What climate change will do to three major American cities by 2100

Climate change is already here. It’s not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting US senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Instead, we are seeing its creeping effects now—with hurricanes like Maria and Harvey that caused hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in economic damage; with the Mississippi River and its tributaries overflowing their banks this spring, leaving huge swaths of the Midwestern plains under water. Climate change is, at this very moment, taking a real toll on wildlife, ecosystems, economies, and human beings, particularly in the global south, which experts expect will be hit first and hardest. We know from the increasingly apocalyptic warnings being issued by the United Nations that it will only get worse.

But these early omens of our unstable, hot, wet future can be difficult to wrap our heads around. So Teen Vogue partnered with the team at the nonprofit news service Nexus Media, who developed a timeline predicting how climate change could affect three major US cities over the course of the 21st century. Climate change will look different in different places across the world, but we chose three places with distinct geographic concerns and climate vulnerabilities—to ground all the ominous statistics and headlines in a real sense of place. These are cities you may have visited, or where you may have family, or where you may even live.

According to the research Nexus compiled, St. Louis will see flooding, extreme heat, severe rainfall, and drought in the surrounding farmland. In Houston, on the Gulf of Mexico, hurricanes will grow more destructive and temperatures will soar. San Francisco will witness rising sea levels, fierce wildfires, and extreme drought.

This timeline is based on interviews with a dozen climate experts and a review of several dozen scientific studies. The projections assume an average sea level rise of six feet by 2100—a little more in some places, and less in others—and the business-as-usual emissions scenario, which assumes that we will continue to pollute and use fossil fuels at our current rate.

Rather than a scientific assessment, it is a rigorously researched prediction of what our future could bring unless we come together as a country and as a global community—fast—to address climate change as the crisis it is.

As Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, put it: “The future is not set in stone. Some amount of change is inevitable. It’s as if we’ve been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for decades, but we don’t have lung cancer yet.”

“The amount of change that we’re going to see—whether it’s serious, whether it’s dangerous, whether it’s devastating, whether it’s civilization-threatening—the amount of change we’re going to see is up to us,” she continued. “It depends on our choices today and in the next few years.”

The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas
REUTERS/RICHARD CARSON
The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas.

2020

Houston

Houston’s starting to get hot. It’s now about one degree fahrenheit warmer in Houston than it was in the second half of the 20th century. Houstonians can expect especially balmy falls this decade, as autumns are warming faster than other seasons in Texas.

Houston knows how much it stands to lose from climate change. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated the city, which was supercharged by warm waters in the Gulf. But Houston is also helping to drive the rise in temperature. Several major oil companies and a vast network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants call the city home.

St. Louis

This decade, St. Louis is expected to be more than two degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was, on average, during the latter half of the 20th century. While locals have endured more sweltering summer days, they have felt the change the most during the cold months. Missouri winters are warming faster than summers, springs, and falls.

Warmer air holds more water, which can lead to more severe rainfall. In recent years, rainstorms have pummeled the Midwest and led to widespread flooding across the region. In 2019 in St. Louis, rivers reached near-historic levels, and floodwaters inundated the area around the city’s iconic Gateway Arch.

This storm wasn’t a blip on the radar, but rather a sign of what’s to come. As the planet heats up, St. Louis can expect more extreme rainstorms—and more orders to evacuate low-lying neighborhoods.

San Francisco

For San Franciscans, the beginning of the decade will feel only a little different from past years. In 2020, it’s expected to be less than one degree fahrenheit warmer in San Francisco than it was, on average, between 1950 and 2000. The change is small, but locals can sometimes feel it in the spring, which is warming faster than the other seasons, or on especially hot days.

But there are new worries for the city. Rising temperatures have fueled ongoing drought in recent years, which has, in turn, led to more wildfires. Fires now burn more regularly across the Sierra Nevada as well as coastal mountain ranges. The flames may ruin plans for weekend getaways to Yosemite or deliver noxious smoke to the Bay Area. And locals may start to reach for air masks as dangerously smoky days become more common.

“We get a lot of the smoke that comes from the wildfires that happen in inland California, and that makes it really hard to breathe the air,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who is based in San Francisco. “Last year when there was a massive wildfire hundreds of miles away, San Francisco for a day [ranked among] the worst air quality in the entire world.”

2030

Houston

By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed almost two degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Seas are expected to have risen a little more than a foot, enough to occasionally flood some low-lying areas outside the city. Warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico will raise the speed limit for winds during hurricanes and ramp up rainfall during storms.

“Hurricanes are not getting more frequent, but they are getting stronger and bigger and slower,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “They’re intensifying faster and they have a lot more rain associated with them today than they would have had a hundred years ago.”

St. Louis

By 2030, temperatures are expected to have warmed around three degrees fahrenheit in St. Louis. The kind of rainstorm that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every three years this decade.

“We’ve seen these record-breaking, devastating floods in the Midwest,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “It’s not like they’ve never had floods before, but the floods are just getting a lot worse and a lot more frequent.”

This could mean trouble for local infrastructure. Rivers swell after heavy rains, and the rush of water can weaken bridges by carrying away sediment from around their foundations. This could be a big problem in Missouri, which is home to hundreds of aging bridges, many of which have been deemed deficient. Climate change could mean even more heavy repair costs for taxpayers.

San Francisco

This decade, the rise in temperature is expected to pass two degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. That may not feel like a lot in the city. But warmer weather is taking a serious toll.

California’s drought will get progressively worse this decade, the product of warmer temperatures drying out soil and meager rainfall failing to replace the water lost. Rising temperatures will also yield less snowfall. The snow that does come down will melt in the spring and early summer, depriving the state of a critical source of water in the late summer, when, historically, melting snow has fed streams and rivers.

The snow drought will strain farmers in the Central Valley, while putting pressure on cities to use less water. The water restrictions the state put in place in 2018 will have grown much more severe in the past 12 years. Officials could urge Californians across the state to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns to cope with the worsening drought.

A visualization of how heat hurts the economy
NEXUS MEDIA

2040

Houston

This decade, sea level rise around Houston is projected to reach two feet, enough to inundate much of nearby Freeport and Jamaica Beach. That extra water will mean that hurricanes, when they strike, will deliver more powerful floods to coastal areas.

