LRWA Annual Dinner 2016
UNH Professor Emphasizes Urgency of Addressing Climate Change at Lamprey River Speech
By Penny Williams 11-10-16
Climate change is nothing new - it has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years and will continue to occur, but man has caused the pace of climate change to speed up. The future of the world from a climate perspective depends entirely on the decisions mankind makes going forward.
That was the main message presented by Cameron Wake, Research Professor at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire and the Josephine A. Lamprey Professor of Climate and Sustainability at the UNH Sustainability Institute, in his talk to the Lamprey River Watershed Association on climate change and the future impact of flooding on the watershed. His talk, presented Friday evening, Oct. 21, 2016, was titled "How Will Flooding Change on the Lamprey River in the Future? Preparing for the New Normal."
The mission of the Lamprey River Watershed Association is to promote the conservation, restoration, and wise use of the watershed’s natural resources. The Lamprey River flows from Northwood to the Great Bay through miles of largely undeveloped land.
One of Wake's main points is that planning for any development in the Lamprey River watershed should include consideration of expected climate changes. He localized this but noted this holds true for the entire world.
Planners need to take into consideration the impact of increased amounts of precipitation per individual storm and the rise in sea level, along with measures to contain increased water from more frequent floods. He said reduction in use of fossil fuels and more reliance on renewable energy sources are important to consider as well.
Development, residential and commercial, should be avoided or at least carefully controlled in the Lamprey River watershed, he said, adding that any development that does occur should recognize that the floodplain will increase significantly over time and has already doubled, and impervious surfaces will increase. Development must be done in such a way as to mitigate the increases in water resulting from higher amounts of rain, so buildings can survive increased flooding, he said.
Wake's main point was that climate change has always occurred and always will. The main difference now is that the change is human driven, he said.
Wake added that climate change is a moral issue because its impact will affect the most vulnerable the most, both individuals and countries.
Wake explained that ice cores provide indisputable evidence about the amount of carbon dioxide that has been in the atmosphere over the last 400,000 years. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the last 100 years has increased exponentially and can be laid at the hands of humans. If individuals, communities and countries work together to reduce carbon dioxide, he said the amount could be stabilized by the middle of the century, but if left unchecked, it will be out of control by the end of the century.
The result of doing nothing or not enough will be increased heat, with more than 65 days a summer in excess of 90 degrees, Wake said. He noted that even if measures are put in place to reduce carbon dioxide, by the end of the century there would be 30 days of 90-degree-plus heat because climate change will continue regardless.
Precipitation will significantly increase in the future as well, he said, with more frequent storms with an increase of 4 inches of rain in the so-called 100-year storms. This climate change will be aided by the melting of the arctic ice sheet, causing an increase in flooding. The increased flooding in turn will contribute to increased sea levels ranging from 3-1/2 to 6-1/2 inches.
Wake said New England has seen drought conditions consistently over the past decades but going forward, when it rains in New England the area will be dealing with triple the amount of precipitation. And he said that when factoring in the doubling of impervious surfaces, the problem escalates.
Droughts could come annually, he said, with the 100-year storm, which has already risen from 4 inches to 6.3 inches, rising to 8-1/2 inches, something anyone building near a water source would have to take into account.
Wake warned that a price on carbon dioxide is necessary, meaning that there needs to be serious promotion of energy efficiency and the reduction in use of fossil fuels, and an increased trend toward the use of efficient renewable energy.
However, regardless of what is done, he predicted that by the middle of the century, New England’s weather will be more like the weather well to its south, and if nothing or not enough is done, by the end of the century New England will at least be tropical.