The last decade in North Carolina has been the warmest on record. If nothing is done to slow down global warming the trend lines are not promising. It's been estimated that the Tar Heel state would experience rising temperatures between 6-10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 50 years.
Christopher Zarzar is an assistant professor of environmental, earth, and geospatial sciences. He spoke with WFDD's David Ford about the impact that change would have in the Piedmont and High Country.
On insects that benefit from global warming:
Ticks, mosquitoes, they bring vector-borne illnesses and Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And that strikes close to home. I've had a relative who had Lyme disease and one who had Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And the concern is with these warmer temperatures, and these longer summer temperatures, that gives more time for ticks and for mosquitoes to breed, become more prevalent, and even some mosquito species that can bring along West Nile virus. We're starting to see those migrate northward.
On the fate of North Carolina's moderate weather conditions:
We have a beautiful climate here. And we've got beaches in the summer, we've got skiing up in the mountains in the winter. Unfortunately, with warmer temperatures, sea level rise, we'll start to lose some of those beaches in the next 50 years due to sea level rise. With warmer temperatures, especially through the winter, we'll start to lose some of our ski season. And so that climate that we're used to is changing, and now it's changing rapidly.
On extreme heat:
So, for example, in North Carolina, we've experienced a one-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase over the last 120 years on average. Now what does that mean? Well, it means a change in extremes. And so when it comes to the number of hot days or the days over 95 degrees, currently we experience 15 to 20 days per year that are over 95 degrees. In the future climate conditions like over the next 50 years, that number is going to increase to about 50 to 60 days per year that are over 95 degrees. So, some extreme heat events that will be occurring in the future.
On economic impacts of climate change:
For us in North Carolina, we're a pretty big agricultural state. And that is a concern. We'll see differences in what crops do well in more extreme heat conditions. Also what crops can hold up to these extreme rain events. And then after these rain events, these extreme dry conditions and these droughts. Also, we have a pretty big fishery economy. With things like ocean acidification, that's going to have a major impact on our shellfish, as well as our wetlands, which act like nurseries for our fisheries. Those wetlands will start to be infiltrated by this rising sea and the saltwater and that's not good for these nurseries for these fishes. And so we're concerned that that's going to lead to some fishery collapses, which will have major economic impacts for North Carolina.