“A small and steady rise of the water level elevates a platform for flooding that we’ve had throughout history,” said Maya Buchanan, a sea level rise scientist at Climate Central. “That means larger storm surges.”

That’s bad news for people who live near the shore. Around half of deaths caused by hurricanes are the result of coastal flooding, and waters tend to inundate poor neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, which are more likely to lie in flood-prone areas.

St. Louis

In 2040, St. Louis is expected to be four degrees fahrenheit warmer than it was at the end of the last century. While that may sound like a small number, it means big problems for the city. A small uptick in the average temperature could lead to milder winters, stifling summers, and changing rainfall.

St. Louis will tend to see wetter springs and drier summers. That means the region will withstand heavier downpours, but it will also endure long stretches without a drop of rain. Despite the growing peril of major flooding, extended dry spells and rising temperatures will dry out the land. Drought will set in in Missouri, endangering farms.
And just remember—it will never be this cool again.

San Francisco

By 2040, sea levels are predicted to rise around one foot, enough to encroach the beaches on the west side of the city and Candlestick Point on the east, popular recreation areas. Parts of San Francisco Airport and Oakland Airport will flood regularly, making air travel in and out of the city more difficult.

Drought will have grown increasingly severe. Forests will dry out, and become vulnerable to bark beetles, which burrow into trees to lay their eggs. Healthy trees can ward off the bugs by covering them in resin—but already struggling trees have no way to protect themselves.

Large parts of forests will die, and the dead trees will become tinder for wildfire. In 2040, fires are expected to burn around twice as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today. Areas south of San Francisco will also grow more vulnerable to erupting in flames.

2050

Houston

By midcentury, temperatures are expected to have warmed more than three degrees fahrenheit in Houston. Waters in the Gulf of Mexico will have also warmed, fueling more dangerous storms.

In the decades to come, the Gulf will see more category-four and -five hurricanes, like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Katrina, according to Suzana Camargo, a climate scientist at Columbia University. Warm water is like ammunition for cyclones, arming them with more powerful winds and heavier rains. People might want to think twice before they purchase a home in Houston.

“I think people have to think very carefully how they are going to plan when they want to buy a house,” Camargo said, explaining that in the future, cyclones will deliver more flooding to seaside cities and towns.

St. Louis

St. Louis is expected to have heated up by more than five degrees fahrenheit on average by the middle of the century. Hot weather will dry out soil. Past 2050, the Central Plains, including much of Missouri, can look forward to decades-long drought.

This drought will be especially disastrous for Missouri farmers. Growers will have to take more water out of underground aquifers to feed their crops, drawing down a limited supply of groundwater, often at great cost. This, in turn, could drive up the price of food.

San Francisco

By 2050, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen more than three degrees fahrenheit. In the second half of this century, changing weather patterns will yield lasting dry spells, leaving much of California to endure long stretches without rain. Around the time someone graduating high school today turns 50, they can expect California to enter a decades-long drought—with disastrous consequences.

Farmers in California will have to draw more and more water from underground. Eventually, they may not be able to grow fruits and vegetables in parts of the state. This will drive up the cost of many foods, such as strawberries, almonds, and lemons.

Snow will also start to disappear from the Sierra Nevada. By 2050, projections say, there will be a third less snow than we see today. San Francisco depends on that snow for its water, and a dry Sierra Nevada could mean a looming water crisis for the city.

The drought will also leave California’s forests all the more vulnerable to wildfire—fires that could cover San Francisco in smoke, making it dangerous to go outside.

A visualization showing where people will remove to escape rising sea levels
NEXUS MEDIA

2060

Houston

By 2060, temperatures are expected to have warmed by more than four degrees fahrenheit. The city could see up to 25 days a year with temperatures over 100 degrees fahrenheit.

Local sea level rise, meanwhile, is expected reach three feet during this decade. This will raise the level of Buffalo Bayou, the waterway that stretches through the middle of Houston. The Scholes International Airport in nearby Galveston will sink into the sea, and at high tide, water will flood much of the San Jacinto Battleground, site of the 1836 clash where Sam Houston, the city’s namesake, overcame the Mexican Army.

St. Louis

St. Louis is expected hit a six-degrees-fahrenheit increase in its average temperature this decade. While this might be bad news for humans, it’s good for many insects, who love warm weather. Rising temperatures will bring disease-carrying mosquitoes to St. Louis’s doorstep. Missourians will have to be more vigilant about their health as the bugs could spread tropical viruses like Zika, dengue, and yellow fever around the warming Midwest.

Climate change will also bring more deer ticks to St. Louis. Because warmer air can hold more water, as temperatures rise, so does humidity—and deer ticks thrive in humid weather. While ticks are little seen in Missouri today, later this century they will fan out across the state, potentially spreading Lyme disease. Those afflicted will endure fever, headache, and fatigue. They may see their joints swell or feel their face droop.

San Francisco

By 2060, temperatures in San Francisco are expected to have risen by more than four degrees fahrenheit.

Wildfires will burn roughly three times as much of broad swaths of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, laying waste to large stretches of California’s pristine forests.

This decade, sea level rise is projected hit two feet. Water will begin to spill over the edges of the Mission Creek Channel, while threatening routine floods around San Francisco’s iconic Fisherman’s Wharf. Waters will have flooded much of nearby San Rafael, north of San Francisco. To the south, Foster City will be underwater, displacing thousands of residents—many of whom currently work in the tech industry.

2070

Houston

By 2070, Houston is projected to be more than five degrees fahrenheit hotter than at the end of the 20th century. This warming is part of a larger trend that is heating up the planet and melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica, raising the sea level near the city.

“As flooding events get more severe, that can impact property values, and that could impact where people decide to live,” Buchanan said, explaining that rising seas will drive down the value of homes in low-lying areas.

By this time, waters will have already subsumed much of the coastline from Freeport, south of Houston, all the way to New Orleans. Rising seas will make much of the Gulf coast unrecognizable as the ocean swallows up most of southern Louisiana. Later this decade, sea levels are expected to have risen by four feet.

