Monday, August 18, 2014

As Climate Changes, 'Underwater Mortgage' May Take on New Meaning

Looking to buy a house?  That’s great, unless you’re in your 20s and 30s and regularly read climate reports.  They tend to project dramatic changes to the climate over the next 50 years, and given that current life expectancy is hovering around 80, we’ll likely be around to see it.

So, if you’re looking to settle down for the long haul, where’s the best place to do it?

Benjamin Preston, deputy director of the Climate Change Science Institute at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has risen to the challenge.  He says that most studies come down to simply “a question of temperature, coastal cities, and water availability—those are the big driving forces."

By capturing those forces in equations and then letting them loose in scientifically rigorous and (for now) make-believe computer worlds, Preston and the climate science community can articulate where those forces are likely to hit hardest.

For decades, there’s been a sustained southern migration to states like Florida, Arizona, and New Mexico, as people have "voted with their feet," Preston says, moving for the work and the weather.

The colors on the map show temperature changes over the past 22 years (1991-2012) compared to the 1901-1960 average, and compared to the 1951-1980 average for Alaska and Hawai‘i. The bars on the graphs show the average temperature changes by decade for 1901-2012 (relative to the 1901-1960 average) for each region. The far right bar in each graph (2000s decade) includes 2011 and 2012. The period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade in every region. Source: NOAA NCDC/CICS-NC
Those sunny skies might grow oppressive with temperature averages reaching five to nine degrees Fahrenheit warmer later in the century, at which point people might have second thoughts.  Average temperatures in the Southwest jumped nearly two degrees Fahrenheit in the 2000s, an increase over the previous two decades, which each saw record increases as well.

For all the talk about “carbon this” and “hurricane that,” fresh water availability in cities and for agriculture “is probably the sleeping giant," Preston says.  That’s particularly true for regions that rely on their neighbors’ dwindling resources for everything from tap water to irrigation.

Projected increase in the number of days per year with a maximum temperature greater than 90°F averaged between 2041 and 2070, compared to 1971-2000, assuming continued increases in global emissions and substantial reductions in future emissions. The left shows a low-emissions scenario, the left a high-emissions scenario.  (Credit: NOAA NCDC/CICS-NC) Click to enlarge. The Southwest is fundamentally a desert region, while the Northeast corridor and much of the Pacific Northwest "tend to be reasonably resource rich in terms of water resource availability," he says.

"From a purely climate-oriented perspective, the region from the Great Lakes over to New England is perhaps better off," Preston says.

As Climate Changes, 'Underwater Mortgage' May Take on New Meaning

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