What Climate Change Means for Virginia Page: 1 of 2
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Virginia's climate is changing. Most of the state has
warmed about one degree (F) in the last century, and
the sea is rising one to two inches every decade. Higher
water levels are eroding beaches, submerging low lands,
exacerbating coastal flooding, and increasing the salinity
of estuaries and aquifers. The southeastern United States
has warmed less than most of the nation. But in the
coming decades, the region's changing climate is likely
to reduce crop yields, harm livestock, increase the
number of unpleasantly hot days, and increase the risk
of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.
Our climate is changing because the earth is warming.
People have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in
the air by 40 percent since the late 1700s. Other heat-
trapping greenhouse gases are also increasing. These
gases have warmed the surface and lower atmosphere of
our planet about one degree during the last 50 years.
Evaporation increases as the atmosphere warms, which
increases humidity, average rainfall, and the frequency of
heavy rainstorms in many places-but contributes to
drought in others.
Greenhouse gases are also changing the world's oceans
and ice cover. Carbon dioxide reacts with water to form
carbonic acid, so the oceans are becoming more acidic.
The surface of the ocean has warmed about one degree
during the last 80 years. Warming is causing snow to melt
earlier in spring, and mountain glaciers are retreating.
Even the great ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are
shrinking. Thus the sea is rising at an increasing rate.
Temperature change (*F):
1 -0.5 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5
Rising temperatures in the last century. The eastern half of
Virginia has warmed more than the western half. Source: EPA,
Climate Change Indicators in the United States.
Rising Seas and Retreating Shores
Sea level is rising more rapidly along Virginia's shores than in most
coastal areas because the land is sinking. If the oceans and atmo-
sphere continue to warm, sea level along the Virginia coast is likely to
rise sixteen inches to four feet in the next century.
Oceanfront houses in Virginia Beach are vulnerable to severe storms,
flooding, and coastal erosion. James G. Titus; used by permission.
As sea level rises, the lowest dry lands are submerged and become
either tidal wetland or open water. The freshwater wetlands in the
upper tidal portions of the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James
rivers build their own land by capturing floating sediments, and they
are likely to keep pace with the rising sea during the next century.
But most salt marshes along the brackish portions of those rivers
and along Chesapeake Bay are unlikely to keep pace if sea level rises
three feet. The wetlands of Back Bay and the North Landing River are
even more vulnerable and may be lost if the sea rises two feet.
Beaches also erode as sea level rises. A higher ocean level makes
it more likely that storm waters will wash over a barrier island or
open new inlets. The United States Geological Survey estimates that
Virginia's barrier islands could be broken up by new inlets or lost to
erosion if sea level rises two feet by the year 2100. Beach erosion will
threaten the oceanfront portion of Virginia Beach, unless people take
measures to offset the erosion. Rising sea level also threatens bay
beaches and tidal flats.
As sea level rises, salt water can mix farther inland or upstream in
bays, rivers, and wetlands. Because water on the surface is connect-
ed to ground water, salt water can also intrude into aquifers near the
coast. Soils may become too salty for farms or forests. For example,
some of the freshwater swamps along the York River's tidal tributar-
ies have standing dead trees that were killed by saltwater intrusion
made possible by rising sea level.
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United States. Environmental Protection Agency. What Climate Change Means for Virginia, pamphlet, August 2016; United States. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc948986/m1/1/: accessed May 21, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.