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Study Finds New England’s Warming Trend Threatens Diversity, Economy

By Tom Richardson
Many of New England's iconic trees could be displaced by southern species if the warming trend continues.

A new study published in the journal “Climate” finds that New England is warming faster than the rest of the planet. Authors Stephen Young and Joshua Young found that average temperatures in the region have risen sharply, especially since the 1960s.

“It is clear from the research that New England has warmed past the 1.5 °C level, which the IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] has set as a do-not-pass threshold for the world, and New England is close to passing the 2 °C level,” the authors state. “Regions in the higher latitudes, such as New England, are generally warming faster than the world as a whole …. In addition to the air temperatures in New England warming faster than much of the world, the neighboring Gulf of Maine is warming faster than most other ocean water bodies.”

The study also finds alarming changes in seasonal patterns that affect everything from winter recreation to the spread of invasive species. For example, in every decade between 1965 and 2005, New England has lost nine snow-cover days due to less snowfall and faster snow melt. The authors add: “In addition to a loss of snow-cover days, warmer winters with rising minimum temperatures will allow insect pests to survive in areas where they could not in the past. Tree pests such as the hemlock woolly adelgid and emerald ash borer have expanded their ranges in New England due to the warmer winters. Concerning the spring season, an increase in temperature will shift spring’s seasonal time period (beginning and ending earlier) and affect its seasonal environment.

“Changes to spring temperatures will have a ripple effect on different species. Biologically, the start of spring is measured by the dates of when leaves and blooms are present on diverse species, which is connected to temperature. As spring temperatures start earlier, so blooms, leaves, and insects will arrive earlier as well. This will affect the insect-eating birds, whose migration is connected to the length of day and not as much on temperature. If the insect population has already peaked when the birds arrive, the birds will not have adequate food sources. The late winter, early spring maple syrup season is now in flux with changing temperatures with a threat to the viability of the industry in parts of New England.”

The study warns that continued warming will affect the seasonal differences that make New England so diverse and unique among U.S. regions. Businesses that depend on winter sports will suffer, the lucrative lobster industry will decline as warming ocean waters push lobsters steadily northward, and indigenous northern trees such as maples, spruce and birches may be displaced by southern species.

“We are in a climate crisis, and we need to take concerted steps to reduce our production of greenhouse gases as soon as possible,” the authors state. “The temperature changes that are currently happening … threaten to disrupt the seasonality of New England, which will disrupt the ecosystems and the economy of New England.”