Essential Pittsburgh
4:11 pm
Fri May 9, 2014

Climate Change Could Make Pennsylvania's Ecosystems Resemble Alabama

By 2050, Pennsylvania's ecosystems could be vastly different if we don't pass an appreciation for nature along to the next generation.
By 2050, Pennsylvania's ecosystems could be vastly different if we don't pass an appreciation for nature along to the next generation.
Credit Tim McCabe/USDA

A national climate change study released earlier this week warns of drastically different climates in the future for the state of Pennsylvania.

The commonwealth is among a number of Northeast states expected to experience heat waves and extreme precipitation.

Cities such as New York have already begun to prepare for climate change effects by installing flood pumps in their subway systems.

John Radzilowicz, Director of Professional Development ASSET STEM education at CMU said, if we don’t start making big changes in industrial pollution policies and even simple conservation changes on a personal level, the Pennsylvania landscape will be completely different by 2050. 

Radzilowicz explained that Southern PA is likely to have a climate similar to that of Alabama, “Those kinds of changes are going to cause problems in terms of infrastructure, where we have to look at things like, okay the water’s rising. But it’s also going to create problems in terms of what we see with insects and vegetation. So the kinds of insects and the kinds of plants that you see growing in PA now, is not what we’re going to have in the year 2050. Instead, we’re going to have the kinds of insects moving up from the south, and this is going to have a direct effect on the kinds of things that can be grown.”

Climate Change and its Impact on Wildlife

From tornadoes to floods, weather events caused by climate change are intensifying throughout the country and while the toll on humans can be significant, a new report by the National Wildlife Federation entitled, Wildlife Legacy: Climate Change and the Next Generation of Wildlife takes a look at the toll climate change is taking on wildlife.  

For Ed Perry, Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation the changes are especially notable in the decline of the local bass population.

“In 2005, I’m floating on the Susquehanna River with my 2 sons, and at that time it was the hottest year on record. We’ve been doing this float for 25 years, and that water temperature above Harrisburg was 91 degrees. That weekend we saw hundreds and hundreds of bass floating downstream, killed by a common soil and water bacteria called columnaris,” said Perry, and that was just the beginning. Columnaris has begun to show up in the Allegheny River, the Delaware River and many streams.  

“Now every year when you have that combination of low flow and high temperature, we have a small mouth bass kill to the point that the fishery has collapsed 100 miles of the middle of the Susquehanna River. The fish and boat commission has asked the DEP to declare that section of the river impaired.”

While many of PA’s rivers have been cleaned of pollution in recent years, Perry said the return to healthy river habitats looks to be short lived, as the changing climate alters the ecological systems of these rivers.

Other state wildlife and plants in danger of decline include the state tree- the Hemlock, the state fish- the brook trout and the state bird- the ruffed grouse.

Perry says the best way to preserve our wildlife legacy is to pass along an appreciation of nature to young people, decrease personal carbon and energy use, and intensify environmental regulations on major industries.