Hixon Center Director Reviews EPA Climate Change Indicators Report

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released the 4th edition of its Climate Change Indicators in the United States report. Overall coordination and development of the report was provided by EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs, Climate Change Division and dozens of governmental and non-governmental organizations, universities, and international research institutions provided data, science and interpretation services.

The report was peer-reviewed by external experts, among them Hixon Center Director Tanja Srebotnjak. Professor Srebotnjak, who also reviewed the 2014 and 2012 reports, fully supports the EPA’s efforts to bring climate change science and information into the public domain using clear and digestible graphics and explanations.

The 2016 report includes some 40 indicators covering the domains

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Weather and Climate
  • Oceans
  • Snow and Ice
  • Health and Society
  • Ecosystems

Climate change unfolds over time and part of the indicator report’s value is in the painstaking collection and analysis of time series data that illuminate both climatic as well as environmental, economic and societal trends. For example, under the header Coastal Flooding, the report shows that the frequency of flooding along the Eastern U.S. coastline has significantly increased 2010-2015 compared with 1950-1959.

Since local contexts may matter as much as global trends, the report also takes closer looks at some geographically specific issues such as ice breakup in Alaskan rivers and along the Great Lakes. In both regions, ice thaws are now occurring earlier on average than at the start of the 20th century.

The causal links between climate change and human health can be difficult to quantify. EPA uses a pathway model consisting of climate change impacts, such as increased average temperatures, human exposure assessment, such as more heat waves, and finally known health outcomes, such as heat stroke. The impact-exposure-outcome model can be amplified or modulated by reducing vulnerability through policy and human behavior adaptation. In the heat wave example, cities may provide more cooling centers and attempt to reduce heat island effects in infrastructure design.

Overall, the report provides a rich and fairly comprehensive resource for climate change education and communication.

EPA has made the report and a host of additional information and climate change resources available on a dedicated website at http://www.epa.gov/climate-change. Professor Srebotnjak also has a paper copy available.