UT biologist says Americans are seeing effects of global warming

by Anton Caputo
San Antonio Express-News (Texas)
November 9, 2004

A newly released report finds that Americans are witnessing the effect of global warming first-hand - even if they don't know it.

"We're seeing biological responses across the country, from Florida to Alaska, from the East Coast to the West Coast, that are linked to rising greenhouse emissions," Austin biologist Camille Parmesan said. "We're getting tropical species coming up and spending all winter here."

Parmesan, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, and researchers at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, reviewed more than 40 global warming studies and found more than half show strong evidence of a direct link between man-made global warming in the United States and changes in the behavior of plants and animals.

These include:

-Warmer-water species like starfish and sea anemone now dominating the waters around Monterey, Calif., which used to be home to colder-water species.

-Tropical dragonflies from the Bahamas and Cuba making a new home in Florida.

-The red fox gradually moving northward into habitat historically populated by the arctic fox.

-Some species of butterflies disappearing from the southern or lower-elevation areas of their habitat.

Most startling, Parmesan said, is the revelation that the Alaskan tundra has warmed to the point where it no longer helps reduce global warming by trapping carbon dioxide. Instead, as it thaws, it is now releasing the gas. This will accelerate the warming process, she said.

The planet's temperature has increased an average of about 1 degree over the past century, but by as many as 7 degrees in Alaska over just the past 50 years, according to the report. The planet's temperature is expected to increase another 2.5 degrees to 10.4 degrees by the end of this century.

"With warming for the next century projected to be two to 10 times greater than the last, we're heading toward a fundamental and potentially irreversible disruption of the U.S. landscape and wildlife," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Among the most notable local changes will be the impact of the rising sea level, said Parmesan. She pointed out that although the sea level has increased between 4 inches and 8 inches in the past 30 years, communities like Galveston also have pumped enough water from the local area to cause their city to sink.

Between the two, Galveston is about 25 inches lower than it was three decades ago, which is significant, she said. "With every storm or hurricane that comes through, the storm surge will be magnified," Parmesan said. "Texas is going to start noticing that pretty quickly."