Climate

A changing region

This presentation explains how climate change is expected to affect the American West, with a focus on the water cycle, biodiversity, and wildfires. We also discuss greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air pollution.

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Key points

  • Temperature
    • The West is already warming faster than many parts of the country, and even higher temperatures are expected in the decades to come
  • Precipitation
    • Models predict the Southwest will get drier and the Pacific Northwest will get wetter, but the projections elsewhere are more ambiguous
  • Water impacts
    • Changes to the vital winter snowpack and the timing of the spring snowmelt will pose challenges to aquatic species and water managers
  • Biodiversity impacts
    • Plants and animals are expected to move upslope and toward the North Pole in response to the changing climate, but many barriers stand in the way
  • Wildfire impacts
    • Warmer temperatures and a thinner snowpack will continue to make the West’s wildfire season longer and more destructive
  • Greenhouse gases
    • Power plants, transportation, and industry account for the great majority of GHG emissions in the West, where only a few states have significant carbon sinks
  • Other air pollution
    • The nation has made significant progress in addressing many types of air pollution, but millions of Westerners remain at risk from airborne toxics

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