Geospatial Presentation on Climate Change
November 4, 2009
Across the country Americans are experiencing first-hand the impacts of global climate change. From growing pressure on water supplies to more intense droughts and fires to rampant bark beetle infestations.
The U.S. Department of the Interior is leading scientific efforts to better understand climate change and is taking comprehensive actions to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change on lands that belong to all Americans.
Why Interior? Because of the Department of the Interior's vast responsibilities for people, land, water and wildlife through it's nine agencies
-- and -- because Interior employs many of the nation's top scientists equipped with the data resources and geospatial capabilities to understand, anticipate and deal with the impacts of climate change.
This presentation is the U.S. Department of the Interior's global visualization of climate change.
The reds and yellows on the spinning globe show how the world's climate is changing. This imagery shows temperature increases compared to historic average temperatures.
Since the mid 1970s, the average surface temperature of the globe has warmed about one degree Fahrenheit - and that's just the average.
Temperatures in the Arctic have increased at almost twice that same rate over the past 100 years. The ten warmest years since 1880 have all been within the past 12 years, from 1997 to 2008.
Based on the work of thousands of leading scientists around the world, the International Panel on Climate Change has concluded that most of the rapid warming since the mid-20th century is the result of human produced greenhouse gas emissions.
This warming is leading to dramatic impacts that we are already experiencing around the globe. An example of these impacts is the greater variability in weather--including more drought, stronger storms and more extreme weather occurrences.
This map shows occurrences of large hail in yellow, tornados in red, extreme wind storms in green and the tracks of hurricanes in blue. This represents only the most extreme weather.
For example, the hail shown here is greater than two inches in diameter and storms or hurricanes where winds were stronger than 65 miles per hour.
Sea ice, glaciers and permafrost are also disappearing. The diminishing of Arctic sea ice has been extreme over the past 30 years.
The red lines here show the current extent of Arctic sea ice as of September 2008. The tan color is the extent in September 1979.
Because of climate change, the permanent or year round sea ice is shrinking.
In addition, many of the world's 8,000 glaciers are retreating. What you're seeing here as green dots are these 8,000 glaciers around the globe.
For example, in the state of Washington, the South Cascade Glacier has shrunk dramatically during the past 50 years.
The blue and yellow lines show the current extent of the glacier compared to the purple, which shows the glacier's extent 50 years ago.
USGS geoscientists have monitored the melting of South Cascade Glacier and that of several glaciers in Alaska for 50 years, yielding the longest such record in North America.
Temperature increases are also leading to thawing permafrost or permanently frozen ground found in cold regions such as Alaska.
These colors show different depths and stability levels of permafrost. The blue colors show where the most rapid melting is occurring and the permafrost is discontinuous.
Permafrost contains a great deal of carbon. So as it melts and organic matter in it decomposes, it releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
This cycle leads to yet more warming, as greenhouse gasses are released into the atmosphere.
The warmer temperatures are not only causing glaciers and land ice to melt, but are also warming the temperature of the sea water, which is causing it to expand and rise at a current rate of about a tenth of an inch per year.
Scientists predict that we may see a one-meter rise in sea level this century. What is shown here in yellow represents what would be flooded under a one-meter sea level rise.
Note that the Everglades would be flooded by sea water and that wetlands and wildlife around New Orleans would be flooded. Many other areas are affected on both coasts.
Information such as shown here is imperative for designing strategies to protect our low-lying coastal communities. Think of how massive the effects on our culture could be if coastal populations relocate inland.
Changing temperatures across the globe cause a variety of other effects as well.
For example, Interior Department scientists at the US Geological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service are seeing changes in animal behavior.
These changes come not only from those animals that are ice dependent but also from migrating animals.
The warmer climate is changing where different types of vegetation grow, which in turn can increase or decrease food availability and habitat for wildlife along migration pathways.
For instance, until recently, nearly the entire population – 90 percent -- of a small dark sea goose called the Pacific Brant, migrated from Alaska to overwinter in Mexico.
But now as many as 30 percent are choosing to spend their winters in Alaska instead. What you see here in white is the area in which the sea brant spends its summer - its summers and mating season.
Another result of climate change includes more forest damage from insects. Populations of pine bark beetles in national parks and in other public lands in the West are increasing and killing trees.
The dead trees in turn become fuel for more intense fires. The yellow areas indicate the dead trees from the beetle kill.
LANDSAT is one of Interior's premiere tools for monitoring these types of climate impacts. In October 2008, the USGS opened its full LANDSAT satellite data archive to the public at no charge.
It represents more than 35 years of remote sensing data. The data is stored at the Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, shown here.
