear during winter are low in this century, moderate after that. The arctic sea is some 1,800 miles north of Missouri, so the disappearance of sea ice there seems unlikely to directly affect this state. However, the disappearance of arctic sea ice is expected to affect weather circulatory patterns, such as the jet stream. The jet stream plays an important role in Missouri’s weather, so if it changes, Missouri would likely be affected. In what way is unknown.

The federal report concluded that there was a moderate chance in this century, and a high chance after 2100, that the amount of oxygen dissolved in the waters of the ocean would significantly decrease. Fish breathe oxygen, so if it occurs, oceans would lose some of their capacity to support life. Fishermen are familiar with this effect – it happens in many ponds during summer heat waves. Would there be an increase in dead zones? By how much? Or would there be a reduction in the amount of sea life spread equally throughout all the seas? How big a reduction? Nobody knows. About 2/3 of the earth’s surface is ocean, so any large change in the ability of the ocean to support life is likely to have major affects throughout the planet. Here in Missouri, seafood would become a less significant food source. Beyond that, it is difficult to anticipate what the affects might be.

The report concluded that a change in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is unlikely in this century, moderately likely in the next century. The AMOC is a major distributer of heat from the tropics to northern regions: Southern England currently supports palm trees, even though it is farther north than Minneapolis, because of the AMOC. A weakening of the AMOC would cause a large region centered on Northern Europe to become colder, while a large region around the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico would become warmer. How this might affect Missouri is unknown at this time.

The federal report found that the chance for a sudden rise in seal level was low in this century, but that the chance for a gradual rise after that was high. Missouri is not a maritime state, the nearest ocean is 375 miles away, and the lowest point in Missouri is more than 200 feet above sea level. Even the most aggressive forecasts do not envision sea level rising that much. A rise in sea level would move the shoreline some number of miles closer, but perhaps not enough to directly affect the state. Missouri would most likely be impacted indirectly. The economic and social costs to regions that are flooded would ripple through the economy, just a the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy did.

The federal report concluded that major changes to large-scale climate patterns, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, is low before 2100, and moderate after that. However, an increase in the intensity, frequency, and duration of heat waves is moderately likely in this century, and highly likely after 2100. An increase in extreme precipitation events is moderately likely in this century, moderately-to-highly likely thereafter. A study I reported on in December agrees that Missouri will experience more frequent and longer heat waves. In some parts of the state, the daily high temperature is expected to be above 95° every day for almost three months each summer. The effects of such hot temperatures would be widespread. In this blog, I’ve reviewed several different kinds of evidence that suggests overall precipitation amounts are not changing drastically, and may have increased slightly since the 1950s. Records do not seem to indicate an increase in the most damaging of all storms – tornadoes. However, records do indicate that an increase in other kinds of weather extremes may already be occurring.

Finally, the federal report explores the likelihood of the sudden explosive release of additional greenhouse gas into the atmosphere from two sources: the melting of permafrost and of methane hydrates. The rapid melting of permafrost is unlikely in this century, but the chance of more gradual melting after than is high. The rapid melting of methane hydrates in this century is unlikely, and moderate after that. Should either of these events occur, the effects to Missouri would be indirect, through increased climate change. Any and every effect caused by climate change would be increased.

While the analysis above involves a lot of speculation, I see little reason to believe that Missouri would be exempt from the effects of the events discussed in the federal report. Even the events that would not affect this state directly seem likely to affect this state indirectly.

Sources:

Missouri’s Forest Resource Assessment and Strategy, Missouri Department of Conservation and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Northern Research Station, http://mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/resources/2010/08/9437_6407.pdf.

Committee on Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and Its Impacts. 2013. Washington, DC.: National Academies Press. http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10136.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Missouri Federally-Listed Threatened, Endangered, Proposed and Candidate Species, County Distribution. Downloaded 12/26/2013 from http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/lists/missouri-spp.html.

Missouri Department of Conservation. 2014. Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern Checklist. http://mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/resources/2010/04/2014_species_concern.pdf.

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