In an era of increasing climate instability, the Southwestern United States faces strained water resources, greater prevalence of tree-killing pests, and potentially significant alterations of agricultural infrastructure. These threats and challenges as well as others are detailed a new book, “Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States,” published by Island Press.
A hotter future is projected for the Southwestern United States — a region stretching from the California coast to the plains of eastern Colorado and New Mexico — and future heat and changes in precipitation will present challenges for managing natural resources, water, infrastructure, and threats to human health.
“Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States” is a landmark study that addresses these issues. It focuses on current climate conditions in the region, the environment of the past, what is projected to change over the 21st century and how this will impact ecosystems, water resources, agricultural production, energy supply and delivery, transportation and human health. This book is one of ten regional technical inputs to the 2013 National Climate Assessment released in draft form earlier this year.
A consortium of researchers from the Southwest Climate Alliance coordinated the assessment. These scientists are affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment Program and the U.S. Department of the Interior Southwest Climate Science Center. UCLA is a host institution for the center.
The book blends the contributions of 120 experts in climate science, economics, ecology, engineering, geography, hydrology, planning, resource management and other disciplines. The work includes sections written by UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability climate experts Glen MacDonald and Stephanie Pincetl. MacDonald co-authored the chapter on natural ecosystems and Pincetl was the lead author of the chapter on urban areas.
“The Southwest really is ground zero for many of the most pronounced impacts of 21st century climate change in the conterminous United States. The region, already hot, has warmed more than elsewhere and will continue to warm significantly this century. Water resource problems will become even more acute and our forests are threatened with increased pathogens and devastating fires. Anticipating these challenges is the crucial foundation to meeting them successfully. The assessment represents the work of a broad coalition of natural scientists and social scientists to take stock of what we know about climate change in our regions and, just as importantly, to outline where we need to improve our understanding and preparedness. This will be an important handbook of the climate challenges facing the Southwest,” said MacDonald.
“We found that Southwest cities are unique in their urban form and potential climate vulnerability. They will experience an increased number of increased heat days, challenging the power grid and posing challenges for climate vulnerable communities. They are dependent on imported water largely from snow melt that will be impacted with climate change, but are also denser than many of their other counterparts across the nation. Among the hopeful signs of adaptation, however, many Southwest cities are reducing their water consumption; on the other hand, more heat degree days will lead to more air pollution, so the cities will need to create alternative options to fossil fueled powered automobiles and other transportation,” Pincetl added.
The new book stresses the choices and opportunities available to society in order to reduce the causes and effects of climate change in the region. It notes the steps governments, businesses, organizations, and individuals are taking to improve energy efficiency, improve water supply reliability, decrease wildfire risk, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States” is available from www.islandpress.org and at major retailers. The official website http://www.swcarr.arizona.edu provides access to download full book chapters, short summaries of each chapter and all graphics developed for the report.
This article is adapted from the NCA SW Press Release.