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 Climate Change:

  • North America: Decreasing snowpack in the western mountains; 5-20 percent increase in yields of rain-fed agriculture in some regions; increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves in cities that currently experience them.
  • Latin America: Gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia; risk of significant biodiversity loss through species extinction in many tropical areas; significant changes in water availability for human consumption, agriculture and energy generation.
  • Europe: Increased risk of inland flash floods; more frequent coastal flooding and increased erosion from storms and sea level rise; glacial retreat in mountainous areas; reduced snow cover and winter tourism; extensive species losses; reductions of crop productivity in southern Europe.
  • Africa: By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress; yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent in some regions by 2020; agricultural production, including access to food, may be severely compromised.
  • Asia: Freshwater availability projected to decrease in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia by the 2050s; coastal areas will be at risk due to increased flooding; death rate from disease associated with floods and droughts expected to rise in some regions.

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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.

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...

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...

Does the USGS monitor global warming?

Not specifically. Our charge is to understand characteristics of the Earth, especially the Earth's surface, that affect our Nation's land, water, and biological resources. That includes quite a bit of environmental monitoring. Other agencies, especially NOAA and NASA, are specifically funded to monitor global temperature and atmospheric phenomena...

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...

Will global warming produce more frequent and more intense wildfires?

There isn’t a direct relationship between climate change and fire, but researchers have found strong correlations between warm summer temperatures and large fire years, so there is general consensus that fire occurrence will increase with climate change. Hot, dry conditions, however, do not automatically mean fire—something needs to create the...

What are the impacts of glacier loss, other than losing an aesthetic landscape feature?

Glaciers act as reservoirs of water that persist through summer. Continual melt from glaciers contributes water to the ecosystem throughout dry months, creating perennial stream habitat and a water source for plants and animals. The cold runoff from glaciers also affects downstream water temperatures. Many aquatic species in mountainous...

How do we know glaciers are shrinking?

In addition to qualitative methods like Repeat Photography , USGS scientists collect quantitative measurements of glacier area and mass balance to track how some glaciers are retreating ( Glacier Monitoring Studies ). For example, ablation stakes show the seasonal gain and loss of snow, snow-pit analyses measure density of snow, and precision GPS...

What causes drought?

A drought is a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems. The amount of precipitation at a particular location varies from year to year, but over a period of years, the average amount is fairly constant. In the deserts of the Southwest, the average precipitation is less than 3 inches per year. In contrast, the...
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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 14, 2017

Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away

Habitat for the Pacific walrus in the Chukchi Sea is disappearing from beneath them as the warming climate melts away Arctic sea ice in the spring, forcing the large mammals to “haul out” of the ocean and temporarily live on land.

Date published: June 6, 2017

Increased Sea Ice Drift Puts Polar Bears on Faster Moving Treadmill

A new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wyoming found that increased westward ice drift in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas requires polar bears to expend more energy walking eastward on a faster moving “treadmill” of sea ice.  

Date published: May 10, 2017

Glaciers Rapidly Shrinking and Disappearing: 50 Years of Glacier Change in Montana

The warming climate has dramatically reduced the size of 39 glaciers in Montana since 1966, some by as much as 85 percent, according to data released by the U.S. Geological Survey and Portland State University.

Date published: May 4, 2016

A Warming Climate Could Alter the Ecology of the Deepest Lake in the United States

Warming air temperature is predicted to change water temperature and water column mixing in Oregon’s Crater Lake over the next several decades, potentially impacting the clarity and health of the iconic lake, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released today.

Date published: November 30, 2015

USGS Projects Large Loss of Alaska Permafrost by 2100

Using statistically modeled maps drawn from satellite data and other sources, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have projected that the near-surface permafrost that presently underlies 38 percent of boreal and arctic Alaska would be reduced by 16 to 24 percent by the end of the 21st century under widely accepted climate scenarios.

Date published: October 19, 2015

Arctic Mammals May Face Shrinking Habitat from Climate Warming

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A new scientific study predicts that some of Alaska’s mammal species will respond to future climate warming by concentrating in northern areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska. If true, for many species, this would be a significant northward shift into tundra habitats where they are currently absent.

Date published: May 11, 2015

Boom and Bust in the Boreal Forest: Climate Signals Seen in Bird Populations

Weaving concepts of ecology and climatology, recent interdisciplinary research by USGS and several university partners reveals how large-scale climate variability appears to connect boom-and-bust cycles in the seed production of the boreal (northern conifer) forests of Canada to massive, irregular movements of boreal birds.

Date published: December 4, 2014

New Heights of Global Topographic Data Will Aid Climate Change Research

The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe. Similar data for most of Africa were previously released by USGS in September. 

