How can climate change affect natural disasters?

With increasing global surface temperatures the possibility of more droughts and increased intensity of storms will likely occur. As more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere it becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop. More heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures can lead to increased wind speeds in tropical storms. Rising sea levels expose higher locations not usually subjected to the power of the sea and to the erosive forces of waves and currents.

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What are the long-term effects of climate change?

Scientists have predicted that long-term effects of climate change will include a decrease in sea ice and an increase in permafrost thawing, an increase in heat waves and heavy precipitation, and decreased water resources in semi-arid regions. Below are some of the regional impacts of global change forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on...

What is the difference between weather and climate change?

Weather refers to short term atmospheric conditions while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a long period of time. Climate change refers to long-term changes.

What are some of the signs of climate change?

• Temperatures are rising world-wide due to greenhouse gases trapping more heat in the atmosphere. • Droughts are becoming longer and more extreme around the world. • Tropical storms becoming more severe due to warmer ocean water temperatures. • As temperatures rise there is less snowpack in mountain ranges and polar areas and the snow melts...

What is the difference between global warming and climate change?

Although people tend to use these terms interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. “Global warming” refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “Climate change” refers to the increasing changes in the measures of climate over a long period...

Why is climate change happening and what are the causes?

There are many “natural” and “anthropogenic” (human-induced) factors that contribute to climate change. Climate change has always happened on Earth, which is clearly seen in the geological record; it is the rapid rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring now that is of great concern worldwide. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb...

How do changes in climate and land use relate to one another?

The link between land use and the climate is complex. First, land cover--as shaped by land use practices--affects the global concentration of greenhouse gases. Second, while land use change is an important driver of climate change, a changing climate can lead to changes in land use and land cover. For example, farmers might shift from their...

How do we know the climate is changing?

The scientific community is certain that the Earth's climate is changing because of the trends that we see in the instrumented climate record and the changes that have been observed in physical and biological systems. The instrumental record of climate change is derived from thousands of temperature and precipitation recording stations around the...

What is the role of the USGS in responding to hurricanes?

The USGS creates detailed maps of our Nation’s shorelines, dunes, and coastal cliffs, and studies how storm processes impact our coastlines. This information is used to predict and map coastal vulnerability to changes caused by major storms, long-term shoreline erosion, sea-level rise, and sea cliff erosion. One example is the USGS Coastal Change...

Does an increase in the 100-year flood estimate originate from climate or land-use change?

Climate variability (dry cycles to wet cycles) and land-use change play a significant role, but there is a large amount of uncertainty around the flood quantile estimates (the value of discharge corresponding to the 100-year flood), particularly if there isn’t a long record of observed data at a stream location. Learn more: Flood recurrence...
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Date published: March 13, 2019

New US Geological Survey-led Research Helps California Coastal Managers Prioritize Planning and Mitigation Efforts Due to Rising Seas and Storms

New U.S. Geological Survey-led coastal modeling research presents state, federal, and commercial entities with varying storm and sea level-rise scenarios to assist with planning for future infrastructure and mitigation needs along the California coast. 

Date published: August 10, 2017

Study Links Major Floods in North America and Europe to Multi-Decade Ocean Patterns

The number of major floods in natural rivers across Europe and North America has not increased overall during the past 80 years, a recent study has concluded. Instead researchers found that the occurrence of major flooding in North America and Europe often varies with North Atlantic Ocean temperature patterns.

Date published: May 18, 2017

In Next Decades, Frequency of Coastal Flooding Will Double Globally

The frequency and severity of coastal flooding throughout the world will increase rapidly and eventually double in frequency over the coming decades even with only moderate amounts of sea level rise, according to a new study released today in “Scientific Reports.”

Date published: November 28, 2016

Safeguarding Our Cultural Past from Future Climate Change: Stories from Jamestown

The Interior Department’s Climate Science Centers, managed by USGS, are helping the NPS pinpoint the specific impacts of climate change on parks and their cultural and natural resources. Doing so will help managers answer a critical question: which resources will require human intervention to ensure their continued existence?

Date published: October 14, 2016

After the Storm – Hurricane Matthew and the Floods

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, USGS crews have been collecting the record number of storm-tide sensors deployed prior to the storm and are now determining high water marks, collecting water quality samples, and assessing the impacts of storm surge on south eastern beaches caused by erosion, overwash and inundation.  

Visit the USGS Hurricane Matthew webpage to learn more. 


Date published: February 13, 2014

Drought Affects Streamflow Across California

With California experiencing its worst drought in over a century, 2013 is in the record books as the driest calendar year in the state’s 119-year recorded history.

