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Environmental Health Impacts of Global Climate Change Crispin Pierce, Ph.D. piercech@uwec.edu Environmental Public Health Program Outline Global Human Environmental Threats Experiment Challenge Direct Human Effects Heat deaths Adverse weather events Costs of extreme weather events

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Environmental Health Impacts of Global Climate Change

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environmental health impacts of global climate change

Environmental Health Impacts of Global Climate Change

Crispin Pierce, Ph.D.


Environmental Public Health Program

  • Global Human Environmental Threats
  • Experiment Challenge
  • Direct Human Effects
    • Heat deaths
    • Adverse weather events
    • Costs of extreme weather events
  • Relationship Between Climate Change and Other Environmental Issues
Associated Climate Changes and Surprises
  • Flooding of Low-Lying Areas
  • Spread of Waterborne Diseases
  • Climate Change and Food Production
  • Effects on Plant and Animal Communities
    • Phenology
    • Greening of the North
    • Coral Bleaching
    • Species Extinction
  • Benefits of Stabilizing CO2 Concentrations
global human environmental threats
Global Human Environmental Threats
  • Overpopulation
  • Global Climate Change
  • Loss of Biodiversity
experimental challenge
Experimental Challenge
  • A reporter for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram contacts you for information on an article concerning global warming. She asks you the question, “If air and sea temperatures rise, will the melting of icebergs lead to sea level increases?” What is your response.
  • Use the materials in front of you (ice cubes, a graduated cylinder, and a water faucet), how would you test your answer?
direct human effects
Direct Human Effects
  • Hotter, Drier Summers and Warmer, Wetter Winters
  • Increased Adverse Weather Events
  • Property and Crop Losses
quick quiz
Quick Quiz
  • About how many people in Europe died during the heat wave of 2003?
    • 350
    • 3,500
    • 35,000
  • Heat is the primary cause of weather-related deaths.
adverse weather events
Adverse Weather Events
  • Increased Sea Surface Temperatures and Greater Hurricane Intensity (Science 16 September 2005:Vol. 309. no. 5742, pp. 1844 - 1846)
  • Net Hurricane Power Dissipation Highly Correlated with Tropical Sea Surface Temperature (Nature advance online publication; published online 31 July 2005 | doi: 10.1038/nature03906)
relationship between climate change and other environmental issues
Relationship Between Climate Change and Other Environmental Issues
  • The complex effects of warming of our atmosphere, water, and soil are very difficult to measure and predict.
  • Accumulation of evidence from many fields, such as chemistry, biology, geology, and environmental health is essential.
  • The accumulated evidence provides a clearer and clearer picture of what’s going on.

Associated Climate Changes

  • Global sea-level has increased 1-2 mm/yr; in 100 years a rise in sea level between 3.5 and 34.6 in. (9-88 cm) is expected
  • Duration of ice cover of rivers and lakes decreased by 2 weeks in N. Hemisphere
  • Arctic ice has thinned substantially, decreased in extent by 10-15%
Reduced permafrost in polar, sub-polar, mountainous regions
  • Growing season lengthened by 1-4 days in N. Hemisphere
  • Retreat of continental glaciers on all continents
  • Snow cover decreased by 10% (reduced solar reflection)

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001 Report


Since 1979, the size of the summer polar ice cap has shrunk more than 20 percent.

(Illustration from NASA) (http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/qthinice.asp)


Climate Surprises

  • Slowing of the ocean thermohaline circulation

Flooding of Low-Lying Coastal Areas

Source: U.S. National Assessment, 2000.


