The Philadelphia Health & Environment Ethnography Lab supports the “Climate, Health, and Home” project, a collaborative series of workshops focused on the health-impacts of climate change in Philadelphia. This post is designed to provide general information about the impacts that climate change has for the Philadelphia region.

Global climate change impacts regions around the world in different ways. The effects of climate change in each region depend on many different factors, such as global weather patterns. The Mid-Atlantic Region, stretching along the Atlantic Coast from southern New York State to Virginia, is projected to become warmer and wetter as anthropogenic climate change progresses.

(Wikipedia)

According to the EPA, average temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic Region have already risen one degree over the past century – and temperatures continue to rise. An increase in average temperatures of one degree may not sound like a big deal, but it is. An average change of one degree indicates much more significant temperature changes that are occurring locally and seasonally. As explained by Dave Schimel, supervisor of NASA’s JPL Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems group: “Most of that temperature change may occur during a small fraction of the year, when it actually represents conditions that could be 5 or 10 degrees warmer than pre-industrial temperatures instead of just 1.5 or 2 degrees warmer” (NASA).

The EPA asserts that human activities impacting the atmosphere will continue to accelerate the observed warming in the Mid-Atlantic Region. As higher summer temperatures become more common, heat-related illness and mortality rates are projected to rise. Higher temperatures have also been shown to aggravate breathing problems and lengthen allergy seasons. Already, the ragweed pollen season has been amplified in Northern US latitudes, demonstrating seasonal increases from 15 to 25 days (EPA).

Higher heat will have impacts beyond our individual health. More heat will require major changes in agricultural practices, problems with pests and invasive species, and declining cold-water fisheries. Local tourism will be impacted, too. For example, ski resorts will suffer from warmer and rainier seasons.

Aside from increasing temperatures, the Mid-Atlantic Region will be dealing with more water. As sea levels continue to rise from melting ice – combined with oceanic circulation disruptions, intense storms, and land subsidence – coastal and tidal regions are projected to suffer from increased flooding. The EPA notes how sea-level rise threatens beaches and beach-properties, wetlands, and barrier islands; impacting tourism, property values, insurance and infrastructure repair, and saltwater seeping into freshwater wells.

“Inland” cities like Philadelphia are still at risk of coastal flooding; Philadelphia in particular lies between two tidal rivers that are directly impacted by sea-level rise and flooding. Click here to read another PHEEL article series about projected riverine flood damage in Philadelphia.

In addition to coastal flooding, the Mid-Atlantic Region is projected to experience more extreme weather events, with conditions generally becoming wetter. The EPA warns that runoff from heavier rains will flood waterways with pesticides, fertilizers, pathogens, sediments, and more. Increased pollution disturbs important aquatic life and leads to higher costs for consumers and taxpayers. Increased nutrient levels in local waterways will also produce more algae overgrowth. Algal blooms create massive “dead zones” in waterways – areas where the water becomes completely inhospitable to life. Aquatic ecosystems will also change as water becomes less welcoming to cold-water species.

Example of an Algal Bloom (Wikipedia)

In addition to changing aquatic ecosystems, climate change in the Mid-Atlantic is impacting terrestrial species as well. Ecosystem disturbances are already occurring as bird migration patterns and ranges shift. Changes in pollinator patterns and water flows are harming biodiversity and agriculture, while destructive invasive species are overtaking beneficial native species and economically valuable hardwood trees. The chart below from the EPA explains the negative and positive impacts of climate change on Mid-Atlantic growth.

EPA impacts of climate change

Government and corporate decisions made now will impact the severity of these changes into the future.