Md. Could Pay Heavy Price for Global Warming, Researchers Warn

By Rick Docksai
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2007

ANNAPOLIS - Global warming will hit Maryland and neighboring Mid-Atlantic states harder than any other region in the United States, predicts a study the University of Maryland released Tuesday.

Nationwide, global warming will cause more forest fires and floods, lower farm productivity due to drought and crop diseases, and coastal damage due to rising sea levels, according to the report by the university's Center for Integrative Environmental Research.

But the Mid-Atlantic -- including Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and New England -- may see the worst of it.

"Climate change will occur throughout the entire country, but its impacts will be unevenly distributed," said Matthias Ruth, center director and the lead researcher, in a conference call Tuesday.

The report, "The U.S. Economic Impacts of Climate Change and the Costs of Inaction," predicts that Mid-Atlantic sea levels will rise 20 inches by 2100, leading to as much as $58 billion in damages to coastal communities. This will also cut into the livelihoods of those who depend on the sea for their livelihood.

"Watermen, lobster fisheries, crab fisheries -- all of those will be significantly affected," Ruth said. "Climate changes will cause a very rapid loss of the coastal ecosystems."

By 2025, the region's tourism industry could be losing $405 billion to $810 billion a year due to fewer days for skiing and snowmobiling, and fewer beaches.

The study based its cost estimates on previous climate studies and data from NOAA, the Census Bureau and NASA.

Ruth said after the conference call that the Mid-Atlantic is seeing the impact of climate change already in dry weather and warmer temperature year-round.

"The drought that we currently experience is perfectly consistent with the scenarios of climate change we see coming from the scientific community," Ruth said. "Changes in the temperature profile throughout the year can also be traced back to climate change."

But Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said that he is more worried about water pollution from sewage treatment plants and other manmade facilities than he is about climate change.

"The bay ain't going to be around to deal with global warming if we don't take care of the real problems today," he said. "And the real problems are over-enrichment and pollutants."

He predicted that global warming losses would not be as great as some think.

"As fishermen, we're always seeing cycles in fish populations. We're used to taking things in stride," Simns said.

But the Chesapeake Bay Foundation sees more than the usual fluctuations taking place.

Foundation spokeswoman Beth Lefebvre said that increasing temperatures are causing expanded "dead zones," or oxygen-poor regions of bay water. She said that fish in dead zones are more susceptible to disease.

"It's like if you put yourself in a closet and suck all the oxygen out. You're not doing so hot," she said.

Lefebvre blamed rising temperatures for damages to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is losing 140 acres of refuge wetlands a year.

"It's sort of a domino effect. Once it starts, it keeps going," she said.

Maryland is seeing drier and hotter weather, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. October 2006 through September 2007 was the 12th-warmest and 29th-driest year since 1895, when NOAA began taking records.

Richard Heim, a meteorologist with NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, said that these spikes match fewer cold days year-round in the southeastern and western United States. Altogether, these factors suggest a larger trend, he said.

"That kind of indicator is telling us that were having a shift in climate. This is what we'd expect to see from greenhouse warming," Heim said.

Ruth offered some suggestions for reducing greenhouse gases, including more investment in renewable energy and decentralizing power grids. But, he said, the government needs to undertake more regional studies to direct officials and businesses on changes they will need to make.

"It becomes fairly quickly apparent that these costs are great, and that immediate action is something that needs to be considered," Ruth said.

Ruth will head a conference next week on the College Park campus with federal government officials and business and nonprofit leaders that will address ways to cope with climate change.

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Copyright 2007 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism