10 Places President Obama Should Visit to See Climate Change In Action

, senior climate scientist | May 15, 2013, 9:50 am EDT
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In November, President Obama suggested that we needed a wide-ranging national discussion about climate change. But where to have that conversation? There are so many stories from communities that are on the front lines of climate change, grappling with ways to cope and looking for options. Here are ten places especially deserving of a visit from the President because they are dealing with consequences of climate change that affect many other parts of the country, indeed the world.

Mauna Loa, Hawaii

Mauna Loa Observatory

Image: NASA

On May 9, as my colleague Melanie Fitzpatrick put it, Mauna Loa, Hawaii passed a sobering threshold. Namely the highest atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide measured there — a whopping 400 parts per million. This mountain, loaded with scientific instruments, is like a nose stuck high in the atmosphere that sniffs the carbon dioxide gas that is ever increasing. Carbon dioxide was first measured here a few years before the President was born in Hawaii. The story of how scientists established the longest record of the iconic evidence for a major cause of climate change can be found on Mauna Loa — the longest continuous record of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has been measured there since 1958.

Coral reef with Divers

Image: John Brooks

Elliott Key, Florida

As part of the third-largest coral reef in the world, Elliott Key is particularly vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures and souring of the oceans (becoming more acidic). That’s a major concern for fisheries and tourism.

Coral bleaching events have become more intense and severe over the past 30 years, causing around a third of the world’s corals to suffer death or severe damage.

Chicago Heat Wave Risk

Image: UCS

Chicago, Illinois

The third most populated city in the U.S. — and the president’s home — has suffered huge loss of life from extreme heat waves in the past. More than 700 Chicagoans tragically perished in a 1995 heat wave with 3,300 excess emergency room visits.

The Midwest is expected to be among the regions at severe risk of public health threats from hot and sticky heat waves.

New York City exposed to coastal flooding risk

Photo: ThinkStock.

New York, New York

Rates of sea level rise for New York City region are among the highest in the world exposing this megacity to increased and costly flood risk.  If Hurricane Sandy hit over a century ago, it would have occurred during a time when global average sea level was around 8 inches lower. The New York City region, like most coastal regions have many factors affecting local elevation of the land in relation to the sea.  Scientists expect such vertical motion to continue, such that a future two-foot (61.0 cm) rise in global sea level is likely to result in a relative sea-level rise at New York City of 2.3 feet (70.1cm).

Red trees are evidence of a forest plagued by pine bark beetles

Photo: Tim Wilson.

Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Red trees are a telltale sign of the pest known as the mountain pine beetle that has multiple life cycles per year as warmer winters don’t keep the pest in check as much as before. In just one year, 2009 to 2010, mountain pine beetle activity on the Front Range — mountains at the foot of the Rockies — increased more than 10-fold and infested 200,000 acres (80,000 hectares). The beetle has killed millions of trees setting the stage for a tinderbox if a lightning strike sparks a wildfire during dry and hot times.

Pipeline at risk from melting permafrost soil.

Photo: Alice Hunt.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Thawing ground that used to be frozen year round is wreaking havoc with infrastructure, including increased costs to maintain the Alaska pipeline. Infrastructure in cold regions was designed to take advantage of places where soil or rock remains at or below freezing for over two years. About 85 percent of Alaska is either discontinuous or nearly continuous permafrost. Winters have warmed on average by 6.3° F (3.5° C) in Alaska over the past 50 years, undermining the foundations of infrastructure anchored in formerly “solid” ground that is now melting.

Declining snowpack Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Photo: Anthony Dunn.

Sierra Nevada Mountains, California

Declining snowpack increased risks of dry years for crops that supply a good portion of food for the Nation.

Typically the snowpack volume of the Sierra Nevada region is similar to around 50 percent of California’s built reservoir capacity. Spring runoff in the Sierras is peaking 15-20 or more days earlier.  In some years this spring flooding period could exceed the reservoir holding capacity and some freshwater may end up flowing out to sea, leaving less in the dry days of summer when crops need it most.

Sea-level rise increases coastal erosion in Louisiana.

Photo: ThinkStock.

Mississippi Delta, Louisiana

Sea level rise and local land sinking, from a variety of human and natural causes, conspired to erode over a third of the coastal plain and exposed more Louisiana towns and cities to coastal flooding during storm surges. Since coastal wetlands help protect the coastline from storm surge, this helped increase the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. What’s more, the powerful erosion that occurred during Katrina vastly accelerated wetland loss and has left the region even more exposed to storm surges in the future.

Floodwaters disrupt transportation in Jefferson City, MO

Photo: NOAA.

Jefferson City, MO

Catastrophic flooding risk is growing with climate change. A major flood in this region in the past damaged bridges and disrupted a quarter of U.S. freight for six weeks. The photo depicts Highway 54 just north of Jefferson City, MO, submerged by the historic 1993 flood.

Shrinking glaciers at Glacier National Park

Photo: Morton Elrod (top) and Lisa McKeon (bottom)

Glacier National Park, Montana

This national park may not live up to its name in only a matter of decades due to shrinking glaciers.

Only 25 of the 150 glaciers remain in Glacier National Park that existed in 1850. Of those, eleven of the park’s named glaciers have disappeared since 1966.

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  • Dave

    I think you should read the book State of Fear by Michael Crichton. The charts and information on the polar ice caps and riseing seas ect. that are documented scientific studies are rather startaling! Read the book and then get back to me.

    • I have read “State of Fear” and pulled together the available evidence (available here: http://bit.ly/18d16xU) at the time of first publication that were not so clear in the book.

  • Laura Washburn

    As our president seems to have a (completely appropriate!) love for Asheville, NC, I wish he would take a look at distance photography of the mountains of the Blue Ridge parkway over the last forty years to see the gigantic increase in smog which threatens both the health of the citizens and the also the tourism industry on which so many of the locals depend for their livelihoods. Nicely done.

    • Laura, your point is quite dramatic when you look at the numbers according the National Park Service, “Views from scenic overlooks at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been seriously degraded over the last 50 years by human-made pollution. Since 1948, based on regional airport records, average visibility in the southern Appalachians has decreased 40% in winter and 80% in summer. These degradations in visibility not only affect how far one can see from a scenic overlook, they also reduce how well one can see. Pollution causes colors to appear washed out and obscures landscape features. Pollution typically appears as a uniform whitish haze, different from the natural mist-like clouds for which the Smokies were named.” Source: http://1.usa.gov/10YkHgJ

  • Pepita Jimenez-Jacobs

    Thank you for this! PJJ