St. Louis

In 2070, St. Louis is projected to be more than seven degrees fahrenheit hotter than it was at the end of the last century. Before the decade is through, the city is expected to see eight degrees fahrenheit of warming. Rising temperatures will have utterly transformed the weather in Missouri, making it virtually unrecognizable to current residents. The city will see around 20 fewer days of frost each year than it does today, as well as around 20 extra days with temperatures over 95 degrees fahrenheit. The heat will be felt most acutely in neighborhoods short on trees and parks.

Outside the city, severe heat will cripple the growth of corn and soybeans at nearby farms. So will drought, which experts say will be worse than at any time in living memory. The state will endure more consecutive days without rain. When it does rain, however, it will pour. Warmer temperatures will produce more extreme rainfall.

San Francisco

By 2070, San Francisco’s average temperature is expected to have warmed by more than five degrees fahrenheit. Drought will be more severe than at any time in living memory. Rising temperatures and diminished rainfall will take a toll on trees around the San Francisco Bay. More and more evergreen forests will die off and grasslands will spring up in their place, fundamentally changing the landscape around the city.

A visualization of how cities will feel in 2080
NEXUS MEDIA

2080

Houston

By 2080, temperatures are projected to have warmed around six degrees fahrenheit on average, a dizzying change in the weather that means Houston won’t feel like Houston anymore.

The city will grow warmer and wetter. Around 2080, Houston will feel something like Ciudad Mante in Mexico does today, with its warmer, drier winter.

As the climate changes, Houston’s native wildlife could start to head north. At the same time, plants and animals that currently make their home south of Houston may start to work their way toward the city.

St. Louis

St. Louis is expected to be nearly nine degrees fahrenheit warmer by 2080. The temperature will have changed so drastically that St. Louis no longer feels like the same city.

Around 2080, St. Louis will start to feel like Prosper, Texas, does today. This new St. Louis will be hotter and drier. Summer weather will go from balmy to sweltering, and the city will see much less rain during the warm months.

It’s not just that St. Louis will feel more like Prosper. It might start to look like it too. Animals that currently live around Prosper could head northward as the climate changes, searching for a new home that feels like their old one. At the same time, the shrubs and grasslands that stretch across north Texas could start to edge their way toward Missouri.

San Francisco

By 2080, the average temperature is expected to have risen by more than six degrees fahrenheit in San Francisco. The city will start to feel a lot like present-day Los Angeles. The weather will be warmer and drier, much like the current climate in Palos Verdes Estates, a coastal city in the Los Angeles area.

With less rainfall, many of the trees that make their home in San Francisco will die. At the same time, the smaller, scrubbier plants that make their home in LA could migrate toward the city. It’s not just that San Francisco will start to feel like LA, scientists say. It might start to look like it too.

2090

Houston

By now, temperatures are projected to have warmed close to seven degrees fahrenheit, while sea levels will have risen five feet, subsuming the coastline. Much of nearby Galveston is underwater.

It’s not just hot days that threaten Houston. Rising temperatures will allow the air to hold more water, increasing humidity—which could be a big problem for public health.

“As humidity rises, it becomes harder and harder for the sweat to evaporate off our skin—and it’s that evaporation of sweat that cools our bodies,” said Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “So it might only be a temperature reading of 90 degrees, but if you have 60% humidity, it’s going to feel hotter than 90 degrees.”

Dahl said that Houston will heat up so much that it will be hard to quantify how hot it will feel.

“By the end of the century, Houston would see about three weeks of what we call off-the-charts heat conditions, which are when the combination of temperature and humidity falls above the national weather services heat index scale,” she said. “What that means is that we can’t even calculate a heat index to reliably warn people about how dangerous it is.”

St. Louis

St. Louis is expected to have warmed by almost 10 degrees fahrenheit, a transformational change in the climate of the city. Rising temperatures could provoke a spike in violent crime—when people are hot, research shows, they tend to feel more aggressive.

By the end of the century, St. Louis will endure around 80 days per year where the heat index is above 100 degrees—compared to just 11 days at the end of the 20th century, according to Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“It’s really striking because historically those off-the-charts conditions have only occurred in the Sonoran desert region of the US, the California-Arizona border,” Dahl said.

In addition to extreme heat, the city will also endure severe drought, punctuated by the occasional supercharged rainstorm. The kind of downpour that currently strikes the Midwest around once every five years will hit around once every year or two. The most severe storms—the kind that currently show up once every 20 years—now arrive once every six or seven years.

Heavy rainfall will lead to flooding, and floodwaters will mix with raw sewage, helping to spread bacteria. Rains will also swamp homes and businesses, offering a place for mold to grow.

San Francisco

By now, San Francisco is projected to have heated up more than seven degrees fahrenheit on average. The extra heat will mean many people will be spending more time outdoors, potentially leading to a spike in violent crime.

The state will be mired in lasting drought. Wildfires could consume around four times as much of the Sierra Nevada as they do today, as well as forests closer to San Francisco, endangering locals.

The Bay Area is expected to have seen more than three feet of sea level rise. The San Francisco and Oakland Airports will be completely underwater. Across the bay, coastal flooding will inundate parts of Alameda. Low-lying areas on the south end of the San Francisco Bay will also be flooded, including some of San Jose.

A visualization of how Houston summers will feel by 2100
NEXUS MEDIA

2100

Houston

By the end of this century, temperatures are expected to have warmed close to eight degrees fahrenheit in Houston. In the summer, Houston will feel something like Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, does today. High temperatures will average over 100 degrees fahrenheit during the warmest months.

By making life harder for workers, severe hotter weather will shrink the economy of the greater Houston area by 6%. Extreme heat will also kill hundreds more people each year. Poorer neighborhoods tend to be warmer, in part because they tend to have fewer trees. People who live in those neighborhoods are also less likely to have air conditioners, which will put them at greater risk.

On top of the heat, Houston is expected to have seen close to six feet of sea level rise by 2100. Waters encroach on the east side of town near the water, where oil refineries and chemical plants could continue to service our catastrophic addiction to oil and gas. Routine flooding of these facilities may cause dangerous explosions and potentially release toxic chemicals into the air.

Much of the city, however, will stay safe from the encroaching sea. That means Houston could absorb hundreds of thousands of new residents by 2100—people who were driven from Miami and New Orleans by ever-worsening coastal floods.

St. Louis

By the end of this century, St. Louis is expected to have warmed by roughly 11 degrees fahrenheit. Winter will scarcely look like winter. Summers will have gone from hot to unbearable.

