This 30 April 2010 file photo shows a stream seen running through snow covered banks near the site of the Department of Water Resources snow survey at Echo Summit, California. A new report released on 7 August 2013 found climate change is affecting California. Over the past century, snowpack runoff has decreased due to warmer winters and earlier arrival of spring. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

By Alicia Chang
8 August 2013

LOS ANGELES (Washington Post) – Coastal waters off California are getting more acidic. Fall-run chinook salmon populations to the Sacramento River are on the decline. Conifer forests on the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada have moved to higher elevations over the past half century.

That’s just a snapshot of how climate change is affecting California’s natural resources, a report released Thursday found.

“There’s certainly reason for concern,” said Dan Cayan, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who contributed to the report.

The findings are an update to a 2009 report that documented how a warming California is impacting the environment, wildlife and people.

Among the known impacts: Butterflies in the Central Valley are emerging from hiding earlier in the spring. Glaciers in the Sierra Nevada have shrunk. Spring runoff from snowmelt has declined, affecting Central Valley farmers and hydroelectric plants that rely on snowmelt to produce power.

The latest 258-page report, which cost $282,000 to produce, was compiled from existing climate studies and released by an arm of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Officials hope it would spur the state and local governments to plan ahead and adapt to a hotter future.

Monitoring should continue “to reduce the impacts of climate change and to prepare for those effects that we cannot avoid,” George Alexeeff, head of the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said in an email.

Annual average temperatures across the state have risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895, with the greatest warming seen in portions of the Central Valley and Southern California.

Levels of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases in the state increased between 1990 and 2011. In recent years, there has been a slight drop — the result of industries and vehicles becoming more energy efficient, the report said.

Some of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the ocean, altering its chemistry. Scientists have documented changes to waters at Monterey Bay, which have turned more acidic in recent years, raising concerns about impact to marine life.

Ocean warming, among other factors, may be behind the dramatic drop of chinook salmon in Central California since 2004. And certain plant and animals species — such as conifers in the Sierra Nevada and small mammals in Yosemite National Park — have responded to a changing climate by moving to higher ground.

Expect more heat waves, wildfires and higher sea levels as the state warms, the report said. [more]

Report: Climate change is impacting California’s water, forests, animals


Cover of the 'Indicators of Climate Change in California' report, published 8 August 2013. The report shows that climate change is having a significant and measurable impact on California's environment, according to 36 indicators of climate change and its effects. Graphic: CalEPA

CONTACT: Sam Delson (916) 324-0955, Alex Barnum (916) 324-9670      
8 August 2013

SACRAMENTO (CALEPA) – Climate change is having a significant and measurable impact on California’s environment, according to a new state report that tracks 36 indicators of climate change and its effects.  

The indicators highlighted in the report show that climate change is occurring throughout California, from the Pacific Coast to the Central Valley to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Impacts of a warmer climate include decreasing spring snowmelt runoff, rising sea levels along the California coast, shrinking glaciers, increasing wildfires, warming lakes and ocean waters, and the gradual migration of many plants and animals to higher elevations. 

“Whether you live in California, Texas, or Timbuktu, climate change is real, and it’s long past time for action,” said Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. The new report complements a consensus statement released in May by Governor Brown and signed by thousands of researchers and scientists identifying climate change as one of five key threats to the environment that require immediate action.   

“The combined impact described by these indicators is dramatic,” said California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) Secretary Matthew Rodriquez. “This report underscores the need for California to continue to lead the fight against global warming and protect both our environment and our economy for future generations.” 

Cal/EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) compiled the 36 indicators of climate change, drawing upon monitoring data from throughout the state and a wide variety of research studies carried out by state and federal agencies, universities and research institutions.   

“Together, these indicators paint a disturbing picture of how climate change is affecting our state and its growing threats to our future,” said OEHHA Director Dr. George Alexeeff. “This report demonstrates the value of California’s extensive research and monitoring efforts in continuing to track as many of these changes as possible.” 

One of the report’s more hopeful findings is that California’s industries are becoming more energy efficient, with emissions of greenhouse gases declining per $1,000 of economic output, a sign that the state’s efforts to reduce emissions are having positive effects. Yet the state’s overall emissions of heat-trapping gases increased between 1990 and 2011, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane continue to rise.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Temperatures: The state’s high, low and average temperatures are all rising, and extreme heat events also have increased in duration and frequency. The rate of warming has accelerated since the mid-1970s, and night time (minimum) temperatures have increased almost twice as fast as maximum (daytime) temperatures.  
  • Wildfires: The number of acres burned by wildfires has been increasing since 1950.  The size, severity, duration, and frequency of wildfires are greatly influenced by climate. The three largest fire years on record in California occurred in the last decade, and annual acreage burned since 2000 is almost twice that for the 1950-2000 period.   
  • Water: Spring snowmelt runoff has decreased, indicating warmer winter temperatures and more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow. Earlier and decreased runoff can reduce water supplies, even when overall rainfall remains the same. This trend could mean less water available for agriculture, the environment and a growing population.  
  • Coast and Ocean: A number of indicators reflect physical and biological changes in the ocean, impacting a range of marine species, including sea lions, seabirds, and salmon. And data for Monterey Bay shows increased carbon dioxide levels in coastal waters, which can harm shell-forming organisms and have impacts throughout the marine food chain. 
  • Species Migration: Certain plants and animals have responded to habitat changes influenced by warming. For example, conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada have been moving upslope and certain small mammals in Yosemite National Park have moved to higher elevations compared to the early 1900s.    

California is one of the first states in the nation to compile its own set of indicators characterizing the multiple facets of climate change. While most reports on climate change present future scenarios or projections, this report provides a retrospective account of impacts from climate change that have already occurred.   

The report updates and expands on the climate change indicators report released in 2009. Most of the indicators in the current report were initially covered in the 2009 report. A related report, produced in 2010, presented indicators of the disproportionate impacts of climate change on disadvantaged California communities. Both reports serve to inform efforts by State agencies to understand and lessen the impacts of climate change in California.    

The climate indicators reports are part of OEHHA’s Environmental Protection Indicators for California (EPIC) Program, which was created in 2000 and established a process for selecting indicators to track the health of the state’s environment. The new climate change report and previous reports are available at http://oehha.ca.gov/multimedia/epic/

The consensus statement released in May by Gov. Brown and signed by thousands of researchers and scientists is available at http://mahb.stanford.edu/consensus-statement-from-global-scientists/.

Indicator of Climate Change in California

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