• Jacob Bourne

EPA Relaunches Climate Change Website Under New Administration

Following an April 2017 decision under the Trump administration to archive the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change website developed under the prior administration, the agency reinstated the website this May.



Glacier National Park. Credit: Pixabay/David Mark

On June 17, the EPA held a webinar detailing updates to 54 indicators aimed to serve as a comprehensive resource for what’s happening with the climate and associated impacts, such as ocean acidification and temperatures, floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and more.

“We have multiple lines of evidence that climate change is occurring now,” said EPA environmental scientist Michael Kolian during the webinar. “And it's happening here in the U.S. It's affecting public health and the environment."

While acknowledging that there are many good online resources for climate science, Kolian said that the EPA’s site stands out as being up-to-date, comprehensive and designed to be easily shareable.

“What we see are changes that are becoming more evident, the trends are stronger, more significant they're changing faster, becoming more extreme,” Kolian said.

The changes are record-setting. The EPA data shows that ocean heat content reached its highest level in recorded history in 2020, which leads to more sea-level rise, further melting of the cryosphere and heat waves, among other resulting conditions. The global average temperature was among the three warmest years on record, though there’s debate about which year earned the second warmest title, Kolian said. However, what’s certain is that the last decade is the warmest in measured history. The World Meteorological Association also forecasts that the next four years have a 90% chance of being the warmest on record.


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Changes in the diminishing levels of Arctic sea ice are particularly noteworthy. The amount of Arctic sea ice was the second-lowest on record since the decline was first noted in 1979. One of the EPAs newest indicators is a feature illustrating the decline of iconic glaciers in Glacier National Park.

These trends are unfolding in the U.S. in real-time. The West is undergoing a record-setting heatwave and drought, while the East Coast recently experienced record-breaking temperatures and high humidity coupled with storms. Kolian also noted that seasonality is changing with longer wildfire and pollen seasons.

“Overall heat waves are occurring three times more often than they did in the 1960s, that's about six per year more compared to two per year,” EPA environmental scientist Lisa Bacanskas said. “And then since the ‘60s, the season length is also 47 days longer... Summer nights have warmed at nearly twice the rate of summer days in the U.S., and extreme heat is not just uncomfortable, it's the leading weather killer in the U.S.”

The EPA has also added an air conditioning indicator, examining changes in the number of days that warrant AC use in the U.S. The amount of electricity used by homes in June, July and August has nearly doubled since 1973.

Another indicator — relative sea-level — reflects both changes in sea level and land elevation changes. Since 1960, the relative sea level has been rising, but some areas are experiencing much more rise than others. Areas, especially around the mid-Atlantic coast and parts of the Gulf Coast, have registered more than eight inches of increase. With sea-level rise come increases in coastal flooding.

Of 33 sites examined along the East Coast, all have experienced increased flooding since the 1950s and ‘60s. Since 2011, Boston has exceeded the flood threshold the most, for an average of 13 days annually, with Bar Harbor and Sandy Hook, New Jersey not far behind.

The indicators also show that areas burned by wildfires in the U.S. West have coincided with some of the warmest years on record. The area burned more than doubled between the periods of 1984-1999 and 2000-2013.

This year, President Joe Biden’s taking office marked an about-face in talking points and U.S. policy on climate change. In May, Biden ordered agencies to prepare for climate-related shocks across the economy.

“Our modern financial system was built on the assumption that the climate was stable,” Brian Deese, head of President Biden’s National Economic Council, said during a May press call. “It’s clear that we no longer live in such a world.”



 

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