During the hottest months, it will be so scorching that it will be dangerous to go outside for much of the day. People will depend more on air conditioners to stay cool, leading to bigger electric bills. Elderly people, particularly those who can’t afford to run an air conditioner, will face the risk of heat stroke and death.

The intense heat will take an immense toll on the local economy. Farms in Missouri and southern Illinois could see yields cut in half, ruining livelihoods.

In St. Louis itself, experts project that heat will stifle productivity by making it too hot to work. This could help cut the city’s economic output by around 8%.

San Francisco

By 2100, San Francisco is expected to have heated up by more than eight degrees fahrenheit on average. It will be hot and dry. Snow will be hard to find in the Sierra Nevada. By 2100, the mountain range will see two thirds less snow than we see today, depriving San Francisco of a much-needed water source.

Seas will have risen four feet, projections say. Large parts of Alameda will be underwater. Hunters Point will have flooded, as well as much of Mission Bay. And flooding won’t be limited to San Francisco.

Sea level rise could flood the homes of 13 million Americans by the end of the century, leading to a massive exodus from many coastal areas. By one estimate, rising seas in places like Oakland, Alameda, and San Mateo could spur close to 300,000 residents to move to inland cities in Arizona, Texas, and New Jersey. It is the poorest neighborhoods that will be the most vulnerable to floods.

Editor’s note: This story is based on RCP 8.5, the so-called “business-as-usual” emissions scenario that assumes that Earth will continue to heavily rely on fossil fuels as the global economy grows. Per Nexus Media, “As we are currently doing virtually nothing to stop climate change, RCP 8.5 is a pretty good predictor of what’s going to happen over the next couple of decades. Part of that is because it will take a while for the climate to reach a new equilibrium, so even if we stopped polluting now, the planet would continue to warm for decades.” It looks at a sea level rise of six feet, on average, globally, based on the findings of this widely-cited 2014 study.

https://qz.com/1727717/what-climate-change-will-do-to-three-major-american-cities-by-2100/

A vast heat wave is endangering sea life in the Pacific Ocean. Is this the wave of the future?

The huge expanse of warm water is about six to seven times the size of Alaska.
Image: The new marine heat wave off the Pacific Coast is reminiscent of the early stages of the 2014-2016 "blob" that devastated marine life and is believed to have affected the weather.

A marine heat wave has formed in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, stretching roughly from the Gulf of Alaska south to California and west all the way to Hawaii.NOAA

Brave new world: Simple changes in intensity of weather events ‘could be lethal’

SEPTEMBER 30, 2019

by Talia Ogliore, Washington University in St. Louis

https://phys.org/news/2019-09-brave-world-simple-intensity-weather.html

More information: Thomas R. Haaland et al, Alternative responses to rare selection events are differentially vulnerable to changes in the frequency, scope, and intensity of environmental extremes, Ecology and Evolution (2019). DOI: 10.1002/ece3.5675

Hurricane Dorian is the latest example of a frightening trend. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, more severe and more widespread as a consequence of climate change. New research from Washington University in St. Louis provides important new insights into how different species may fare under this new normal.

Faced with unprecedented change, animals and plants are scrambling to catch up—with mixed results. A new model developed by Carlos Botero, assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences, and Thomas Haaland, formerly a graduate student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, helps to predict the types of changes that could drive a given species to extinction.

The study, published Sept. 27 in the journal Ecology and Evolution, challenges the idea that species previously exposed to more variable conditions are more likely to survive extreme events.

“It is difficult to predict how organisms will respond to changes in extreme events because these events tend to be, by definition, quite rare,” Botero said. “But we can have a pretty good idea of how any given species may respond to current changes in this aspect of climate—if we pay attention to its natural history, and have some idea of the climatic regime it has experienced in the past.”

Unexpected vulnerabilities

Researchers in the Botero laboratory use a variety of tools from ecology and evolutionary biology to explore how life—from bacteria to humans—copes with and adapts to repeated environmental change.

For the new study, Botero worked with his former student Haaland, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, to develop an evolutionary model of how populations respond to rare environmental extremes. (Think: 500-year floods.) These rare events can be tricky for evolution because it is difficult to adapt to hazards that are almost never encountered.

Through computer simulations, Haaland and Botero found that certain traits and experiences emerged as key indicators of vulnerability.

Specifically, they found:

  • Species that breed a single time in their lifetime tend to evolve conservative behaviors or morphologies, as if they were expecting to experience an environmental extreme every time.
  • In contrast, species in which a single individual can reproduce multiple times and in different contexts (say, a bird that nests several times in a season and in different trees), evolution favors behaving as if environmental extremes simply never happen.

The key insight of this new model is that species belonging to the former, “conservative” category can easily adapt to more frequent or widespread extremes but have trouble adjusting when those extremes become more intense. The opposite is true of species in the latter, “care-free” category.

Haaland and Botero also found that factors speeding up trait evolution are generally likely to hinder—rather than favor—adaptation to rare selection events. Part of the reason: High mutation rates tend to facilitate the process of adaptation to normal conditions during the long intervals in between environmental extremes.

“Our results challenge the idea that species that have been historically exposed to more variable environments are better suited to cope with climate change,” Botero said.

“We see that simple changes in the pattern and intensity of environmental extremes could be lethal even for populations that have experienced similar events in the past. This model simply helps us better understand when and where we may have a problem.”

Applicable to many environmental extremes

The simple framework that Haaland and Botero describe can be applied to any kind of environmental extreme including flooding, wildfires, heatwaves, droughts, cold spells, tornadoes and hurricanes—any and all of which might be considered part of the “new normal” under climate change.

Take extreme heat as an example. The model can be used to predict what will happen to animal or plant species when there are more heat waves, when heatwaves last longer, or when typical heat waves affect larger areas.

“Regions in which heat waves used to be rare and patchy are likely to host primarily species that do not exhibit conspicuous adaptations to extreme heat,” Botero said. “Our model indicates that the biggest threats of extinction in these particular locations will therefore be more frequent or widespread heat waves, and that the species of highest concern in these places will be endemics and species with small geographic distribution.

“Conversely, areas in which heat waves were historically common and widespread can be expected to host species that already exhibit adaptations for extreme heat,” Botero added. “In this case, our model suggests that the typical inhabitants of these places are likely to be more vulnerable to hotter temperatures than to longer or more widespread heat waves.”

