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“Tell politicians that


you care about this. We’ve got to get countering climate change high on the priority list.”


~ Richard Somerville


as National Geographic’s Change the Course national freshwater conservation and restoration campaign. Competition for


water is increasing in several parts of the country, she says, and will only get worse as dry conditions increase demands on groundwater. Endan- gered sources detailed in her extensive re- lated writings include the Ogallala Aquifer, vital to agricultural operations across much of the Great Plains, and Califor- nia’s Central Valley, the nation’s fruit and vegetable bowl. In the Colorado River Basin, which provides drinking water to some 30 million people, water demands already exceed the available supply— and that gap is expected to widen with changes in the region’s climate. In other regions, the problem is


Sandra Postel


too much water from storms, hurri- canes and flooding, a trend that Postel and other experts say will also worsen as the world continues to warm and


fuel weather extremes. Beyond the loss of lives and property damage, this “new normal” holds stark implications for communities. “We’ve built our bridges, dams and


other infrastructure based on 100-year records of what’s happened in the past,” advises Postel. “In a lot of ways, how we experience climate change is going to be through changes in the water cy- cle. If the past isn’t a good guide to the future anymore, we’ll have to change our water management.” (See nrdc.org/ water/readiness by city and state.)


On the Ocean Front The world’s oceans are being trans- formed by climate change in ways we are only beginning to understand. Since the Industrial Revolution, oceans have absorbed a significant portion of the carbon dioxide generated, experienc- ing a 30 percent rise in acidity; that’s expected to reach 100 to 150 percent above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, according to the nonprofit National Academy of Science (NAS), in Washington, D.C. “Thank good-


ness for the oceans, but they are paying a tremendous price,” says Oceanographer Dawn Wright, Ph.D. She’s chief scientist of Esri, in Redlands, California, that analyzes geographic


system relationships, patterns and trends. The higher acidity levels are “taking a toll on shellfish such as oysters, clams and sea urchins, as well as coral reefs, where much aquatic life is spawned,” Wright explains. Climate change may have other devastating impacts on the ocean food chain—and eventually us—that scientists are only beginning to discern. As just one of myriad impacts: Ocean acidification threatens the coun- try’s $3.7 billion annual wild fish and shellfish industry and the $9.6 billion slice of the global tourism business that caters to scuba divers and snorkelers, according to a recent NAS study.


The Way Forward We can be grateful for some hopeful developments in the call to act. Wright, who has advised President


Obama’s National Ocean Council, is overseeing her company’s ocean initia- tive, which includes building an ocean basemap of unparalleled detail. While less than 10 percent of the world’s oceans’ underwater realms are mapped today, Esri is compiling authoritative bathymetric data to build a comprehen


“Water, energy and food production: These


things are tightly linked, and all are affected by climate change.”


Dawn Wright ~ Sandra Postel


natural awakenings


October 2013


33


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