Date published: August 25, 2010

Washington’s Benchmark Glacier Still Shrinking

TACOMA, Wash. — Washington’s only “benchmark” glacier continues to lose mass as a result of changes in climate, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Attribution: Land Resources
Date published: September 7, 2007

Future Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice Will Lower Polar Bear Populations and Limit Their Distribution

Future reduction of sea ice in the Arctic could result in a loss of 2/3 of the world's polar bear population within 50 years according to a series of studies released today by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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.

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July 30, 2017

A Record of Change: Science and Elder Observations on the Navajo N.

A Record of Change—Science and Elder Observations on the Navajo Nation is a 25-minute documentary about collaborative studies using conventional physical sciences, combined with tribal elder observations to show that local knowledge and conventional science partnerships can effectively document ecosystem change and determine the resulting challenges to livelihoods. 

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July 27, 2017

USGS Public Lecture: Warm Ice—Dynamics of Rapidly Changing Glaciers

  • Glacier Numerology – The how big, how long, how thick, how much, how often, of glacier science.
  • Glacier Photography – While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a collection of images may tell a complete forensic story.
  • Glacier Geophysics – How new technologies are being introduced to reexamine and refine decades old glacier analyses.
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A cabin along Alaska's Arctic coast was recently washed into the ocean because the bluff it was sitting on eroded away.
May 3, 2017

Climate Change Impacts

From the Sound Waves Newletter article, "Erosion Doubles Along Part of Alaska's Arctic Coast — Cultural and Historical Sites Lost" at http://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2009/05/research2.html

Smoky Mountain fires on the night of Nov. 28, 2016
November 28, 2016

Smoky Mountain fires on the night of Nov. 28, 2016

In an extreme drought and amid high winds, many fires burned together in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the town of Gatlinburg and nearby communities to form the deadly fire that became known as Chimney Tops 2. This photo was taken on the night of Nov. 28, 2016, as the fire was spreading rapidly.

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
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March 27, 2014

PubTalk 3/2014 — Preparing for California Climate Change

--Climatologists Look Back and Peer Forward

Dan Cayan, USGS Climate Change Researcher

  • Climatologists are using observational history, climate and earth system physics and computer modeling to develop plausible scenarios of California's changing climate.
  • How much will California's climate warm in future decades, and
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March 26, 2014

Polar Bear Research, B-Roll 1

Spring 2014. USGS scientists conduct a health evaluation of a young male polar bear in the Arctic as part of the annual southern Beaufort Sea population survey. The bear is sedated for approximately an hour while the team records a variety of measurements and collects key biological samples. The annual population survey has been conducted since the mid-1980's and helps

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USGS wildlife biologist working with walruses
September 18, 2013

USGS wildlife biologist working with walruses

Walruses gathered by the tens of thousands in September 2013 to rest on the shores of the Chukchi Sea near the coastal village of Point Lay, Alaska. Walruses are finding it increasingly difficult to remain offshore over their preferred foraging grounds in the eastern Chukchi Sea due to unprecedented loss of sea ice in the autumn, which has completely disappeared during 5

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November 15, 2012

PubTalk 11/2012 — Understanding Climate-Wildlife Relationships

-- are American pikas harbingers of changing conditions?

by USGS Research Ecologist Erik Beever

 

  • American pikas are denizens of rocky talus and lava-flow habitats in mountain ecosystems across western North America
  • Mountain environments, cauldrons of climatic harshness, exhibit sharp topographic, vegetative, and
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July 19, 2012

Tracking Pacific Walrus: Expedition to the Shrinking Chukchi Sea Ice

Summer ice retreat in the Chukchi Sea between Alaska and Russia is a significant climate change impact affecting Pacific Walruses, which are being considered for listing as a threatened species. This twelve minute video follows walruses in their summer sea ice habitat and shows how USGS biologists use satellite radio tags to track their movements and behavior. The

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Attribution: Ecosystems
March 25, 2010

PubTalk 3/2010 — Changing Times-- A Changing Planet!

Using phenology to take the pulse of our planet

By Jake F. Weltzin, Executive Director, USA National Phenology Network

  • Citizens, scientists and natural resources managers are teaming-up to track biological events and cycles responding to changing climate
  • Phenology is providing new insights into seasonal changes in
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video thumbnail: USGS Public Lecture Series: Climate Change 101
August 24, 2009

USGS Public Lecture Series: Climate Change 101

Climate change is an issue of increasing public concern because of its potential effects on land, water, and biological resources. In the next several years, the United States will be challenged to make management and policy decisions as well as develop adaptation and mitigation strategies that will require anticipating the effects of a changing climate and its impacts on

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