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February 23, 2011

Evidence Mounts for Local Climate Adaptation

This article originally appeared on ICLEI USA's Local Action Blog.

Mounting evidence points to the many ways that climate change can impact the health and economic well-being of local communities. At a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) event, a panel of scientists unveiled new research demonstrating how climate change will affect human health in specific geographic areas, including Milwaukee and Puget Sound. Is your community planning for the impacts and costs of climate change?

The Necessity for Action Is Clear

"Understanding climate change on a local level and what it means to county beach managers or water quality safety officers has been a struggle," said Juli Trtanj, director of NOAA's Oceans and Human Health Initiative, in an article on ScienceBlog. "These new studies and models enable managers to better cope and prepare for real and anticipated changes in their cities, and keep their citizens, seafood and economy safe."

As these unavoidable impacts intensify in the coming years, your community must begin preparing now to increase its resilience. ICLEI's groundbreaking Climate Resilient Communities (CRC) Program is the definitive means to do so.

The new research points to three phenomena originating from ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems that have a direct impact on local communities by increasing the risk of human illness and negatively affecting the local economy. 

Algal Blooms

Stephanie Moore, Ph.D., with NOAA's West Coast Center for Oceans and Human Health and her partners at the University of Washington looked at blooms of Alexandrium catenella, more commonly known as "red tide," which produces saxitoxin, a poison that can accumulate in shellfish. If consumed by humans, it can cause gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms including vomiting and muscle paralysis or even death in extreme cases. Longer harmful algal bloom seasons could translate to more days the shellfish fishery is closed, threatening the vitality of the $108 million shellfish industry in Washington state.

Changes in the algal bloom season appear to be imminent, and Puget Sound and similar at-risk environments should expect significant increases in the next 30 years -- possibly sooner.

Atmospheric Dust

In a study conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, Erin Lipp, Ph.D. and graduate student Jason Westrich demonstrated that the sole addition of desert dust and its associated iron into seawater significantly stimulates growth and persistence of Vibrios, a group of ocean bacteria that occur worldwide and can cause gastroenteritis and infectious diseases in humans. Since 1996 Vibrio cases have jumped 85 percent in the United States based on reports that primarily track seafood-illnesses.

Increased Rainfall

A changing climate with more rainstorms on the horizon could increase the risk of overflows of dated sewage systems, causing the release of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoa into drinking water and onto beaches.

In Milwaukee, infrastructure investments have reduced sewage overflows to an average of three times per year, but other cities around the Great Lakes still experience overflows up to 40 times per year.

-- Adrienne DeAngelo, ICLEI USA

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