Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Global Warming in the Northeast: Say Goodbye to the Sound's Lobsters

I've only skimmed it so far, but this report, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that because of global warming we can kiss Long Island Sound's lobster population goodbye by the middle of the century. (We'll also have a hard time finding a place to ski in the northeast, but that's a different kind of issue.)

Here's a long excerpt from the section about Connecticut:

Sea-level rise. Global warming affects sea levels by causing ocean water to expand as it warms, and by melting landbased ice. Under the higher-emissions scenario, global sea level is projected to rise between 10 inches and two feet by the end of the century (7 to 14 inches under the lower-emissions scenario). These projections do not account for the recent observed melting of the world’s major ice sheets—nor the potential for accelerated melting—and may therefore be conservative. However, even under these projections, Connecticut’s coast faces a substantial increase in the extent and frequency of coastal flooding, erosion, and property damage.


The coastal area of Connecticut is home to more than 2 million people—more than 60 percent of the state’s population. That number swells each summer as tourists flock to the state’s sandy beaches and shoreline communities. From critical infrastructure to waterfront homes to salt marshes, much of this coastline is exceptionally vulnerable to sea-level rise. Indeed, some major insurers have withdrawn coverage from thousands of homeowners in coastal areas across the Northeast in recent years.

Coastal flooding. Rising sea levels caused by global warming are projected to increase the frequency and severity of damaging storm surges and coastal flooding. What is now considered a once-in-a-century coastal flood in New London and Groton (on opposite banks of the Thames River) is expected, by late-century, to occur as frequently as once every 17 years on average under the higher-emissions scenario. Connecticut communities have a lengthy history of protecting themselves against the sea, but the extra stresses created by sea-level rise and more frequent and extensive flooding can be expected to greatly tax both new and aging infrastructure and threaten vulnerable communities across the state.

Shoreline change. Sea-level rise is expected to permanently inundate certain low-lying coastal areas and dramatically accelerate erosion, particularly on important barrier beaches such as Bluff Point and Long Beach. Continued sea-level rise will also threaten the state’s ecologically important salt marshes and estuaries (which serve as critical feeding ground for migrating waterfowl and other birds, and nursery habitat for important commercial fish). Connecticut policy makers will need to take steps to protect the state’s vulnerable populations and infrastructure, as well as wildlife and critical coastal wetlands. This includes public education, updating and enforcing building codes and land-use regulations, and working with the insurance industry to effectively protect property and people.


Clambakes and lobster festivals are synonymous with summer in Connecticut. Unfortunately, the Long Island Sound lobster population, which has declined nearly 70 percent in recent years due largely to warmer waters, is expected to collapse entirely by mid-century as the maximum heatstress threshold for lobster is consistently exceeded under either emissions scenario.

The New York chapter provides essentially the same information on coastal impacts as the Connecticut chapter. Here's what the New York chapter has to say about fish and lobsters:

Rising ocean temperatures will affect New York’s commercial and sport fisheries. For example, lobsters, which cannot tolerate warm water, already live at the southern edge of their preferred temperature range in Long Island Sound. As temperatures rise, the Long Island Sound lobster fishery (which has yet to recover from the massive temperature-driven die-off of 1999) is likely to be lost by mid-century under either emissions scenario.

Newsday has this story up already, and the Times has this, which includes this paragraph:

Professor McCarthy said the two alternative futures laid out in the study, which was peer reviewed by other scientists before being released, are neither a worst-case nor a best-case scenario. Conditions could be even worse than described if emissions increase over the coming decades, he said. And they could be eased substantially by efforts just now being put into place.

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Blogger Sam said...

I agree with the spirit of the conclusions but still have an issue because predictions of more than about 5-10 years are notoriously faulty. The weathermen really can't predict the weather more than 5-10 days, anyway.

That said, the original settlers of Connecticut knew that low-lying land was not good, so they built on much higher land such as on stony points and rises - the docks and fish houses could always be rebuilt. Prior to 1956, most everyone built at least 20-40 feet above the mean high water line.

We all know the story how after then, marshes were plowed, landfilled, dumped with mud spoils, and developed. Interestingly, these developments will be the first to go.

Give some credit to the people of Connecticut who built inland instead of in the swamps. Sam

4:48 PM  

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