Researchers Present Bleak Future In Hampton Roads If Global Warming Continues At Current Rate
More intense hurricanes that produce devastating storm surges. Higher sea levels that flood streets on sunny days. Worse algae blooms in the Chesapeake Bay that kill off native species.
Researchers say such events are increasingly possible across Eastern Virginia as global temperatures continue to rise at an accelerated rate.
In a new report, the World Meteorological Organization forecasts about a 24% chance that global temperatures will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels in the next five years. Hitting that threshold is notable because 1.5 C is the level countries agreed to cap global warming at in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
The projections don’t suggest global temperatures will necessarily remain at that mark. Researchers say the Earth’s temperatures naturally fluctuate and temperatures could dip below 1.5 C again.
However, the WMO’s latest assessment suggests international efforts to curb global warming and climate change may not be working.
“This study shows — with a high level of scientific skill — the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a news release.
World temperatures are already 1.0 C above pre-industrial levels. The WMO says the last five-year period has been the warmest on record.
Old Dominion University associate professor Michael Allen studies climate change. He said the new report highlights the potential for accelerated sea level rise and more disastrous weather events across Virginia.
He said the state is seeing more heavy downpours that he calls “rain bombs.” The Commonwealth could also suffer from more intense hurricanes as warming Atlantic Ocean water temperatures caused by climate change fuel worse storms.
Couple that with rising sea levels, and Eastern Virginia could experience devastating storm surges and more tidal flooding.
Sea levels have risen 15 inches in about the last 80 years, Allen said. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science predicts Hampton Roads could see 1.5 feet of higher sea levels by 2050. Allen said that could be an underestimate if global temperatures continue to increase at a fast rate.
“Potentially catastrophic sea level rise. We’re talking about feet or meters in my lifetime,” he said.
Allen and Molly Mitchell — a research assistant professor with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science — added that continued warming could threaten ecosystems and fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay.
The water body already suffers from toxic algae blooms that suck up oxygen and kill sea life. Warmer water temperatures could fuel worse algae events.
Species, like crabs, that aren’t used to warmer waters may also die or migrate North in search of cooler temperatures. Virginia's seafood industry that's worth hundreds of millions of dollars could be at risk.
“As the climate changes, the plants and animals’ ideal habitat shifts across the landscape,” Mitchell said. “We would expect to see some changes where those plants and animals are found.”
As they’ve consistently repeated, climate scientists say there's a clear solution to continued global warming: Society must drastically eliminate its use of fossil fuels by transforming energy and transportation sectors.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam says he wants the Commonwealth’s energy sector to be carbon free by 2050. The state also recently announced investments to help local governments and the Port of Virginia replace gas-powered vehicles with electric ones.
Allen commended Virginia's progress, but said many more changes are necessary.
“It needs to move much more rapidly,” he said. “We’re significantly behind the eight-ball.”