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Taking stock of the changing climate

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As the climate continues to change, the Rochester area can expect more frequent downpours, heat waves, and dry periods, according to the newly released draft National Climate Assessment.

The document, which was authored by climate researchers from across the country, takes comprehensive national and regional views of climate trends. The assessment includes climate projections based on several greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

The document is meant to guide farmers, government officials, businesses, and other people and groups as they make decisions that could be affected by climate change, says David Wolfe, a lead author on the section dealing with the Northeast. The assessment cautions that, because of changes brought on by human activity, the past climate isn't a reliable indicator of future conditions.

"Climate change preparedness just makes good business sense at this point," says Wolfe, a Cornell University professor and chair of the school's Climate Change Focus Group.

The practical applications for the data vary. For example, the assessment projects that, if greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing, Rochester will see more very hot days. Residents might consider that information as they decide whether to buy air conditioners.

Farmers might use similar information to decide whether they'll invest in cooling systems for their dairy barns. And the data about more frequent downpours could be useful to local governments as they replace infrastructure.

The assessment doesn't recommend policies for lawmakers, Wolfe says. But it does spell out scientific facts and observations that suggest broad action on greenhouse gas emissions is necessary.

The assessment says that large reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions are needed to avoid some of the worst climate impacts. In the Northeast, the average temperature could increase by as much as 4.5 degrees to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080, if emissions continue to increase, the report says. If emissions are reduced, the increase could be limited to 3 degrees to 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

And the assessment emphasizes that poor and vulnerable populations are at higher risk for harm from some of the changes in climate.

The assessment is available at www.globalchange.gov.

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