The Science of Global Climate Change
Nearly everyone who enjoys the out-of-doors has noticed signs of global warming — milder winters, drier summers, fewer snowfalls, fiercer storms — but debate has raged over the cause: Is global warming a natural cycle that in time will reverse itself, or is human activity responsible for changing the climate?
Now scientific evidence demonstrates with a high degree of certainty that a buildup of greenhouse gases is warming the earth and changing the climate. Ice core samples prove that carbon dioxide concentrations are the highest in 400,000 years, and they are increasing at an unprecedented rate — 30 times faster than 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. And the evidence imputes human consumption of fossil fuels as the primary culprit of this dramatic increase.
Warming the Earth
By trapping heat from the sun near the planet’s surface, greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent, warm the earth. Before the advent of the industrial age, plants on land and in the oceans absorbed roughly the same amount of CO2 as was released from occurrences such as respiration, decomposition of plants and animals, volcanic eruptions and the burning of fossil fuels. Now, the escalating use of coal, gas and oil releases about 45 percent more CO2 than can be absorbed. The excess accumulates in the atmosphere where it remains for at least a century, capturing solar heat and warming the globe.
The Climate Connection
As atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases increase, the temperature of air, land and water rises. Because temperature influences components of weather such as water evaporation, rainfall and wind, global warming affects climate.
Scientists are able to paint a broad-strokes forecast of changes likely to occur, a forecast that improves in detail and precision as data collection increases, as interactions among climatic factors are more thoroughly understood and as climate modeling improves. Presently the scientific community consistently predicts the following climate changes will take place during the next century:
- Overall temperatures will warm, with the most dramatic changes occurring in high latitudes. North America could experience increases of as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2099.
- Warmer temperatures will decrease snowfall, thus diminishing reflective ground cover and reducing seasonal storage of water as snowpack, and increase rainfall, thereby augmenting runoff and stream flows and boosting the threat of floods.
- Warmer temperatures will speed the melting of glaciers and sea ice, which will freshen ocean waters and accelerate the worldwide rise of sea levels.
- Warmer oceans will alter weather patterns. For example, the El Niño phenomenon seems to originate in the central Pacific Ocean, where water temperatures have risen in concert with global warming. El Niño influences rainfall and temperatures over land and can cause droughts, floods, wet winters and other extreme weather events. Global warming may result in El Niño–like conditions and trends becoming semipermanent.
- Precipitation patterns will shift. Hurricanes and thunderstorms will occur with greater frequency and intensity. In some regions precipitation could increase by as much as 24 percent. In other places long seasons of unusually hot, dry conditions could shrink surface water and introduce extended droughts.
The Future of Hunting and Fishing
How will your favorite prey be affected? Seasons End has created fact sheets that offer information about these species:
Beyond Seasons’ End
Chapter 1: The Human Connection
by the Izaak Walton League of America and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Our country is blessed with an abundance of lands of unsurpassed beauty and inestimable value. From mountains and forests to prairies and wetlands, these treasures enrich us as a nation and inspire us as a people. They are the foundation of our economic well-being, an essential component of our quality of life and a legacy we hold in trust for future generations. Today, climate change poses an unparalleled threat to these lands and the people, fish and wildlife they support. Read the complete chapter.
Chapter 2: Waterfowl
by Ducks Unlimited
The effects of climate change now underway have extensive potential to affect waterfowl throughout North America, either directly or indirectly through changing habitat conditions. When considered in combination with other pressures (e.g., pollution, urbanization) the potential effect is even greater. Healthy duck populations and functioning wetlands can serve as barometers of healthy landscapes, highlighting the relationship between sustainable waterfowl populations and landscapes that support people, their quality of life, and their livelihood. Read the complete chapter.
Chapter 3: Coldwater Fish
by Trout Unlimited
The rapid pace of climate change has brought about unprecedented environmental change with significant ramifications for the nation’s freshwater systems and the biodiversity they support. Shifts in the timing of hydrologic events already have begun as rainfall patterns vary and warmer temperatures come earlier in the year. In snowmelt dominant systems this means earlier peak flows and lower than normal summer flows exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources when demand is greatest. Read the complete chapter.
Continue reading the complete original chapters:
Chapter 4: Warmwater Fish by BASS/ESPN Outdoors
Chapter 5: Big Game by Boone and Crockett Club
Chapter 6: Upland Birds by Pheasants Forever, Inc. and Quail Forever
Chapter 7: Saltwater Fish by American Sportfishing Association
Chapter 8: A Path Forward by Bipartisan Policy Center
Visit the Seasonsend Blog for more about global warming's effect on fish and wildlife.
Articles and publications
Global Warming and Fish and Wildlife
Global warming and the environment
reports from key organizations
|Oceans Reveal Further Impacts of Climate Change, Says UAB expert.
|Climate Change and Rising Tides (Ducks Unlimited)
|American Denial of Global Warming (University of California, San Diego)
|The Truth About Global Warming (Sir David Attenborough)
|Climate Change (The American Association for the Advancement of Science)
|Tony Dean interviews Jack Williams, Trout Unlimited, on the future of trout and salmon