New England's Changing Climate: 7 Things We've Seen
We here at NEMO travel the world.
We live to explore the outdoors in all its iterations as it manifests around the country and the globe, but we have carved out a special place in our heart for New England. Its granite mountains, tranquil valleys, and pellucid streams contributed to our foundation. The region’s deciduous colors, pristine winters, unparalleled autumns, rugged coasts and tucked away lakes inspire our work.
This ardent love of New England speaks to the gravity of our worry as we begin to see the toll a changing climate is taking on the landscape we love. Those of us who are out in the wild — climbing, hunting, fishing — are some of the first to see these signs so dramatically and undeniably.
What is Happening
Here in New England, warmer oceans and rivers are hampering recreational fishing opportunities. The famed fall foliage is losing luster as our inimitable forests fall prey to stress. Tick populations are expanding. Ski seasons are becoming shorter, witnessing more slush, less snow. These trends aren’t theories. They aren’t the prognostications of computer models. It’s happening now and it’s happening here. We see it with our very own eyes.
1. New England’s Temperature Rise
It’s getting hotter in a region known for the gritty toughness of our seasons. There is pride in weathering cold temperatures, in seeing your breath in the morning in late September, in persevering on hikes in the cruelty of April. But our way of life is slowly slipping.
New England has been ground zero for temperature increases, according to the federal government’s recent Climate Science Special Report. The annual average temperature in New England has increased by 1.43 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901, with the change in the average annual minimum winter temperature jumping by 1.70 degrees. The same trend is apparent in the oceans off the Atlantic Coast, where mean sea-surface temperatures exceeded 150 year old records over the northeast continental shelf.
2. A Warming Ocean
New England is synonymous with fishing. It’s a craft, a way of life and a means of earning an honest living for generations of New Englanders. But it isn’t just commercial fishing, but recreational fishing that has taken a hit due to warming oceans, shifting currents and changes in fish migration.
Cod reproduction has been hampered by the change in temperatures accompany a depletion of lobster off the coast of Maine. But New England’s $800 million recreational fishing industry is alse imperiled by the drastic changes in the ocean, from acidification to warming trends. Cod is a prized catch for deep sea fisherman as well.
The striped sea bass or “striper” central to the recreational fishing industry in the Atlantic is changing its migration patterns, in some cases pushing north in search of cooler waters. Certain varieties of flounder are pushing north as well. Many of the shellfish species popular with crabbers are in decline.
A NEMO employee fly fishing.
3. Tepid Rivers
It’s not just the saltwater species populations that are on the retreat. As rivers warm, fish species that rely on cooler river temperatures to reproduce such as salmon and sturgeon will find the Northeastern an increasingly hostile place. The eastern brook trout, the East Coast’s only native trout, thrive in clear cold waters.
A recent study by the United States Geological Survey found recreational fishermen have had to drive increased distances to fish for the much coveted species. An abundance of the native species has already become concentrated in the waters of northern latitudes and the streams that flow through the higher altitudes in the Appalachian mountains.
4. Hunters See Fewer Moose
It’s not just fishermen who have seen the populations of their prey wane. Hunters in the Northeast have borne witness to a stark decline in Moose populations. The number of Moose in New Hampshire alone has been cut roughly in half since 1994, from about 7,000 to the current population of approximately 3,500.
Scientists have identified the culprit as the winter tick. While the parasite is endemic to the region its population has boomed with warmer winters that allow the tick to thrive and prey on Moose. The ticks infect the Moose with disease, reducing the population to the point where hunting quotas are more restrictive and the future of hunting Moose in the region is thrown into doubt.
5. Lyme Disease on the Rise
Lyme disease is pervasive in New England and it’s gotten much worse recently. It is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, significantly more abundant than Zika or West Nile viruses. The disease is transmitted to humans via Lyme-infected ticks.
One of the most significant determinants in where ticks can live is temperature, as the insects cannot survive colder temperatures. Warm winters in the Northeast not only mean more ticks capable of transmitting the disease, but it also means the population is spreading further north. Lyme disease is often treatable with antibiotics if caught soon enough, but some patients who go untreated develop serious and severe symptoms like arthritis, nerve pain, brain inflammation and heart palpitations.
6. The Fall Foliage
The timing of New England’s famed fall foliage has altered slightly in the last decade and a half, with the leaves turning later and later in the season. The change not only affects the tourism industry and their planning efforts, but reduces the dramatic luster of the colors.
New England’s sugar maple will reduce the magnitude of its color if its experiences warmer temperatures, particularly if combined with dry conditions, said Howie Neufeld, a professor of plant physiology at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. It takes energy and nutrients to produce such incandescent color.
Perhaps more alarming, that if the sugar maple constantly feels stressed by warmer temperatures and less precipitation, it will push farther and farther north, taking its brilliant red hues with it.
7. Shorter Ski Seasons With Slushy Snow
It’s no secret the ski industry is particularly vulnerable to a warming planet. But a recent study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Canada has shown that the average ski season in the northeastern United States is already shortening. Mountains are opening up later in the winter and closing earlier in the spring. Furthermore, some resorts that open or close on time still have a significant portion of their trails closed due to lack of snow.
While resorts situated farther north with higher latitudes have yet to feel the impacts, many others have seen a deterioration in not only the quantity, but the quality of snow as warmer overnight temperatures fails to produce the type of light fluffy snow skiers covet. Likewise, snowmaking operations cannot replicate mother nature’s finest and also present other considerations like energy footprints and local changes to the water cycle.
It’s not just downhill skiers and snowboarders, as cross country skiers, snowshoers, ice fisherman and all those who enjoy recreating in the cold weather have seen such opportunities shrink with each passing winter. The above are only just a few of the effects of a warming temperature on New England and those of those that enjoy the recreational lifestyle that keeps us fit, happy and in tune with the rhythms of the natural world.
These are not future possibilities but evidence of what is happening on the ground now. Please join NEMO in exploring ways to halt and reverse these disturbing trends so our children and future generations can enjoy the same opportunities for recreation and connection to the outdoors.
Matt Renda is a friend of NEMO, who has been known to take epic, slightly questionable adventures with his pals from our team.