Informing conservation actions

The new model gives wildlife managers and conservation organizations insight into the potential vulnerabilities of different species based on relatively simple assessments of their natural histories and historical environments.

More information: Thomas R. Haaland et al, Alternative responses to rare selection events are differentially vulnerable to changes in the frequency, scope, and intensity of environmental extremes, Ecology and Evolution (2019). DOI: 10.1002/ece3.5675

Greta Thunberg boils the basics down to just 5 words: “… and it will get worse”
Camilo Mora: “ ….  our choices for deadly heat are now between more of it or a lot more of it.”
Michael Mann: A new normal makes it sound like we have arrived in a new position, and that’s where we’re going to be. But if we continue to burn fossil fuels … we are going to … get worse and worse droughts, and heat waves, and super storms, and floods, and wildfires.”
Kate Marvel: “The whole idea that everything’s going to work out isn’t really helpful because it isn’t going to work out ” said Kate Marvel a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Climate change is going to worsen to a point where millions of lives, homes, and species are put at risk she said.
A prominent journalist, author of “The Uninhabitable Earth,” essentially repeats scientist Michael Mann
David Wallace-Wells
This Isn’t ‘the New Normal’ for Climate Change — That Will Be Worse
But global warming is not “yes” or “no,” it is a function that gets worse over time as long as we continue to produce greenhouse gas.

Fall began with 3 bizarre weather events — record snowfall, a heat wave and a Category 5 hurricane

(CNN)Fall officially began on September 23, but clearly Mother Nature had other plans.

The first few days of the season haven’t felt much like fall at all for many across the United States. From snow storms to heat waves — hello? Did we miss something? What happened to mild temperatures and colorful leaves?
Here’s a look at three wild weather events that marked the start of season.

Record-breaking snowfall in the Northwest

“This has never happened, ever,” said Ray Greely, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, Montana, about the September snowfall. The city got 9.7 inches of snow on September 28 — the highest one-day September snow amount in Great Falls history.
But that’s not where the craziness ends. Even higher amounts fell in other areas in Montana: Browning got 4 feet, the Dupuyer area got 37 inches and the Heart Butte area got 34 inches.
History was made in Missoula, where the city broke its September snowfall record of 1.5 inches set in 1934.
Montana saw record snowfall in late September.

Spokane, Washington, got in on the action. The 1.9 inches of snow on September 28 broke the monthly record for September, set in 1926, of 1.4 inches, according to the weather service.

And a heat wave in the East

“You would imagine its sometime in early September, maybe even in the latter portion of August, because temps [are] running 10 to 15 degrees above average,” said CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri at the end of September, predicting that the summer heat would last into October.
He hasn’t been wrong. Nashville reached 97 degrees on October 1, making it the warmest October day in the city’s history.
And that’s not all. Pensacola, Florida, reached a high of 96 degrees on the same day, shattering the record high temperature for the month of October. Indianapolis, Asheville, North Carolina and Charleston, West Virginia, were among the dozens of other cities that broke October heat records with temperatures in the 90s on the first day of the month.
These hot temperatures should be dissipating in the next few days across the country.

Plus, a Category 5 hurricane, not where you think it’d be

Yes, you read that right. Former Hurricane Lorenzo strengthened into a Category 5 storm on September 28, before weakening into a Category 3 the next day.
But its (brief) strength isn’t the only thing that makes Lorenzo remarkable. It’s the strongest hurricane recorded so far north and east in the Atlantic, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm has since headed to our neighbors across the pond, bringing wind and rain to Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom this week. Though the effects of the storm have largely died off, CNN meteorologist Haley Brink said it was a rare event for the UK to have a wind storm from a system that was a hurricane.

October heat wave breaks records, closes schools

The scorching heat is expected to continue Wednesday with temperatures from the South to the Mid-Atlantic forecast to be 10 to 20 degrees above average.

Record-smashing heat wave scorches South, heads for Northeast

Only a week after the official end of summer, an early season storm spread snow and freezing temps across parts of the west. Wochit

While folks in Montana dig out from a historic “winter” storm, people in the South wonder how much longer this endless summer can last.

Unfortunately for the region’s heat-weary residents – who endured one of the hottest Septembers on record – the warmth will continue even as the calendar turns to October on Tuesday.

More than a dozen daily record highs could fall each day through Thursday, the Weather Channel said. Some cities may have several days of record or near-record highs well into the 90s, including Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Tallahassee, Florida.

A few all-time record highs for the month of October could be in jeopardy, too.

The hot air that has baked the Southern states for weeks will push northeastward from Tuesday to Wednesday, bringing a resurgence of high temperatures in the 80s and 90s, AccuWeather said. These temperatures are 10-20 degrees above average.

Hundreds of “record highs will be in jeopardy for many areas,” AccuWeather meteorologist Tyler Roys said.

Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore and Washington are a few of the places where record highs may be set this week. Some of the heat records have been in place since the 1800s.

Schools that lack air conditioning may dismiss early during the summery surge, according to AccuWeather.

Late this week, some relief should finally arrive to some of the heat-fatigued areas, the Weather Channel reported.

A cold front will make its way into the East by Friday, then at least give a glancing blow to parts of the South by next weekend.

The Weather Channel said this will knock high temperatures down to more typical early October readings, generally in the 50s or 60s in the Midwest and Northeast by late this week.

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In portions of the Northeast, “the growing season may come to an end with the arrival of the chilly air,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

UN Climate Report: Oceans Also F-cked

A new report from the IPCC is yet another wake-up call for world leaders to take the climate crisis seriously

PERITO MORENO, ARGENTINA - APRIL 5: A piece of the Perito Moreno glacier, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, breaks off and crashes into lake Argentina in the Los Glaciares National Park on April 5, 2019 in Santa Cruz province, Argentina. The ice fields are the largest expanse of ice in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica but according to NASA, are melting away at some of the highest rates on the planet as a result of Global Warming. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)

A piece of the Perito Moreno glacier, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, breaks off and crashes into lake Argentina in the Los Glaciares National Park on April 5th, 2019.

