“Based on the data presented here, and the continuing increase of greenhouse gases, it is clear that humanity does not have its hand on the rudder of climate control,” the authors of the study wrote. “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 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.”
The study found that New England’s average temperature rose 1.14 degrees Celsius between 1900 and 2020. Nearly all of this warming has occurred between 1900 and 2020, when more fossil fuels were burned. This has resulted to more heat-trapping CO2 and methane in our atmosphere.
In Massachusetts, average annual temperatures have increased even faster — rising 1.97 degrees Celsius in that period, faster than the other states in New England.
The region’s warming has already exceeded a threshold set by the Paris Climate Accord, in which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut their emissions in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists warn that if global temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees Celsius, then the damage caused by intensifying storms and rising sea levels, droughts, fires, and other natural catastrophes will be severe.
With New England’s annual temperatures expected to rise sharply in the coming decades, the authors of the study said the region should expect major disruptions to its economy, such as coastal waters that will become increasingly inhospitable to iconic species, such as cod and lobster; fewer days when skiing and other winter recreation will be possible; less maple syrup and other agricultural products produced; and a range of other consequences.
“We have a daunting task ahead to stabilize our global temperatures,” said Stephen Young, a professor of environmental sustainability at Salem State University, and the lead author of the study.
Similar findings were made in previous research, which has shown that the Northeast experiences high temperatures and corresponding changes. Studies in the past have shown that there is less icing on rivers and lakes in winter, less snowfall, and more blooming of everything from lilacs and apple trees.
Young published a paper in which New England lost an average amount of 6.2 days worth of snow between the winters of 2017 and 2017. Connecticut lost the most, with 14.6 days. Massachusetts lost 12 days worth of snow cover in that time period. The lack of snowfall is contributing to the region’s warming, he noted, as snow reflects the sun’s energy back into space, and with less snow, more sunlight is absorbed by the ground.
“This is a reinforcing feedback loop,” Young said.
Climate scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst were active in 2017 Published a studyIn the journal PLOS One, they found that the Northeast was heating faster than any other region of the country. They projected that the average annual temperature would reach 2 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels by 2025.
Scientists attribute the Northeast’s warming to changes within the atmosphere and rising temperatures in coastal water bodies, such as the Gulf of Maine. Scientists believe that this body of water is among the most rapidly warming on the planet.
“The coastal Northeast is part of a very small fraction of northern hemisphere land areas that have warmed by over 2 degrees Celsius so far,” said Ambarish Karmalkar, an assistant professor of geosciences at UMass-Amherst, and an author of the previous paper. “It’s the combination of ocean warming in the northwest Atlantic, and changes in atmospheric circulation in the Atlantic sector, that are responsible for higher warming trends along the coast.”
Cameron Wake, a climate scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, said his research has found that his state has experienced a surge in wintertime temperatures, with the lowest temperatures rising an average of 5.9 degrees Fahrenheit — at a rate 1.17 degrees per decade — since the 1970s.
The warmer winters have allowed more invasive insects to survive in areas where they couldn’t before. Tree pests like the hemlock woolly Adelgid or emerald Ash borer are expanding their ranges in New England and decimating forests. Meanwhile, deer ticks thrive, killing moose, and increasing the incidence of Lyme disease.
“This new research is entirely consistent with what we’ve found,” Wake said.
Richard Primack, a Boston University biology professor who studies the effects of climate change on plants and animals, has linked the region’s warming to losses of local biodiversity. His research shows that more than half of the migratory bird species recorded at a Plymouth station have gone extinct, and that more than half have declined in Concord.
He called the most recent study “a good summary” of how the region’s seasons are changing.
“Climate change will affect each season in its own distinctive way, and force New Englanders to adjust their lifestyles,” he said, noting his family recently installed air conditioning in their home to cope with summer heatwaves.
While the region’s temperatures have been rising in every season, the most notable increases have been winter minimum temperatures.
According to the study, New England winters averaged 2.75 degrees Celsius (or 4.86 degrees Fahrenheit) between 1900 and 2020. Massachusetts winter temperatures have risen an average 6.89 degrees Fahrenheit.
Young stated that warming in winter has been less obvious and creates a sort of cognitive dissonance regarding climate change.
As a result, he worries that less frigid winters could be “making many people complacent to the current warming, and making the issue of climate change in New England seem not so urgent.”
“We still have the ability to mitigate the worst of climate change, but we have to act urgently,” he said.