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U.S. National Climate Assessment, Volume 1


The National Climate Assessment is the official United States Government report on climate change. The most recent assessment is the 4th one. It was issued in 2 volumes, the first of which was published in November, 2017. It focuses on the science of climate change and the changes that are likely to occur. The second volume was published in October, 2018. It focuses how the changes outlined in Volume 1 are projected to impact our country, and on some perspectives on adaptation.

In the remainder of this post, italics represent direct quotes from the Executive Summary of Volume 1. In parentheses, I give the page of the report where the quote can be found.

Temperature record

Figure 1. Source: USGCRP, 2017.

Global annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1.8°F (1.0°C) over the last 115 years (1901–2016). This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. (p.1) In Figure 1, the chart on the left presents a graph of the increase in temperature. The map on the right shows how the change in temperature is distributed across the world.

(Click on chart for larger view.)

Projected Temperature

Figure 2. Source: USGCRP, 2017.

The last three years have been the warmest years on record for the globe. These trends are expected to continue…(p.1) Figure 2 maps the projected increase in temperature across North America at mid- and late-century under a low emission scenario and a high emission scenario. I favor the high emission scenario, because I see no sign we are slowing GHG emissions. The high emission scenario shows the average yearly temperature rising by 4-6°F in Missouri by mid-century. By the end of the century, some regions of the country will experience temperature increases of 8-10°F.

Human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. (p.1) There is no convincing alternative explanation. See the previous post for some comments on climate change denial.

Global average sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900, with almost half (about 3 inches) of that rise occurring since 1993. (p.1)

Sea Level Rise

Figure 3. Source: USGCRP, 2017.

Global average sea levels are expected to continue to rise—by at least several inches in the next 15 years and by 1–4 feet by 2100. A rise of as much as 8 feet by 2100 cannot be ruled out. (p.2) Figure 3 shows historical and projected sea level rise across 2 time scales – the upper chart goes back to 500 BCE. The lower chart goes back to 1800. The upper one especially shows that the increase in sea level is unprecedented in human history. The different colored lines in the lower chart represent projections from different future emission scenarios – high (red) to low (blue).




Minor Tidal Floods

Figure 4. Source: USGCRP, 2017.

The incidence of daily tidal flooding is accelerating in more than 25 Atlantic and Gulf Coast cities. (p.2) Figure 4 shows the historical and projected incidence of minor tidal flooding in Charleston SC, and San Francisco CA. Minor flooding is also called nuisance flooding. Basically, it is flooding that occurs only at high tide, and is limited to a couple of feet. But it is defined differently at different locations. For an article explaining it all, see here: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/understanding-climate-billy-sweet-and-john-marra-explain. The charts show that flooding is on the increase, though in San Francisco, the increase is small (also typical of other West Coast locations). It is much larger in Charleston (also typical of other East Coast locations). In both locations, minor flooding is expected to increase, and under the high emission scenario, which is the one we seem to be following, it will nearly become a daily event.

Heavy Precip Graphic

Figure 5. Source: USGCRP, 2017.

Heavy rainfall is increasing in intensity and frequency across the United States and globally and is expected to continue to increase. The largest observed changes in the United States have occurred in the Northeast. (p.2) Figure 5 shows the historical change in heavy precipitation events across the United States. It shows the data in several forms. The map at upper left shows the percentage change in the largest 1-day rainfall event over rolling 5-year periods. The map at upper right shows the percentage change in the number of days that fall in the 99th percentile of 1-day precipitation over the historical record. The map at lower left shows the percentage change in the number of 2-day precipitation events that exceeded the largest 2-day amount that is expected to occur, on average, once every 5 years, from 1901-2016. The map at lower right shows the number of 2-day precipitation events that exceeded the largest 2-day amount that is expected to occur, on average, once every 5 years, from 1958-2016. Thus, the two lower maps show identical data, except the reference period in the left one stretches back to 1901, while the reference period in the right one stretches back to 1958. (This is all a bit complicated, but it is necessary because the amount of precipitation that constitutes a heavy event may be different in, say, Seattle vs. Las Vegas. You just have to unpack it slowly, and it all makes sense.)

The trend in Figure 4 is strongest in the eastern part of the country, where the increase is large, no matter how you count the data. In the Southwest, however, the data is equivocal. That region may be getting heavier 1-day storms, but heavy precipitation is not lasting over 2 days as frequently as it used to.

Heatwaves have become more frequent in the United States since the 1960s, while extreme cold temperatures and cold waves are less frequent. (p.2) I have written previous posts on how the increase in temperature could lead to deadly heat waves. One series of posts starts here. Another article is here.

The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States has increased…and is expected to further increase…with profound changes to regional ecosystems. (p.2) I’ve written quite a number of posts about how fire is increasing in the West, and how that may contrast with Missouri. See here and here.

Earlier spring melt and reduced snowpack are already affecting water resources in the western United States…Long-duration hydrological drought is increasingly possible before the end of this century. (p.2) I’ve covered this extensively in my posts on the water situation in California and made a number of updates. The original series of posts is here. The most recent update is here.

The magnitude of climate change…will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) emitted globally…With significant reductions…the increase in annual average global temperature could be limited to 3.6°F (2°C) or less. (p.2)

The global atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has now passed 400 parts per million (ppm), a level that last occurred about 3 million years ago, when both global average temperature and sea level were significantly higher than today. (p.2)

Continued CO2 emissions would lead to an atmospheric concentration not experienced in tens to hundreds of millions of years. (p.3)

In 2014 and 2015, emission growth rates slowed as economic growth became less carbon-intensive. A recent report, however, suggests that in 2018, the rate of emissions reversed, surging ahead at an accelerating rate. (Le Quéré et al, 2018)

The next post will focus on Volume 2 of the National Climate Report.


U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2017. Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, 470 pp, doi: 10.7930/J0J964J6.

Le Quéré, Corinne, and 76 other authors. 2018. Global Carbon Budge, 2018. Earth System Science Data, 10, 2141-2194. Downloaded 12/8/2018 from https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-10-2141-2018.

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