Unfortunately, Virginia’s natural resources are under threat from climatic changes in the region. These climatic changes have been thoroughly documented over the past few decades. According to the EPA, most of the state has become warmer by a degree over the last hundred years. The sea level is rising by one or two inches every decade.
While the effects of global warming are far worse in many other parts of the United States, if our efforts to rein in climate change are not renewed with full vigor, Virginia could begin to lose its valuable natural resources and human life could be affected in surprising ways.
Virginia’s Changing Temperatures
Signs of global warming?
Back in 1998, the EPA published a report about what it considered could be signs of global warming in Virginia. Scientists monitoring the temperature changes in the state based on data collected over a hundred years have revealed their concern. According to the report
The EPA says that the average temperature near Richmond has gone up by 0.2 degrees F in 100 years.
Rainfall has increased by up to 10 percent in several parts of Virginia.
A 0.2 degree F rise in temperature may not sound like a lot, in theory. But the global average rise in temperature has already been 1 degree C. The United Nations Framework on Climate Change in 2010 warns us that the increase in world temperatures should be maintained at less than 2 degrees C (when compared with temperatures before the Industrial Revolution) if we want to avoid any irrevocable damage to our planet. The earth is warming at a rate of 0.1 degree every decade.
In other words, the 0.2 degrees C rise in temperature in some parts of Virginia could possibly be a cause for concern, if it were the result of global warming. Another report says that the annual mean temperature in Virginia has gone up by about 1.1 degrees F or 0.6 degrees C since 1895.
On the other hand, there has been a drop in temperature in some other parts of Virginia. It’s not entirely clear why there are such differences. But the EPA expects this is due to the different levels of aerosols and particles in the air. Particles in air can trap more heat. Therefore, areas with more pollution are likely to be warmer.
According to projections by scientists based on the HadCM2 climate model, temperatures in Virginia could go up by 3 degrees F in spring, summer and winter, and 4 degrees in the fall by 2100, if global warming goes on at the present rate. In that time, rainfall may increase by 20 percent.
Of course, there are different climate models that scientists follow to predict climate change. Not all of them show the same results. All EPA warnings have been based on data from all of these models.
Effects of Temperature Rise
Rising temperatures can have many adverse effects, such as:
- Increase in heat-related illnesses
- Frequent heat waves
- Rising sea levels due to melting ice and expanding waters
- Flooding of low-lying areas
- More rainfall in winter and drier summers, leading to lower groundwater, lake levels and streamflows
- Water quality problems like algae
- Change in agricultural patterns
- Change in ecosystems, affecting Virginia’s Maritime forests
In the last sixty years, Virginia has seen a 33 percent increase in heavy snowstorms and rainstorms. The largest storms have also brought 11 percent more rain.
Rise in Sea Levels
Scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences have predicted that Virginia will experience at least a 1.5 ft rise in sea level over the next 20 to 50 years. This will, naturally, affect the communities that live in coastal areas, including helpless plant and animal species who cannot adapt to the changes.
Impacts on road & loss of land
Rising sea levels can also impact roads in more ways than expected. It can affect the drainage capacity of an area. It can increase the pressure of water on tunnels, which are only built to withstand current amounts of pressure. It could also flood evacuation routes and leave people stranded.
Also according to the report:
The city of Virginia Beach could lose 59.8 square miles (or over 38,000 acres) of its land to flooding.
The Accomack region could potentially lose 208 sq miles (or 133,120 acres) of land. These projections are for the next hundred years. So there may still be time to take measures to protect these vulnerable areas from rising sea levels.
There have already been several unexpected flash floods in Virginia in recent years. These include the flash floods of Reston in 2011and Alexandria in 2015. A report by the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst points out that communities in Norfolk are seeing more days with tidal flooding.
These trends are cause for concern not only to Virginia, but to the rest of the world. It is high time that climate change not be seen as a bogus conspiracy but as a very real threat. Do read “Alarming Environmental Issues Faced by Locals” for more information.