Read the report here

Climate change is already making itself felt across the United States in many concrete ways, but it is still not too late to do something about the magnitude of its future impacts, according to a highly anticipated report released Tuesday with major contributions from Boulder scientists.

The 840-page U.S. National Climate Assessment, released by the White House and the product of four years of work by hundreds of the nation's top scientists, states, "Climate change, once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved squarely into the present.

"Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience."

The report states that average U.S. temperatures have increased from 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since record keeping started in 1895, but most of that change has occurred since 1970. The most recent decade is the nation's warmest on record, and temperatures are expected to continue climbing.

An overview of the document, which highlights findings by region, said that for the Southwest, including Colorado, "Climate changes pose challenges for an already parched region that is expected to get hotter, and, in its southern half, significantly drier."

And, in the Southwest, the report said, "Widespread tree death and fires, which already have caused billions of dollars in economic losses, are projected to increase. Tourism and recreation also face climate change challenges, including reduced streamflow and a shorter snow season, influencing everything from the ski industry to lake and river recreation."

Increased heat and disruptions to the rain and snowpack "will send ripple effects throughout the region, affecting 56 million people — a population expected to increase to 94 million by 2050."

'An international hotbed of climate science'

The National Climate Assessment comes closely on the heels of two more installments in recent months of the most recent report by the International Panel on Climate Change, which offered a global perspective on the issue. And, just like the IPCC report, Tuesday's assessment carried key input from researchers in Boulder.

Kristen Averyt, associate director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, was at the White House for the assessment's release. She was a lead author for its chapter on energy, water and land. Averyt said the local expertise that contributed to the report can also be harnessed as Colorado and the Southwest grapple with the effects of climate change.

"Boulder has the benefit of really being not just a regional hotbed, but an international hotbed of climate science talent," Averyt said. "We're fortunate to have that expertise in our society, and we really should put that to use as we plan at the community, local and state scale."

Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at CU, was a lead author on the chapter examining Alaska. That chapter states, among other findings, that over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States, its statewide average annual air temperature increasing 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average winter temperature climbing 6 degrees.

"The rate of warming in the Arctic is just astounding," Serreze said. "The Arctic is telling us that the climate really is changing, and it's not too late to do something about it, but we better get our act together soon."

Good marks on planning, mixed on implementation

Stopping global warming "in its tracks," however, is not an option, Serreze said.

"The first thing we need to do is adapt because climate change is already here, and no matter what we do right, it's going to continue."

Joel Smith, principal at Stratus Consulting of Boulder, was a convening lead author for the chapter on adaptation, highlighting efforts from the federal down to local levels, as well as in the corporate and non-governmental sector, to prepare for "unprecedented human-induced climate change" through adaptation.

He gives good grades to many communities — including Boulder and Boulder County — on preparation for the effects of climate change.

But overall, Smith said, "There is a lot of planning and not as much implementation. We we need to see more. It's a good start, and it's encouraging, but it's not enough."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or brennanc@dailycamera.com.