What type of data are we talking about? The data include the previous LANDSAT images and also images such as this one examining the population growth of Las Vegas over the past 35 years.
The public can also download images from the 7,500 USGS real time stream gages located throughout the nation.
This network of gages is vital to climate change research and response. These data stations provide 100- year-records to document and observe flood conditions.
Let's take a look at how the public can access this data.
This is feed of a California station on Sept. 14, 2009 as it appeared during a live demonstration at a press conference of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
This is the type of data to which the public can gain access on a real time basis.
The public also can access ice core data. At the USGS- National Science Foundation Ice Core Lab in Denver,
scientists are studying ice cores from the Arctic to the Antarctic that reveal temperatures and concentrations of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide over the past tens of thousands of years.
The Department of the Interior's interest in climate change extends beyond science and beyond measuring the current impacts of climate change.
That's because the department and its agencies have responsibilities for one-fifth of the land in the United States and must manage it with an eye toward the future.
Lands under Interior oversight include those managed by the National Park Service, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation
and as well as American Indian and Alaska Native lands for which the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the department have trust responsibilities.
The Department of the Interior also has huge oceanic and coastal responsibilities. It manages 1.76 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf and many coastal parks and refuges.
Shown here are the onshore and offshore areas for which the Department of the Interior serves as a steward.
On this map, the purple depicts the National Park Service areas, green shows the Fish and Wildlife Service,
yellow indicates the Bureau of Land Management areas, brown shows the Interior Outer Continental Shelf areas and red indicates tribal areas.
The responsibilities demonstrated here mean that the department must respond to current climate change impacts as well as predicting future impacts and designing best management strategies to adapt to these changes.
The Department of the Interior is the largest wholesale water provider in the nation, supplying drinking water to more than 31 million people and irrigation water to 140,000 farmers.
Here are the locations of all of our dams.
This is the Hoover Dam.
Let's look at some of the ways that Interior is working to monitor, forecast, adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change right now.
We zoom to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the lower coastal plan of North Carolina, on the Albemarle Peninsula.
This refuge is home to the endangered red wolf and many other species of wildlife.
Recent modeling shows that because of sea level rise, the refuge will lose up to 67 percent of its swamp and 90 percent of its dry land by 2100. How does one prepare for these changes?
Well, the Fish and Wildlife Service right now is working to restore wetland hydrology as well as to reinforce and restore existing habitats so species can move inland.
They are also restoring the oyster reef that used to be out off the coast and helped protect the coast from stronger storms.
The National Park Service is currently engaged in an assessment of conditions of parks called NP Scape.
NP Scape will identify landscape scale measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change, working cooperatively with land owners adjacent to parks.
Another example is the Bureau of Land Management's work to remove invasive plant species like cheat grass in the areas shown in yellow.
Cheat grass and other nonnative species that invade an ecosystem have become a major problem by providing fuel for wild land fires in the West.
Before the invasion of cheat grass, the areas shown in yellow actually represented a carbon sink in the environment.
But now that this grass has entered and burns on a frequent basis, it has turned these areas into a carbon source.
At the same time that BLM is removing these invasive species, the agency is restoring native vegetation.
The effort increases the amount of carbon stored in these ecosystems, which helps reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses.
In Appalachia, Interior's Office of Service Mining has a problem that involves increasing carbon sequestration in soils and plants by reforesting mined areas.
These efforts are happening all over the Appalachian region, as you see here.
Over the past three years, more than 49,000 acres have been reforested, including approximately 30 million trees planted. You can see some of the reforestation efforts here.
Interior is working with many partners to improve our understanding of climate change impacts and to better communicate this information.
For instance, Interior scientists are working with other federal and state agencies, universities and other partners to create standard reference data sets for agencies inside and outside Interior.
For example, they have made a shared data set available on terrestrial ecosystems. This shows ecosystem type data across the United States.
Secretary Salazar recently launched the Department of the Interior's first ever coordinated strategy to address climate change.
It emphasizes the coordinated response and collaboration of Interior's bureaus aided by eight regional centers.
It also emphasizes the need to form partnerships with many other stakeholders in order to achieve success, setting up landscape conservation cooperatives.
The strategy emphasizes science, adaptation and mitigation strategies.
The new framework brings together the work of our scientists and the work of our managers—both natural resources and cultural resources managers.
That coordination will help us better understand how to response to climate-change impacts.
The Department of the Interior knows that this work is important to all Americans, not just scientists and land managers.
Climate change will impact all of us by affecting where we live, whether we have clean drinking water and sources of energy,
whether crops continue to thrive and provide our food, what kind of jobs we can do, and what kind of quality of life and legacy of land and wildlife we leave to our children.