Kennedy Space


Impact of a 1-m

rise in sea level

on low-lying areas

Areas subjected to

Inundation with a 1 m

(~3 ft) rise in sea




Corell, R. W., 2004: Impacts of a warming Arctic. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (www.acia.uaf.edu) Cambridge University Press (www.cambridge.org).

who will be first affected
Who Will be First Affected?
  • AOSIS is a coalition of small island and low-lying coastal countries, including Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific, South China Sea
  • These countries share risk factors for warming-induced disasters:
    • Small physical size
    • Surrounded by large expanses of ocean
    • Relative isolation
    • Limited natural resources
    • Growing populations
    • Exposure to damaging natural disasters
    • Low economic diversification
    • Limited funds, human resources, skills
Rising sea levels will cause
    • Displacement of coastal communities
    • Disturbance of agricultural activity
    • Coastal erosion, beach loss, decline in tourism
    • Intrusion of sea water into freshwater aquifers
Other risks faced by AOSIS
    • More frequent droughts and floods
    • Water supply contamination
  • The experience of AOSIS countries is a microcosm of the global picture
spread of waterborne diseases
Spread of Waterborne Diseases
  • Malaria
  • Dengue Fever
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid fever
  • Hantavirus
  • Diptheria
  • Lyme Disease
  • Evidence: the Caribbean region has experienced a marked increase in the incidence of dengue and dengue hemorrhagic fever in the past decade (Caribbean Epidemiology Centre - CAREC).
climate change and food
Climate Change and Food
  • The growth of crops depends on many factors, including temperature, precipitation, soil fertility, and surrounding land uses.
  • Extreme weather events (drought, hurricanes, floods, etc.) are very damaging to crops. The effects of more gradual affects (e.g., average temperature increase) are difficult to predict.
  • Developing countries will be much harder hit than developed countries, due to limited agricultural flexibility.
effects on plant and animal communities
Effects on Plant and Animal Communities
  • The effects are difficult to measure, but potentially dramatic.
  • Many species inhabit precisely bounded ecological niches, and so small changes in climate can cause disruptions in habitat or food availability.
  • In the past, mobile animals could respond to these pressures by moving from one place to another. Land development, however, has constrained and fragmented ranges and travel routes, making migration much more difficult.
  • Loss of key predator or prey species affects the life cycles of other organisms in the food chain.
phenology timing of natural events
Phenology (Timing of Natural Events)
  • Evidence of earlier leafing and flowering.


greening of the north
Greening of the North
  • More vegetative growth in the last 20 years.
  • Many scientists predict greater desertification.

Ranga B. Myneni, Department of Geography, Boston University

coral bleaching
Coral Bleaching
  • Increased sea temperatures
  • Increased CO2 concentrations:


species extinction
Species Extinction
  • Extinction of the golden toad:
    • Over the past 30 years, the dry season in the Costa Rica’s cloud forest has become warmer and drier.
    • 20 out of 50 species of frogs and toads have disappeared from a 30-square-kilometer study area
    • Toucans and other bird species have shifted their range to higher altitudes.
  • Frog extinction in the Central and South American tropics
biological shifts
Biological Shifts
  • Shifts in the ranges of 35 species of non-migratory butterflies.
  • Decline in body weight of polar bears, resulting from early melting of sea ice and lowered food availability.
  • Changes in the abundance of winter songbirds in four Great Plains states
  • Shifts in California’s tidepools species
  • Reduction of phytoplankton growth in the Ross Sea that could disrupt the Antarctic food chain
stabilizing co 2 atmospheric levels
Stabilizing CO2 Atmospheric Levels
  • Efficient Transportation
  • Energy Conservation
  • Sustainable Energy Sources
  • Sustainable Land Use
  • Population Stabilization
  • Exploratorium.edu
  • Eugene S. Takle, Iowa State University
  • Joan L. Aron, Vulnerability Associated with Climate Variability and Climate Change in Central America and the Caribbean
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
extra slides
Extra Slides
  • Scientists predict that continued global warming on the order of 2.5°-10.4°F over the next 100 years (as projected in the IPCC's Third Assessment Report) is likely to result in:
  • severe stress on many forests, wetlands, alpine regions, and other natural ecosystems
  • greater threats to human health as mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects and rodents spread diseases over larger geographical regions
  • disruption of agriculture in some parts of the world due to increased temperature, water stress, and sea-level rise in low-lying areas such as Bangladesh or the Mississippi River delta.