ORONO – Climate change means Mainers can expect to see significant environmental changes in the next two decades and they should start to prepare by planning now, University of Maine researchers say.
Using weather data dating back more than a century — to 1895 — UMaine researchers are able to track climate change and predict what the state may see in the future.
The purpose of the report is to provide both an overview of Maine’s historical climate but to provide plausible climate scenarios for the next 20 years,” said Sean Birkel, a UMaine research assistant professor and Maine State Climatologist.
Birkel and Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute, created the Coastal Maine Climate Futures report to help prepare Mainers for what they call “significant environmental changes” on the horizon.
Since January 1895, the average coastal temperature in Maine and the sea surface temperature have both increased by 3 degrees, and rainfall has increased by around six inches.
That’s been great for some industries, like agriculture and lobster in the Gulf of Maine, which have increased four-fold since the 1980s, but not so great for others, including the cod fisheries because cod cannot tolerate the warmer temperatures.
“All of this is the human impacts,” Birkel said.
The melting of the polar ice cap, which is due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, and increases in the frequency of El Nino warm and dry weather conditions, are key factors in the warming trend for Maine.
“In these images, we see how the end of summer Arctic sea ice extent has changed — 1980 on the left and 2016 on the right,” Birkel said pointing to images of ice on the northern pole.
“So as Arctic sea ice declines… It’s affecting the weather because there is more open ocean water, there is more absorption of heat,” he said. “There is also more heat exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere.”
People in Maine should be thinking about climate change when planning infrastructure and investments in industry.
“Climate change and the prospect for difficult times in the future in adapting to rising sea levels and more extreme storms, it can be overwhelming and I think a lot of people feel that,” Birkel said. “I think there are many positive steps we can take at the local level, at the very least making sure we are prepared.”