To better understand what the climate of Frederick County will feel like in 2080, one might want to take a trip to Greenville, Mississippi.
A new study in journal Nature Communications mapped out 540 urban areas in North America, including Frederick, to forecast how climates will shift as mean global temperatures increase.
Lead author Matthew Fitzpatrick, associate professor at University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, and Robert Dunn, professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, calculated the predicted climates of the different areas based on if emissions continued to increase or if they were reduced. They also looked at 27 different models to determine where an area’s climate might shift.
“We wanted to show people what future climate might be like where they live, and to do that, we found the location in North America that has that location,” Fitzpatrick said.
So if emissions stayed the same, Frederick would have a climate, on average, similar to Greenville, Mississippi, which is 7.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer and 3.6 percent drier in the summer and 12.1 degrees Fahrenheit warmer and 64.5 percent wetter in winter, according to Fitzpatrick’s mapping application.
If emissions were reduced, Frederick’s climate, on average, would be closer to Sikeston, Missouri, which would be 6.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer and 5.3 percent wetter in the summer. Which means even if policies are put in place to address emissions, climates are still going to shift, the authors noted in the study.
Based on the 27 models, the comparable climates ranged from Wichita Falls, Texas to Cleveland, Mississippi to Jonesboro, Arkansas, for current emissions.
“The goal of the study was to try to translate these abstract, descriptive forecasts into something that’s more local and more personally relevant to people,” Fitzpatrick said.
Part of the misunderstanding comes from a disconnect between the science community and the general public, Fitzpatrick said. Bigger abstract data, like when someone says climate change will increase globally 3 degrees Celcius can be harder to grasp or visualize, he said. It also makes it harder to understand how climate change will affect a person.
There will be places with more drastic shifts, like Anchorage, Alaska, which will see a climate similar to Powell River, Canada and bring an increase of 24 degrees Fahrenheit and 359.6 percent more precipitation during winter, Fitzpatrick said. He said he did not find most of the shifts surprising.
“I think, like a lot people, I was most surprised by where I live now, which is Cumberland, Maryland, to see how much its climate is predicted to change in the future,” he said. “So it was shocking to me because it’s personal and relevant to me.”
A major risk with the shifting climates is the loss of organisms, from plants to insects to animals, he said.
If the climates do change, it is likely that current species of vegetation, insects and animals will move to areas that have climates that they need. So Maryland could see new species coming from southern areas, said Kevin Sellner, a member of the county’s Sustainability Commission.
Because the temperatures will be increasing over a 60-year period, Sellner does not predict there will be a massive die off, although there could be a gradual loss of a plant species if it is already at the end of its temperature range and cannot reproduce. Instead, he thinks there’ll be a shift from one species to a different one.
That could change with more intense storms, which are also already predicted to come as part of climate change, followed by longer periods of drought. That would put more stress on plants and animals already adjusting to warmer summers and winters.
“If that occurs, that’s going to exacerbate, that’s going to increase the likelihood of potential mass die offs,” he said.
Sellner’s expertise is in water, and the warmer climate could have adverse effects on the Chesapeake Bay, he said. When it is warmer, fish need to breathe more. At the same time, the water dissolves less oxygen. That means fish will have more stress on them and a harder time fighting off diseases.
“It’s a serious concern, down the road, is how are we going to threaten those valuable fish stocks we have out there,” Sellner said.
Warmer waters are also breeding grounds for different bacteria, including Vibrio. There’s a type of Vibrio that can cause gangrene-like and may lead to death, Sellner said.
But Fitzpatrick has not lost hope, which is why he and Dunn also accounted for shifts if emissions were reduced.
“So yeah, there’s absolutely things that can be done, and following the agreement, the Paris Climate Accord, would be a big step in the direction to get this under control,” he said.
In Maryland, people can choose to purchase electricity from environmentally-friendly companies that use reusable energy sources. But there’s also a need for policies, like the Paris Agreement.
“We all contribute in some way to the problem, so I think we can all contribute to the solutions,” Fitzpatrick said.
This also means investing in new technology, Sellner said. Resources need to go toward figuring out how to better trap greenhouse gases when burning fossil fuels and make it affordable. Also, toward “cleaner” energy sources, like nuclear energy.
States and municipalities, like Frederick County, are setting their own policies to help address emissions, but it still requires a commitment from the federal government, Sellner said.
“[Frederick is] committed to shifting over to non-fossil fuels fairly quickly, which is impressive, as is the state of Maryland, so we live in like a mini-California almost,” Sellner said. “Where we’re trying to move forward with some responsible, progressive ideas in terms of shifting from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels so we should be proud as Marylanders to continue that effort.”