David Silverman/Getty Images

Climate activists and world leaders have gathered this week in New York for the United Nations Climate Summit. But on Wednesday attention was focused across the Atlantic, where in Monaco the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented a special report on the “unprecedented” impact warming temperature will have on the world’s oceans. It’s not good. The report — compiled by over 100 authors from 36 countries citing close to 7,000 accredited sources — paints a grim picture of the effect warming oceans and the cryosphere will have on humanity, especially if nothing is done to curb emissions.

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The IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate , was presented today in Monaco🇲🇨

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The ocean has played a critical role in warding off the effects of climate change by absorbing close to 25 percent of CO2 emissions. The report warns that as the temperature continues to rise and the ocean traps more heat, it will become more acidic, less oxygenated, less productive, less hospitable to life, and more likely to give rise to tropical storms and hurricanes, which will occur with greater frequency and intensity. The report notes that with any additional degree of warming, intense sea events that used to occur once per century will in certain regions once per year by the middle of the 21st century.

Connected to the fate of the world’s oceans is the fate of the world’s frozen areas, or the cryosphere, on which close to 1.5 billion people’s lives directs depend. As parts of the cryosphere melt (glaciers, for instance), the global sea level will continue to rise, dramatically altering life for those living in coast regions, if not making those regions uninhabitable. The sea level is rising twice as fast as it did during the 20th century, and that the rate is increasing, the report notes, explaining that the Antarctic ice sheet will contribute more to sea level rise by 2100 than was previously expected. In the next 80 years, the sea level could increased by up to 60 centimeters if greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced, and 110 centimeters if they are not.

It isn’t just glaciers and rising sea levels, either. As permafrost, snow, and ice melt, the frequency of landslides, avalanches, rockfalls, floods, and wildfires will increase. Water availability could also be thrown into flux as glaciers retreat, impacting agriculture.

“The world’s ocean and cryosphere have been ‘taking the heat’ from climate change for decades, and consequences for nature and humanity are sweeping and severe,” IPCC Vice Chair Ko Barett said in a statement. “The rapid changes to the ocean and the frozen parts of our planet are forcing people from coastal cities to remote Arctic communities to fundamentally alter their ways of life.”

Despite the realities detailed in the report, it was structured around the idea that many of these consequences can be mitigated with “timely, ambitious and coordinated action” to reduce emissions and pursue sustainable development. Unfortunately for humanity, China and the United States, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have largely ignored he climate crisis. Neither cared to contribute possible solutions at the UN’s Climate Summit this week.

The Oceans We Know Won’t Survive Climate Change

Vast piles of dead fish in Rio de Janeiro
Warmer oceans are leading to die-offs, such as this one in Rio de Janeiro.SERGIO MORAES / REUTERS
Today a baby girl was born. Consider the years of her life—how she’ll think back to her childhood in the ’20s (the 2020s) and become a teenager in the ’30s. If she’s an American citizen, she’ll cast her first vote for president in the 2040 election; she might graduate from college a year or two later. In the year 2050, she’ll turn 31, and she’ll be both fully grown up and young enough to look to the end of the century—and imagine she may get to see it.

While the report covers how climate change is reshaping the oceans and ice sheets, its deeper focus is how water, in all its forms, is closely tied to human flourishing. If our water-related problems are relatively easy to manage, then the problem of self-government is also easier. But if we keep spewing carbon pollution into the air, then the resulting planetary upheaval would constitute “a major strike against the human endeavor,” says Michael Oppenheimer, a lead author of the report and a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.

“We can adapt to this problem up to a point,” Oppenheimer told me. “But that point is determined by how strongly we mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions.”

If humanity manages to quickly lower its carbon pollution in the next few decades, then sea-level rise by 2100 may never exceed about one foot, the report says. This will be tough but manageable, Oppenheimer said. But if carbon pollution continues rising through the middle of the century, then sea-level rise by 2100 could exceed 2 feet 9 inches. Then “the job will be too big,” he said. “It will be an unmanageable problem.”


This release concludes a trilogy of special reports from the IPCC. The first came last October, when it warned that even “moderate” warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius would generate irreparable damage; and the second was published last month, with a summary of how climate change will reshape the planet’s land surface. After this new report, the IPCC will fall silent until 2021, when it will publish its sixth major assessment of climate science.

In other words, the IPCC—whose recent reports have overthrown the climate conversation both in the United States and around the world—will publish nothing new until after the 2020 presidential election.

The headline finding of this report is that sea-level rise could be worse than we thought. The report’s projection of worst-case sea-level rise by 2100 is about 10 percent higher than the IPCC predicted five years ago. The IPCC has been steadily ratcheting up its sea-level-rise projections since its 2001 report, and it is likely to increase the numbers further in the 2021 report, when the IPCC runs a new round of global climate models.

But sea-level rise is only one of the bewildering consequences of climate change listed in the report, whose view stretched “from the highest mountains to the bottom of the ocean,” according to Ko Barrett, a vice chair of the IPCC and a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What’s clear is that climate change is going to reshape every system made of water on Earth.

That means that as the ocean warms, seafood safety will decline: Mercury will accumulate in fish, and the toxic bacteria Vibrio will become more common. And climate change will sicken people. In the Arctic, where indigenous people rely on seafood diets, food- and waterborne illnesses are already increasing.

Climate change will also prompt extreme coastal-flooding events—think of Hurricane Harvey or Katrina—to surge in frequency. Floods that used to happen every century will now happen, in some places, every year. It will push the worst rainstorms, including tropical cyclones and hurricanes, to dump even more water. And it will increase the frequency of extreme El Niño and La Niña events like the “monster El Niño” that struck in 2016. This threatens to induce intense “whiplash between wet and dry periods,” Andrea Dutton, a climate scientist at the University of Wisconsin, told me.

At the same time, climate change’s effects seem to be speeding up. The seas are now rising at a pace “unprecedented over the last century,” the report warns. The rate of global sea-level rise was 2.5 times faster from 2006 to 2016 than it was for nearly all of the 20th century. “In the Antarctic ice sheet, the rate of mass loss had tripled relative to the previous decade,” Dutton said. “In Greenland, it’s doubled over the past decade.”

The oceans act like a massive sponge in the planetary system, and they have so far absorbed most of the warmth trapped by greenhouse gases. Since 1993, the rate of ocean warming has more than doubled. Marine heat waves—when the ocean becomes so hot that it can kill plants and animals—happen twice as frequently now, and they have grown in intensity, duration, and size.

