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Adapting to climate change depends on site-specific knowledge

Column: One size doesn't fit all when it comes to coping with the effects of climate change.

How climate change affects various areas will differ. For example, scientists say that melting ice in Greenland will cause the sea level to rise more along the coast of the northeastern United States than other areas.


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New research has put climate change in a more challenging – although not entirely discouraging – perspective: It's too late to avoid some unpleasant effects of global warming, such as a rising sea level and water shortages. But there's still time to avert the worst foreseeable consequences, such as an even larger sea level rise and even more extreme temperatures.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., made that point in a comprehensive study published in April. To quote the study's lead author Warren Washington, "This research indicates that we can no longer avoid significant warming during this century. But if the world wants to implement [drastic greenhouse gas] emission cuts, we could stabilize the threat of climate change and avoid catastrophe."

In other words, we're being challenged to adapt to significant climate change while at the same time making difficult economic adjustments to curb greenhouse gas emissions. There's plenty of discussion about curbing the gases and some discussion of adapting to what now seems inevitable environmental change. There's relatively little focus on how to deal with these two challenges simultaneously.

Getting the balance right will be tricky. The consequences of climate change already underway can be subtle. Melting icecaps can raise general sea level. But the actual rise along populated coastlines is not the same everywhere around the world. It depends on more than the volume of water in the ocean.


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