Date published: April 11, 2013

New Sea-Level-Rise Modeling Forecasts Major Climate Impact to Low-Lying Pacific Islands

Dynamic modeling of sea-level rise, which takes storm wind and wave action into account, paints a much graver picture for some low-lying Pacific islands under climate-change scenarios than the passive computer modeling used in earlier research, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

Date published: May 11, 2007

Abrupt Climate Change: Causes and Ecosystem Responses

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists who study trends in climate change will be presenting the results from new studies at a workshop held in Pacific Grove, California, May 13-16, 2007.

Date published: November 13, 2002

"Hurricane" Turtles of South Carolina's Tidal Creeks

Hurricanes brush or hit Charleston, S.C., about once every five and a half years, often generating large storm surges on top of already impressive tides. A hurricane that hit Charleston in 1752 caused a storm surge that nearly covered the entire present downtown area, according to one source. When the wind shifted, the water level fell 5 feet in 10 minutes.

Date published: August 28, 1998

Alaskan Glaciers Yield Massive Floods

Torrents of meltwater are unleashed suddenly from the margins of the great moving sheets of snow and ice, known as glaciers. In Alaska, these pulses of activity, called "outburst floods," are usually caused by the failure of ice dams that restrain the meltwater of glacial margin lakes.

Attribution: Region 11: Alaska
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A USGS Research Geologist takes photographs of Puerto Rican hillsides from a U.S. Army helicopter to document landslides.
December 31, 2017

Documenting landslides in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria.

Bill Schulz, USGS Research Geologist, takes photographs of Puerto Rican hillsides from a U.S. Army helicopter to document landslides caused by Hurricane Maria. This work will help identify areas around Puerto Rico with the highest risk of more landslides, which is information the Federal Emergency Management Agency will use to determine the best way to mitigate and prepare

September 30, 2017

USGS Hurricane Preparedness

Before a hurricane, USGS Scientists undertake a data collection effort of a grand scale. They install a temporary mobile network of sensors along the coasts to collect additional data on the intensity of storm surge, one of the most dangerous elements of a hurricane. This effort provides critical information that allows various USGS partners and emergency responders to

A USGS specialist installs a storm-tide sensor in Massachusetts before Hurricane Jose's arrival.
September 19, 2017

USGS Storm-Tide Sensor installed for Hurricane Jose

A USGS specialist installs a storm-tide sensor in Massachusetts before Hurricane Jose's arrival.  

Weakened livestock, West Arsi, Ethiopia
December 15, 2016

Weakened livestock, West Arsi, Ethiopia

Weakened livestock in Arsi Negele, south-central Ethiopia, Sept. 2, 2015.  Photo cedit: Getachew Abate (FEWS NET) and Kelbessa Beyene (World Food Programme), public domain


Before and after pictures - Hurricane Rita and Holly Beach, Louisiana, USA
December 14, 2016

Before and after pictures - Hurricane Rita and Holly Beach, Louisiana

Hurricanes can cause severe beach erosion

The Storm-Induced Coastal Change Hazards component of the of the National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards project

September 1, 2016

Hazards to California's Delta Water System

This short video is one of a series of four total shorts highlighting USGS water science in California's Delta region. Earthquakes, land subsidence and flooding pose significant threats to California’s fresh water. Aqueducts, pipes and sewer lines can break and levees can breach. In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta at the heart of the state’s freshwater system, the huge

September 1, 2016

Drought, Drinking Water and Natural Environments

This short video is one of a series of four total shorts highlighting USGS water science in California's Delta region. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is the hub of the state's water system. Water quality touches on all aspects of life. Teams of U.S. Geological Survey scientists along with their partners monitor water quality and identify sources of pollution and

Photo depicting drought-related tree mortality in Sequoia National Park
October 31, 2015

Drought-related tree mortality in Sequoia National Park

Drought-related tree mortality at a low elevation forest in Sequoia National Park. 

October 22, 2015

PubTalk 10/2015 — Fire-climate Relationships in the Sierra Nevada

Surprises relevant to future fire regime forecasts

by Jon E. Keeley, USGS Research Scientist

  • Historical variation in annual fire activity is tied to climate only in the montane forests.
  • Fires are largely insensitive to winter temperatures but significantly affected by spring and summer temperatures.
  • Future
Image: USGS Documents 2015 Western U.S. Drought
August 26, 2015

USGS Documents 2015 Western U.S. Drought

A hydrologic technician from the USGS Idaho Water Science Center measures streamflow in Lightning Creek at Clark Fork, ID. The USGS is collecting data at hundreds of sites on rivers and streams in six western states to document the 2015 drought. USGS scientists will analyze the data to identify which rivers and streams may be most vulnerable to future droughts.

man in orange lifevest in brown floodwaters pulling yellow kayak
September 9, 2011

Susquehanna Floodwaters in Owego, NY 2011

USGS staffer in Susquehanna River floodwaters in Owego, NY 2011