UMaine Report Updates Climate Challenges, Encourages Proactive Preparation
Editor’s note: The story was updated April 8, 2015.
Continuing or accelerating warming of the atmosphere and ocean. Intense precipitation events. Rising sea levels.
These are signs of climate change, and all of them are affecting Maine people, according to Maine’s Climate Future: 2015 Update, a new report from the University of Maine.
Recent consequences include: a record number of reported Lyme disease cases; a white pine needle disease epidemic; erosion of beaches, farmland and roads; and a Gulf of Maine heat wave in 2012 that resulted in a glut of lobsters on the market and an ensuing price crash.
“This report goes beyond global and national climate change assessments to what is happening in Maine,” says one of the report’s authors, Ivan Fernandez, a professor in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, Climate Change Institute and School of Food and Agriculture.
“We want to encourage cost-effective adaptation by citizens, businesses and communities in Maine using the best available information and tools. Being informed about how climate change affects the state is vital to developing cohesive plans to lessen its negative effects and capitalize on resulting opportunities.”
The new report builds on the report Maine’s Climate Future 2009. In 2008, at the request of then-Gov. John Baldacci, the University of Maine Climate Change Institute began assessing climate-related changes in the state. More than 70 scientists contributed to that report.
The 2015 update, say its authors, highlights researchers’ grasp of past, present and future trends of changing climate in Maine given their understanding and the accumulating evidence in 2015.
It also provides examples of how Mainers, including community planners and business people, are adapting to existing realities and preparing for future expected changes.
Noted in the 24-page report:
- Rockland’s mapped flood zone has been moved inland 100 feet.
- The city of Portland assigned $2.7 million to elevate Bayside neighborhood streets two feet so building foundation heights would meet new insurance regulations that anticipate flooding and sea-level rise.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its Plant Hardiness Zone Maps because boundaries have shifted north by half a zone.
- Maine ski resort operators have signed the Climate Declaration to advocate for national action on climate change.
It’s important for stakeholders to continue proactive and preemptive preparation, say the report’s authors.
“Mitigation is also important, even as we engage in adaptation, since little has been done to reduce the rise in greenhouse gas emissions,” Fernandez says.
While the Northeast is experiencing a bitterly cold and snowy winter of 2015, the average temperature on the planet in 2014 was the warmest in 135 years of record keeping. Last year was the 38th consecutive year that Earth’s yearly temperature was above average, and nine of the 10 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since 2000.
While it may not feel like it now, the average annual temperature in Maine has warmed about 3 degrees since 1895.
Sean Birkel, Maine State Climatologist and a research assistant professor with the Climate Change Institute, analyzed Maine’s future climate using models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — which account for both natural and human impacts.
His findings indicate that by 2050, the annual temperature in Maine will rise another 1–3 degrees F.
Also, Maine’s warm season — when the average daily temperature is above freezing — has increased by two weeks since 1914 and is expected to lengthen another two more weeks by 2050.
The longer warm season, which now extends from mid-March to late November, has translated into longer growing seasons for farmers. In the future, it could mean the prime time to tap maple trees for sap will be in early February.
Warming temperatures also have provided a more suitable environment for ticks and their hosts, resulting in the northward spread of Lyme disease in Maine.
Reported cases of the bacterial infection hit an all-time high in the state in 2013, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control
The global climate system changes that have resulted in the temperature rise also have impacted the seasonal distribution and amount of precipitation in Maine.
Since 1895, total annual precipitation in the state has increased by approximately six inches, or 13 percent; most increases occur in the summer and fall. Precipitation is expected to increase another 5–10 percent across Maine by 2050.
Precipitation also has become more frequent and intense. In the last century, nine of 11 meteorological stations in Maine have registered the highest frequency of extreme events — defined for this analysis as two or more inches of rain or snow falling in a 24-hour period — in the last decade.
In August 2014, a record-breaking 6.44 inches of rain flooded Portland streets. The downpour caused $200,000 in damage to infrastructure in Brunswick, including culverts and roads. In May 2012, six inches of rain fell in Auburn in 24 hours. Due to erosion and nutrients flushing into Lake Auburn, an excessive algae bloom developed, oxygen levels plummeted and many trout died.
The report’s authors say the warming ocean surface water, which puts more water vapor into the atmosphere, is one factor that fuels extreme precipitation events, including this winter’s record snowstorms.
The report also points to adaptation efforts by agencies and communities in Maine that highlight the importance of communication and coordination regarding the climate change challenge.
In 2013, Gov. Paul LePage established the Environmental and Energy Resources Working Group to develop a coordinated strategy to address climate change issues.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s report from that working group recommended greater coordination among state and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, Native American tribes, municipalities, researchers and UMaine to improve the state’s “ability to respond and adapt to changing physical conditions in the environment due to climatic influence.”
In spring 2014, the UMaine School of Policy and International Affairs, the Maine National Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard co-hosted a conference that addressed political, military, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities related to diminished sea ice in the Arctic.
And last fall, at a University of Maine Climate Change Institute conference, researchers unveiled online tools, including the Climate Reanalyzer, to help community planners develop local solutions for specific consequences they are likely to experience.
“The University of Maine is uniquely capable of exploring the challenges associated with climate change in our state through research, education and community engagement and the complex themes encompassed in climate change-related studies are closely aligned with the recently developed signature and emerging issues related to climate change and marine science,” says Paul Anderson, director of the Maine Sea Grant program, which helped produce the report.
“Maine, the nation and the world stand at a crossroad imposed by our changing climate, but we have an amazing opportunity to reduce uncertainty about the future of climate and its impact and in so doing understand, address and deal with the challenge through rational and productive action,” says Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute and another author of report.
Other authors of the report are: Catherine Schmitt, communications director, Maine Sea Grant College Program at the University of Maine; Esperanza Stancioff, educator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Sea Grant; Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer, Gulf of Maine Research Institute; Joseph Kelley, professor, UMaine School of Earth and Climate Sciences, Climate Change Institute; Jeffrey Runge, research scientist, UMaine School of Marine Sciences, Gulf of Maine Research Institute; and George Jacobson, UMaine Professor Emeritus, Climate Change Institute, UMaine School of Biology and Ecology.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777