As Heat Builds, Extreme Impacts Grow

July 18, 2019

Jeff Berardelli for Yale Climate Connections:

Consider a graph of temperatures plotted on a bell curve.

Most temperatures fall near the middle of the curve, and those temperatures would be considered typical. Any temperature that falls on the edges of the curve is considered extreme.

This animation shows that as the middle of the curve shifts just slightly to the warm side, a much larger chunk of the curve moves into extreme territory. In other words, extremely hot days occur more often.

Extreme heat occurred very rarely 50 years ago in the United States.

But as a result of climate change, the bell curve has already shifted by one standard deviation interval – a measure that tells you how spread out the values are – according to a 2016 paper by climate scientist James Hansen. As a result, extreme summer heat now occurs about 7% of the time.

The U.S. still sets some record lows, but it’s been setting far more record highs. In fact, recent record highs have been outpacing record lows at a ratio of two to one. This difference could grow to 20 to 1 by mid-century and 50 to 1 by the end of the century.

Hansen’s paper reports that the warming effect has been even larger for the Mediterranean and Middle East. In that area, the bell curve shift in summer is even more dramatic – nearly 2.5 standard deviations. Consequently, every summer is now warmer than average, and the summer climate now lasts considerably longer.

Climate Central:

America’s inland streams, the Great Lakes, and coastal waters are heating up—spelling trouble for fish and the nation’s$46.1 billion dollar recreational fishing industry

Data analyzed by Climate Central show that water temperatures in the Great Lakes and coastal surface waters are warming throughout the United States, as well as in many freshwater streams. Those warming waters are impacting the health of fish, their ecosystems, and the economies that depend on them.  

Many fish are sensitive to temperature and can survive only in specific temperature ranges. As waters in oceans, streams, and the Great Lakes warm, fish seek out cooler waters in higher latitudes or elevation, or when possible, in greater depths. But there are limitations to how far north, or high in elevation, fish can travel before running out of water, let alone water in a suitable temperature zone. Also, water composition changes with rising temperatures. For example, oxygen levels drop and algae blooms grow.  

Warmer waters impact fish in multiple ways. Toxins produced by algae blooms—which are occurring more frequentlyas temperatures rise—can stress or kill fish by clogging their gills or reducing oxygen levels in the water. Warmer waters also make fish more vulnerable to parasites and diseases. For example, new research shows that a virus which usually infects largemouth bass has also played a role in the decline of smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River by weakening their immune systems and allowing other infections to spread. And researchers have found evidence that inland fish are also moving north, changing the timing of migrations and spawning, and altering predator-prey ranges and interactions.

9 Responses to “As Heat Builds, Extreme Impacts Grow”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    That’s all a lie because reasons!

  2. redskylite Says:

    This article in “Mother Jones” says it all . . .

    Climate scientists often resemble Sarah Connor of the Terminator franchise, who knows of a looming catastrophe but must struggle to function in a world that does not comprehend what is coming and, worse, largely ignores the warnings of those who do.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      I always thought this story said it all:

      We are all Cassandras, and the story’s been told in thousands of ways since before 700 BC. Sarah Connor’s is just a recent version. The question, not answered in any version I know of, is what to do to break out of the inability to get people to believe, before it’s too late.

  3. redskylite Says:

    As heat builds wildfires increase

    “Each degree of warming causes way more fire than the previous degree of warming did. And that’s a really big deal.”

  4. dumboldguy Says:

    It has been a long time since I took statistics, and never did use the fancier formulas much, but 2-1/2 standard deviations seems like a HUGE departure from the norm.

    I also get the feeling in the recesses of my brain that not only should the curve be shifting rightward, but flattening as well—-any statisticians out there?

  5. Paul Whyte Says:

    Once you have been involved in a rebellion even for one day. Your life and ability to think of another world is expanded.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yep, that’s why I have Facts Matter, Got Science?, Resist, Persist, and Ditch Mitch stickers on the back of the van. Every time I walk by it, my “rebellion” is reinforced.

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