HAGUE — The Adirondacks have warmed more than two times the global average, according to scientific studies done by SUNY Plattsburgh.
The Adirondacks and North Country have warmed about 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, and that increase is expected to double by 2050 if carbon emissions remain “business as usual,” said Eric Leibensperger, associate professor at the Center for Earth and Environmental Science.
By the end of the century, the temperature increase could be so much, Leibensperger said it would be a “game changer,” especially for the winters as those who enjoy the Adirondacks know them.
The data was debuted at the North Country Climate Reality’s conference called, “Adirondack Communities: Preparing for and Responding to Climate Change,” held Saturday at the Silver Bay YMCA Conference Center. It had a breakout session of a couple dozen people astonished.
Alexandria Elliott, one of Leibensperger’s students, said there hasn’t been as much temperature change in the spring and fall, but there’s been significant change during the winter months, about 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. The warming particularly ramped up starting around 1980, the data has shown.
“Personally I have witnessed this change in my lifetime which is pretty horrifying to me,” Elliott said. “I remember when winters were a lot more colder and had a lot more snow. And I’m young so that’s scary to me.”
The northern hemisphere of the globe is seeing the most temperature warmth, Leibensperger said, partially because there’s more land mass. Land mass warms quicker than water, he added. Greenhouse gases, a major culprit of global warming, are also at their most potent at night.
“The change is usually bigger in the wintertime, and it’s usually bigger in the nighttime,” Leibensperger said. “... The Adirondacks are warming not because the hottest days are getting hotter. It’s that the coldest days are getting warmer.”
Many species in the Adirondacks rely on the cold, and increasing temperatures could threaten boreal bogs and alpine vegetation, stress cold water fish, increase algal blooms and provide better conditions of more invasive species to spread.
The Adirondack Park is not the traditional face of global warming.
It’s also causing larger, more intense rainstorms to create more flood events and wastewater overflows.
Michael Hoffmann, executive director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, pointed out that there could be some benefits to the region from warming temperatures. Hoffmann was the conference’s keynote speaker and kicked things off on Saturday.
While New York and the northeast can expect to get more precipitation, the southwest is projected to go through a “megadrought,” that is a drought that will last about 35 years. It could make New York a very attractive place to move to, because there will be no lack of water, Hoffmann said.
Mark Lowery, a climate policy analyst for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a breakout session that the state will have a 3 to 12 percent increase in precipitation by the 2050s, and is looking at a projected 26 percent increase by 2100.
“New York State will likely be the Saudi Arabia of water,” he said. “...That means we’re going to have to think about how do we accept those, I don’t know if you want to call them climate refugees, but it does demand we need to start thinking about a reversal of the population migration.”
There’s also been a significant increase in the growing season for farmers, as winter gets shorter and warmer. As other places deal with drought and food production goes down, New York could find itself in a food production boon — that is if farmers can adapt to the more intense storms that can wash off topsoil, among other growing problems.
Leibensperger said there are complicating factors that can make people skeptical of global warming. For example, Lake Ontario’s evaporating waters are where some of the region’s snow comes from, he said. As it gets warmer, more water evaporates, becomes clouds and releases larger amounts of rain or snow, causing “snowmageddon” events that can make people disbelieve global warming.
“There are things that happen on the road to warming that make it a bumpy road to warming,” he said.
But, he said, there will be a time in the future where there will be less snow, unless something is done about it.
Hoffmann said there are changes people can make that will help. Some of those include switching to a plant-based diet, insulating homes, reducing travel, buying and consuming less and educating others about climate change.
“We can do it, if we want to,” Hoffmann said. “... Maybe we won’t turn it around, but at least our children and grandchildren will know we’ve tried.”