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Feeling The Heat

Federal science report tracks current global-warming impacts, future trends for the U.S.

by Cheryl Hogue
June 22, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 25

Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN
Credit: Cheryl Hogue/C&EN

The climate of the U.S. is changing and human activities are driving these shifts, says a new scientific report compiled by 13 federal agencies.

The report, from the U.S. Global Change Research Program and released last week by the White House, describes national climate trends due to global warming. It also predicts further changes in U.S. climate as greenhouse gases from human activities continue to build up in the atmosphere.

"This report provides the concrete scientific information that says unequivocally that climate change is happening now and is happening in our backyard," says Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, an agency that contributed to the report. "It's not just a problem for the future."

For instance, data show that the average temperature in the U.S. has increased by about 2 °F during the past 50 years, the report says.

Meanwhile, the report predicts that the U.S. will increasingly get precipitation via heavy downfalls interspersed with longer dry periods. The northern half of the U.S. will get wetter while the populous Sunbelt, especially the Southwest, grows more arid, the report states.

Forecasts in the report also address impacts beyond natural systems. For example, a warmer climate will lead to increased demand for electricity to cool buildings but declining demand for energy to heat them, the report says. And energy infrastructure along the East and Gulf Coasts, from electricity-generating plants to oil refineries, will be threatened by rising seas.

The report should spur legislative action to address climate change, says Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is chair of the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee. Her panel is expected to take up a climate bill this summer. The House of Representatives is poised to vote on such a measure (H.R. 2454) in the coming days (C&EN, May 25, page 5).

But Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on Boxer's committee, calls the new document "yet another alarmist report." He says, "Given a little time, the world's preeminent scientists will quickly and thoroughly debunk this study."

The report is available at



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