BOSTON (CBS) – Our climate is changing right before our eyes.
Seasons are shifting, plant and animal species are migrating, some are becoming endangered and others are thriving in a new world. There’s no denying it and now more than ever, adapting is key.
“We are seeing our winters warm at a rate faster than any other season across New England. From 1970 to 2010, we saw 3 to 4°F temperature increase in New England winters,” said Dr. Cameron Wake. “So we are seeing the most rapid warming in New England in our winters and that really has important ramifications. We’re seeing a reduction in the length of our snow cover and we are seeing a reduction in the amount of ice that forms.”
Wake, a climatologist at the University of New Hampshire, has been studying weather data from the past century and a half.
“The odds of that cold, snowy winter are going to go down,” he said. “We’re still going to have that lucky winter where we have tons of snow but I think those are going to decrease in the future”
In other words, our seasons are beginning to shift.
“We’re seeing this shift in a much shorter winter and much longer spring,” he adds. “So this longer spring is really challenging both for human endeavors and for the ecosystem because the timing of things is beginning to change.”
Mark Parlee, owner of Parlee farms in Tyngsboro for 30 years, is seeing the impact of that change.
“Yes we’re getting early springs and I do see that we’re planting about a week earlier than we were,” said Parlee. “The season is extending a little bit in the fall and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.”
Parlee says strawberries and raspberries have been impacted a lot. In fact, they’ve eliminated raspberries altogether from their farm.
“I see us kind of doing things to adapt to climate change,” he said. “I hope we can do things to mitigate or reduce the impact that it does have on the farm.”
In fact, the farm just recently installed two wind fans that will be used mainly for the first few weeks of April to help with the extreme cold temperatures.
“It’s the warm weather interspersed with very cold spikes,” Parlee added. “And that is a terrible combination.”
Nigella Hillgarth, president and CEO of the New England Aquarium, echoes those sentiments and says our entire ecosystem is feeling the effects.
“So you have to bear in mind that none of this is happening smoothly some years and it may get colder or some make it warmer – so the shifts are not necessarily linear. Some species are going to adapt much easier than others,” Hillgarth said.
She says a lot of species are disappearing from New England waters.
Lobsters are moving north, mussels and clams are shifting and the iconic cod along with pollock and flounder are moving to colder deeper waters.
“The warming up of the planet especially the oceans is having a really big impact globally and particularly here in the Northeast because the gulf of Maine is warming up about three times as much as other parts of the ocean,” Hillgarth explained.
Green crabs do well in warm water, but they are eating some things we want to protect. Black sea bass are arriving to New England waters more.
Our forests are shifting as well, although not as quickly.
“You’re going to get the sugar maples moving north, you’re going to have Spruce Forests moving north. Things like mixed forests and oak trees are moving north so you’ll see this total shift in land and sea,” said Hillgarth.
Her biggest concern? That we’re not ready for these changes.
“We need to be prepared and we need to be educated about what’s happening and think what we can do to mitigate climate change,” Hillgarth said. “And by that I mean other effects on the oceans, making sure we manage our resources wisely. I think that’s going to be a critical part going forward.”
More of Dr. Wake’s climate data and model outputs translated for non-scientists can be found here.
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