This is prompting invisible bonfires to break out across the ocean’s most pristine environments. Tropical coral reefs contain most of the ocean’s biodiversity: They are the so-called rainforests of the ocean. Yet they are dying more surely than the Amazon in Brazil. “Almost all warm-water coral reefs are projected to suffer significant losses of area and local extinctions, even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” the IPCC writes.

Warming waters have bleached out corals in French Polynesia. (Alexis Rosenfeld / Getty)

From 2016 to 2018, half the coral in the Great Barrier Reef died, Australia’s lead coral scientist told me last year. It will take at least 15 years to recover—and given the pace and spread of marine heat waves, it probably never will. A child born today in Australia may never know the Great Barrier Reef as an adult. That is not a hyperbolic statement; that is an assessment of the facts.

Even beyond reefs, life is fleeing the tropical ocean. Since the 1950s, entire populations of fish and seafloor creatures have moved toward the poles at a rate of up to 50 miles a decade. This is an incredible figure when you consider that it is unplanned, unorganized, and unhabitual: The population is relocating itself all at once.

And this ecological upheaval of climate change is not limited to the seas. “Many glaciers, particularly in Washington State and the Mountain West, will disappear within the next decade and—at the latest—within a century,” said Regine Hock, an author of the report and a geophysicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, at a press conference this week. That has implications for water security across huge portions of the American West: Phoenix and Los Angeles both rely, to some extent, on water from mountain glaciers.


There are two immense stores of water on the planet. The first, covering more than two-thirds of its surface, are the oceans. The second, blanketing the poles, are the rocklike ice caps. (Hence the pithy observation, beloved by some oceanographers, that we call our home world “Earth” only out of a kind of species-level vanity. It would be far more accurate to call it “Sea.”)

But we can already detect one key change in how those two stores of water interrelate. For decades, the biggest driver of sea-level rise was heat itself, because as the ocean gets hotter, it literally takes up more space. (Scientists call this principle “thermal expansion,” and it applies to matter more generally: You demonstrate it at home whenever you run a jar under hot water to loosen the lid.) But in the past few years, meltwater from Greenland and Antarctica has overwhelmed this effect. Oceans are rising today primarily because they have more water in them.

“We’ve been saying all along that ice sheets would become dominant, and that signal is starting to appear,” Dutton said. (Dutton is having a busy week: She won a MacArthur genius grant this morning.)

And while this is a dramatic change, there’s a question in the middle of the report that portends an even more cataclysmic event. Hanging over the report, like an icy Damocletian saber, dangles the question: Will the Antarctic ice sheet collapse?

In 1978, the glaciologist John Mercer issued a warning in the scientific journal Nature. If people kept burning fossil fuels at the present rate, he wrote, then within 50 years they could set off the “rapid deglaciation” of West Antarctica. The process he identified—called “marine ice-sheet instability”—has haunted climate scientists for the past four decades.

Mercer’s problem begins with a simple fact: Ice floats in water. Many glaciers in West Antarctica have “wet feet,” as Dutton put it, meaning their front face sits in the water. Just like ice in a water glass, these glaciers want to float. But they don’t. The weight of the ice above the waterline keeps the entire glacier stuck to the seafloor.

But as it gets farther from the ocean, the bedrock of West Antarctica slopes downhill. If the glacier were to start retreating, then more and more of its mass would fall below the waterline. Eventually, the mass above the waterline would no longer keep the glacier stuck to the seafloor. The glacier would float off its foundation, the ice floe behind it would quickly spill out into the sea, and the glacier would quickly become so many melting ice cubes.

Once this process starts, it’s irreversible. It has never been observed—because we’ve never observed wrenching global climate change before. But since about 2006, more and more evidence has suggested that Mercer’s process is real and has happened in the past, Oppenheimer said.

Right now, the IPCC authors believe that the Antarctic ice sheet probably won’t collapse. But that is not exactly reassuring. Some measurements suggest that the ice sheet is already unstable. And the IPCC is clear that if Antarctica’s glaciers do begin to disintegrate, then its projections about future “likely” sea-level rise will be far too small. If Antarctica totally collapses, then it could loose 13 feet of sea-level rise into the ocean, at a rate of more than three feet a century, Oppenheimer said. This scenario, he added, “is unmanageable.”

We don’t know how much climate change might trigger runaway collapse—but generally, the less carbon pollution, the better. “If there’s a threshold out there, we’re much better landing in 1.5-degree-Celsius trajectory,” Oppenheimer said.

What’s crucial is that decisions about these pathways are being made now; the little girl’s future is being locked in, even as we speak. In the United States, President Donald Trump’s campaign to repeal virtually every climate regulation is nudging us toward the higher, more disastrous path, and making climate action more expensive for other countries.

“This [report] drives home the message that policies that curb greenhouse gases today can have a strong effect on future sea-level rise, particularly in terms of what happens after 2050,” Dutton said. We cannot abandon this Ice Age without risking a new, and far more dangerous, epoch.

3 horrifying extreme weather scenarios the US doesn’t talk about enough

Scientists say these nightmare weather events could happen at any time.

https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2019/9/13/20860604/climate-change-jonathan-franzen-hurricane-wildfire-heat-wave

A photo illustration of a children wading through water with surrounding pictures of wind, weather, and destruction.Christina Animashaun/Vox

Phoenix, one of the hottest and fastest-warming cities in the US, could be hit by “a [Hurricane] Katrina of extreme heat” with temperatures peaking in the 120s and lingering for two weeks. In a heat wave like this, the power grid would succumb to brownouts and blackouts and many elderly would die in their homes. (Complete story here.)

Southern California could see a wildfire that burns a total of 1.5 million acres. Smoke from the blazes could carry at least 100 miles west into Los Angeles and 100 miles south to San Diego, leading to hazardous air quality throughout the region and thousands of hospitalizations. Well over 100,000 structures would likely be destroyed and hundreds could die the flames. “The damage would likely be massive, potentially dwarfing what we have seen recently,” David Sapsis, a scientist with Cal Fire who reviewed the simulated fire, told me. (Complete story here.)

