Climate Change 101

Overview

The world's climate is changing. The science leading to that conclusion is well-established. How do scientists know the climate is changing? Because thermometers on land, in the sea, in the air, and looking down from space are all consistent with their determination that the earth is warming.

Climatologists predict that there will be an increase in average global temperatures from 2.0° F to 11.5° F by the year 2100 because of greenhouse gases from both natural and, increasingly, manmade origins. The likely impacts are widespread and include a long list, ranging from rising sea level, increasing sea water temperatures, invasive species expansion, changes to the chemistry of the oceans, changes in rainfall amounts, and increasing severity of storms.

How do scientists explain cold days if the global temperature is rising? Remember that predications are based on climate, not weather. Climate is the average state of the weather over a number of years, usually 30 years as established by the World Meteorological Organization. Weather is the current state of the atmosphere with respect to hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, cloudy or clear. Weather is different all over the world and influenced by natural phenomenon such as La Nina, El Nino and volcanic eruptions. It is easy, but erroneous, to draw conclusions about climate change based on current weather conditions in a given location.

Find more information in "Climate Change 101: Overview" from the PEW Center on Global Climate Change. Watch the National Science Foundation video, How Do We Know? Physics, Forcings and Fingerprints.

The Impacts of Climate Change on Florida's Fish and Wildlife

Florida is vulnerable to climate change because so much of the land is at or near sea level. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts in the next 100 years sea levels will rise between 7 and 23 inches and higher levels have been predicted in more recent research. The result is inundation of much of Florida's low-lying coastal zone impacting waterfowl, nesting turtles, and other species that rely on Florida's estuaries.

The impacts of increasing seawater temperatures have already been demonstrated. Within the last several decades, corals in the Florida Keys have exhibited very high mortality rates related to elevated water temperatures beyond what they can tolerate. For those species that survived higher water temperatures, disease became widespread.

Which species will thrive or fail to adapt to climate change is not yet known; however, predictions show the spread of invasive species may accelerate with warmer temperatures and altered rainfall and humidity patterns associated with climate change.

An emerging and major problem relates to changes in the ocean's chemistry. Increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere results in more CO2 dissolved into the seawater, which then leads to an increase in the acidity of the water. The problem is that increasing ocean acidity dissolves corals and affects many other living things. A small change in ocean acidity can result in a very different ecosystem than we have known.

Find out more about rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperature, and effects on marine life by visiting the following sites.

Florida sea level rise maps

Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Climate Change 101: Science and Impacts

FWC's Climate Change Summit Report

National Wildlife Federation and Florida Wildlife Federation: An unfavorable Tide: Global Warming, Coastal Habitats and Sportfishing in Florida

Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition: Preparing for a Sea Change - A Strategy to Cope with the Impacts of Global Warming on the State's Coastal and Marine Systems

Florida Oceans and Coastal Council: The Effects of Climate Change on Florida's Ocean & Coastal Resources, 2009 version 2

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency: Effects of Climate Change on Aquatic Invasive Species and. Implications for Management and Research

How to Address the Impacts of a Changing Climate on Florida's Fish and Wildlife

Climate change is inevitable, yet there is a lot we don't know about the effects it will have on Florida's fish and wildlife. The FWC will be conducting studies to identify vulnerable species, populations, and habitats. These studies will help focus research and management approaches targeting what makes these at risk species, populations, and habitats vulnerable to climate change.

There are three primary approaches to dealing with climate change:

  • Developing strategies that help species and populations adapt to a changing climate.
  • Developing strategies that help species and populations build resilience to a changing climate.
  • Developing strategies that reduce our carbon footprint.

Strategies to help species and populations adapt must be flexible enough to allow for change. Building resilience into species and ecosystems addresses the things we can control. These include reducing the existing causes of stress on species or ecosystems or ensuring that activities that may cause additional stress are limited. For example, eliminating a discharge of sewage into a nearshore waterway will reduce stress on, and increase resilience in, the adjacent ecosystem.

The following three definitions were retrieved from The Pew Center for Global Climate Change website March 8, 2010.

Adaptation: Actions by individuals or systems to avoid, withstand, or take advantage of current and projected climate changes and impacts. Adaptation decreases a system's vulnerability, or increases its resilience to impacts.

Resilience: The ability of a system to withstand negative impacts without losing its basic functions.

Vulnerability: The potential for a system to be harmed by climate change, considering the impacts of climate change on the system as well as its capacity to adapt.

Learn more about adaptation and resilience at the following websites.

PEW Center on Global Climate Change, Climate Change 101: Adaptation

Defenders of Wildlife: Reducing the Impact of Global Warming on Wildlife: The Science, Management and Policy Challenges Ahead

Additional Links to Learn More

View the full series of Climate Change 101 articles from the Pew Center for Global Climate Change

Feeling the Heat in Florida Global Warming on the Local Level

Climate Change Basics for the Southeastern USA

Audubon, getting the facts



FWC Facts:
Healthy lakes with vibrant fisheries enhance property values & development potential and justify the need for sustainable development practices to protect them into the future.

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