A new study on global warming co-authored by Loyola Marymount University (LMU) professor Jeremy Pal has identified various locations in the western and southwestern regions of the United States where residents may see a dramatic change in their climate within the next decade.
Pal, an assistant professor of civil engineering and environmental science at LMU, was one of the contributing authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC), an international collaboration of scientists that shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.
The report, Climate Change Hotspots in the United States, was published recently in Science magazine. It identifies what regions in the United States will be most impacted by climate change, including Southern California.
“The concept of normal weather in the future will become less frequent while extreme weather conditions will be more likely,” Pal said in a recent interview with The Argonaut.
The changes in mean precipitation and temperature, as well as alterations in the variability of the weather, are consequences of climate change, according to Pal.
“For example, if you get an average of 15 inches of rainfall in Los Angeles, that will mean that you’ll get 15 inches every year or does that fall five inches one year and 25 the next year, with the numbers going back and forth,” the professor explained. “We looked at how that sort of variability will change in the future and found that there are several very sensitive regions, particularly in variability of precipitation.”
This type of variance can be harmful to the region’s resources, as what was once the exception regarding weather patterns could soon become the rule.
“It’s one thing to have a change in the mean temperature, but it’s another thing to have a change in the variability as well, where you go from one extreme to another,” Pal said.
Nicholas Karno, who as a member of the Climate Project has conducted many seminars locally on global warming, says that while he is not familiar with Pal’s research, the findings conform to the science that he has read.
“They’re very consistent with all of the research that I’m aware of,” said Karno, who is an officer on the Venice Neighborhood Council.
The Climate Project is a nonprofit organization where volunteers are trained by Gore to present the slide show featured in the Academy Award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth to audiences around the nation.
Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are particularly vulnerable to these extreme swings in climate changes, the study suggests. Droughts and floods are more likely to occur with heightened frequency in this region if the trend continues.
Larger and more intense fire can be another consequence of these new land conditions, and California has seen more than its share of these in recent years.
“There are a lot of factors involved, but drier conditions certainly mean that the region would be more susceptible to fires, but also the circulation patterns of the wind are important and stronger winds can help to promote fires,” Pal confirmed.
“Every year, fires in Southern California have been increasing in frequency and size,” Karno noted. “When the moisture in the ground and in plants evaporates, our hillsides are like tinderboxes.”
Another repercussion of regional climate change is the way agriculture is affected.
“There is irrigated agriculture in a lot of these regions and not having a natural water supply could really tax the reservoir system,” said Pal.
The advent of global warming has ushered in a new era of green technologies and increased awareness among the world’s population regarding climate change.
“If we develop these new technologies, we’re going to gain economically if we go greener and at the same time if we become less dependent on foreign oil, which is always a good idea,” the professor added.
Filippo Giorgi of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, and Noah S. Diffenbaugh of Purdue University co-authored the study with Pal.
Pal has earned the respect and admiration of his peers in science and academia.
“All of us at the university are proud of Jeremy Pal’s work,” said Richard Plumb, dean of the Frank Seaver School of Science and Engineering. “LMU is fortunate to have many professors conducting groundbreaking research.
“Pal is involved in meaningful research that is impacting the world, yet he continues to be strongly dedicated to teaching our students.”
A second study co-authored by Pal, Future Changes in Snowmelt-Driven Runoff Timing Over the Western U.S., deals with how river flow in the Western United States could be altered in the future due to global warming, which could create new water management challenges for agriculture, ecosystems and urban populations.
“In our standard system, precipitation forms in the winter in the mountains and forms snow packs, which are sort of like a natural reservoir that delays melting until the spring and allows us to get our water in the summer,” said Pal. “In the future, we’re seeing that the precipitation is going to fall less as snow and more as rainfall, so the water will go directly into the streams.”
This will result in increased flooding and flow into the ocean before it can be utilized for human consumption.
In order to combat global warming, Pal believes that governments must make a concerted effort to lessen the demand for fossil fuels and decrease the amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
California is in the vanguard among the 50 states in recognizing that global warming can have dire consequences if left unchecked, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has gone against his party’s political platform by announcing several statewide green initiatives.
Karno pointed out that Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill (AB) 32, the landmark Global Warming Act, into law in 2006.
“When I campaigned for governor three years ago, I said I wanted to make California No. 1 in the fight against global warming,” Schwarzenegger said two years ago after signing the bill into law. “This is something we owe our children and our grandchildren.
“Some have challenged whether AB 32 is good for businesses. I say unquestionably it is good for businesses. Not only large, well-established businesses, but small businesses that will harness their entrepreneurial spirit to help us achieve our climate goals.”
Pal believes California is at the forefront in addressing global warming among the other state governments.
“No other state is doing what we are, as far as I understand, so I think that it’s great that [Schwarzenegger] understands that climate change is a problem and is important for California’s future,” said the LMU professor.
Local governments have joined the effort as well. On Tuesday, October 14th, Los Angeles County Supervisors Yvonne Braithwaite Burke and Zev Yaroslavsky presented a motion to the Board of Supervisors that would make the county one of the founding members of a regional organization to address global warming concerns and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Themotion was continued for further discussion.
And Santa Monica has had a Sustainable City Plan in effect since 1994.
“We can all try to reduce our carbon footprint, we can all try to change our lifestyles, but in the end it really has to come from the governmental level,” Pal said. “The United States is the number-one emitter of greenhouse gases, so we should really think about taking a lead in trying to develop new technologies and bringing us into the future.”
The other authors of the second study include Sara A. Rauscher and Michael M. Benedetti of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.