Tampa Bay is one of the areas in the US most at risk when hurricanes arrive because of its location, growing population, and the geography of the bay. If a Category 5 hurricane makes a direct hit on the bay, parts of Pinellas County — which is home to St. Petersburg — will temporarily become an island. People who choose to remain — or can’t evacuate — might be trapped. (Complete story here.)

For the Vox series, the Big Ones, we asked scientists about worst-case extreme weather scenarios for three vulnerable regions of the United States. Each of these events we described in these stories would be an outlier, a rare, extreme event, the far end of bad. But climate change is, broadly, rendering these kinds of events more severe, and in some cases more frequent, in many parts of the country.

And even if one of these events were to happen, even at a lesser degree of severity, it would still be extraordinarily costly, both in terms of human lives and other losses. The kind of event you’d wish you’d prepared for better, if you were a citizen, or a government official.

It’s clear these regions — Tampa Bay, Southern California, and Phoenix, along with countless others with similar vulnerabilities — are not doing enough to reduce the impact of these kinds of events, at this level of severity or at a milder but still damaging level. They’re still building in the path of tempests, still replacing heat-mitigating trees and soil with concrete. Government agencies are leaving millions of dead trees in the forest, ready to burn at the first spark.

A woman holding a baby girl walks off a ferry with a crowd of other people carrying suitcases.
Evacuees get off a ferry in Nassau, Bahamas after leaving Abaco island in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on September 9, 2019
 Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

With Hurricane Dorian, which recently slammed into the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm, most of the deaths have been recorded in the community of undocumented Haitians who work on golf courses but live in shanty towns. In the scenarios we’ve outlined, the poorest, most vulnerable people stand to lose the most as well.

We know these disasters may be coming, but we need not cower in fear of them

The New Yorker published an essay earlier this week by the decorated novelist Jonathan Franzen that chastised climate activists and scientists for their “unrealistic hope,” and belief that “catastrophe is theoretically avertable.” Franzen, a “doomer dude,” views the “climate war” as unwinnable. Rather than doing everything we can to reduce carbon emissions, we should divert resources to adaptation and conservation, he says.

“[I]t is precisely the fact that we understand the potential driver of doom that changes it from a foregone conclusion to a choice, a terrible outcome in the universe of all possible futures,” Kate Marvel, a prominent climate scientist, wrote Wednesday in a piece for Scientific American titled “Shut Up, Franzen.”

The whole kerfuffle is a great reminder of how tempting it is for doomers to strip the conversation about climate change down to binaries, and zero-sum positions. Mitigation or adaptation. Naive hope or realistic pessimism.

Ultimately, these don’t serve the conversation well. We’re much better off in the realm of nuance, balancing awareness of the possibly catastrophic consequences of our past, current, and future emissions with the ongoing opportunity to prevent a mounting burden of suffering for future humans.

As Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate justice essayist and the director of publications at the Natural Resources Defense Council, put it: “It is absolutely possible to prepare for the disasters already, terrifyingly, upon us while also doing our damnedest to quit baking more in.”

We know these disasters may be coming, but we need not cower in fear of them. We can learn about them, and feel empowered to soften their blow.

Ultimately, these scary scenarios are worth contemplating because fear of impending disaster can be motivating; it can release us from the complacency that has kept us from insisting that our leaders get far more aggressive on reducing emissions. The growing threat of climate catastrophe can be a helpful nudge to leaders to up their ambition on decarbonization — and their disaster preparedness game at the same time — without succumbing to the Franzen-style cynicism of doom.

Scientists monitoring new marine heat wave off B.C. coast similar to ‘the Blob’

Phenomenon occurs when sea surface temperatures are higher than normal for at least 5 consecutive days

Sea surface temperature anomaly maps from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show temperatures in the Pacific Ocean above normal in orange and red. The map on the right represents September 2019, while the figure on the left represents the early stages of the ‘blob’ phenomenon five years ago. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
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A new marine heat wave spreading across a portion of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia has so far grown into one of the largest of its kind in the last four decades, officials say, second only to the infamous “blob” that disrupted marine life five years ago.

The swath of unusually warm water stretches roughly from Alaska down to California, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States. The marine phenomenon began in the Gulf of Alaska sometime around June 15 and ballooned over the summer.

A marine heat wave happens when sea surface temperatures are higher than normal for at least five consecutive days.

Officials tracking the system said it is already the second-largest experts have seen since 1981 — the first year for which satellite data used to track marine heat waves is available.

“Already, on its own, it is one of the most significant events that we’ve seen,” Andrew Leising, a research scientist at the NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., said in a statement Thursday.

Above average water temperature

Leising said this year’s heat wave resembles a similar West Coast heat wave that upset marine life in 2014 and 2015. Nicknamed “the Blob,” the system, which stretched from Mexico to the Bering Sea, was blamed for warmer weather on land, abysmal feeding conditions for salmon and the sudden deaths of two dozen whales in the Pacific.

The Blob saw temperatures in the water peak at 3.9 C above average. The NOAA said the water this year has already reached temperatures of more than 2.7 C above average off the coast of Washington state.

“It’s on a trajectory to be as strong as the prior event,” said Leising, who developed a system for tracking and measuring heat waves in the Pacific Ocean using satellite data.

“It’s really only time that will tell if this feature is going to persist and then rival [the Blob].”

The NOAA said its staff is monitoring this year’s system to see whether it will last long enough to impact the marine ecosystem, though some biologists suggest it already has based on its sheer size.

The agency blamed the recent marine heat wave on a persistent weather pattern that began in June: weaker-than-normal winds and a weaker high-pressure system over the wedge of warm ocean between B.C., Hawaii and Washington state.

Officials say a formal analysis to try to pinpoint the reasons for the unusual weather pattern will take “some months” to complete. During the previous “blob” event, a number of studies suggested long-term ocean warming due to climate change made the heat wave stronger than it otherwise would have been.

Cold water rising along the coast from the ocean depths has held the warmer water offshore thus far, but experts said the chilled surge usually peters out in the fall. The heat wave in the water could move onshore and affect coastal temperatures if that happens, Leising said in the statement.

Officials also noted the marine heat wave is still new enough to break up if the weather shifts.

“It looks bad, but it could also go away pretty quickly if the unusually persistent weather patterns that caused it change,” wrote NOAA research scientist Nate Mantua.