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Global warming could scorch some U.S. regions, flood others
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Global warming in future decades could cause severe droughts in every U.S. region, flooding along the coasts, searing temperatures in urban areas and even the extinction of sugar maple trees, a government report predicts.
The report released Monday is the first national assessment of how global warming might affect the country during the next century. It projects an average temperature rise of 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly higher than global predictions.
The change ought to have little impact on the U.S. economy as a whole, but some communities, such as coastal areas, and some businesses, such as maple-sugar producers and ski resorts, will have a rough time of it.
Other possible effects of the extra heat include:
More extreme precipitation and faster evaporation, leading to greater frequency of very wet and very dry conditions.
Drought is expected to be a growing concern in every part of the country. Floods are increasingly possible in some regions.
Extensive damage to some ecosystems.
Alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains might disappear; Southeast forests could break up into a tapestry of grasslands and woods; tree species in Northeast forests could change, with sugar maples, for example, dying out.
Rising sea levels in coastal areas.
That means coastal wetlands -- which serve as nurseries for marine animals, and as storm buffers for inland communities -- will continue to shrink. Coastal communities may be at greater risk for storm surges.
More heat waves.
Increased crop yields
Thriving Northwest forests.
Disproportionately hotter cities. Urban areas will face the double whammy of global warming and the urban heat-island effect, under which buildings and streets absorb heat, raising cities' temperatures.
Four years of study
The report, entitled "Climate Change Impacts on the United States," is the result of four years of study and numerous workshops and reviews by hundreds of scientists. It was prepared by a panel that included government officials, academics, and representatives of industry and non-governmental organizations.
Air pollution is blamed for the increasing heat. Among the worst offenders is carbon dioxide generated from the burning of fossil fuels. The gas forms an atmospheric blanket that traps the sun's energy and heats the earth.
But even if steps were taken in the near-term to reduce emissions, the report says, the level of gasses already in the atmosphere will leave the world susceptible to climate change for the next century.
"Even if the world takes mitigation measures, we must still adapt to a changing climate," the draft says.
According to the draft, the country must be prepared for the changes ahead, even if the exact effects remain uncertain at this point.
"It is very likely that some aspects and impacts of climate change will be totally unanticipated as complex systems respond to ongoing climate change in unforseeable ways," it says.
After a public-comment period on the draft report, the final assessment will be presented in the fall to Congress and the president.
Some news reports have called the report a "White House" report, but the Clinton administration denies that characterization.
A joint statement
The national temperature increase projected in the report is higher than global predictions for the next century, which are usually projected to be 2 to 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
One researcher said land masses show bigger increases in temperature than the Earth as a whole, because oceans moderate the effect.
An international attempt to tackle climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, has not been finished but it aims to reduce sharply the amount of fossil-fuel emissions from major industrial nations to 1990 levels by the years 2010-2012.
The Environmental Defense Fund, the National Environmental Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the World Wildlife Fund jointly issued a statement saying it was time to take climate change seriously.
"Places that Americans love like Florida's coral reefs and the alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains could suffer greatly from global warming, according to the report," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Change.
"America's alarm bells should go off today," she said.
Warming drops Great Lakes toward historic lows
EPA Global Warming Site
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