United States
                     Environmental Protection
                      Office of Policy
                    EPA 236-F-98-007q
                    September 1998
    wEFA    Climate  Change  And   North  Carolina
The earth's climate is predicted to change because human
activities are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere
through the buildup of greenhouse gases  primarily carbon
dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons. The
heat-trapping property of these greenhouse gases is undisputed.
Although there is uncertainty about exactly how and when the
earth's climate will respond to enhanced concentrations of
greenhouse  gases, observations indicate that detectable changes
are underway. There most likely will be increases in temperature
and changes in precipitation, soil  moisture, and sea level, which
could have adverse effects on many ecological systems, as well
as on human health and the economy.

The Climate System

Energy from the sun drives the earth's weather and climate.
Atmospheric greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide,
and other gases) trap some of the energy from the sun, creating
a natural "greenhouse effect." Without this effect, temperatures
would be much lower than they are  now, and life as known today
would not be possible. Instead, thanks to greenhouse gases, the
earth's average temperature is a more hospitable 60F. However,
problems arise when the greenhouse effect is enhanced by
human-generated emissions of greenhouse gases.

Global warming would do more than add a few degrees to today's
average temperatures. Cold spells still would occur in winter, but
heat waves would be more common. Some places would be drier,
others wetter. Perhaps more important, more precipitation may
come in short, intense bursts (e.g., more than 2 inches of rain
in a day), which could lead to more flooding. Sea levels would
be higher than they would have been without global warming,
although the actual changes may vary from place to place
because coastal lands are themselves sinking or rising.

                The Greenhouse Effect
               Some solar radiation
                is reflected by the
                 earth and the
Some of the infrared radiation passes
through the atmosphere, and some is
absorbed and re-emitted in all directions
by greenhouse gas molecules. The effect
of this is to warm the earth's surface and
the lower atmosphere.
     Source: U.S. Department of State (1992)
                               Emissions Of Greenhouse Gases

                               Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, human activities
                               have been adding measurably to natural background levels of
                               greenhouse gases. The burning of fossil fuels  coal, oil, and
                               natural gas  for energy is the primary source of emissions.
                               Energy burned to run cars and trucks, heat homes and busi-
                               nesses, and power factories is responsible for about 80% of
                               global carbon dioxide emissions, about 25% of U. S. methane
                               emissions,  and about 20% of global nitrous oxide emissions.
                               Increased agriculture and deforestation, landfills, and industrial
                               production and mining also contribute a significant share of
                               emissions.  In 1994, the United States emitted about one-fifth of
                               total global greenhouse gases.
Concentrations Of Greenhouse Gases

Since the pre-industrial era, atmospheric concentrations of carbon
dioxide have increased nearly 30%, methane concentrations have
more than doubled, and nitrous oxide concentrations have risen
by about 15%. These increases have enhanced the heat-trapping
capability of the earth's atmosphere. Sulfate aerosols, a common
air pollutant, cool the atmosphere by reflecting incoming solar
radiation. However, sulfates are short-lived and vary regionally,
so they do not offset greenhouse gas warming.

Although many greenhouse gases already are present in the
atmosphere, oceans, and vegetation, their concentrations  in the
future will depend in part on present and future emissions.
Estimating future emissions is difficult, because they will depend
on demographic, economic, technological, policy, and institu-
tional developments. Several emissions scenarios have been
developed based on differing projections of these underlying
factors. Forexample, by 2100, in the absence of emissions control
policies, carbon dioxide concentrations are projected to be 30-
150% higher than today's levels.

Current Climatic Changes

Global mean surface temperatures have increased 0.6-1.2F
between 1890 and 1996. The 9 warmestyears in this century all
have occurred in the last 14 years. Of these, 1995 was the warmest
year on record, suggesting the atmosphere has  rebounded from
the temporary cooling caused by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in
the Philippines.

Several pieces of additional evidence consistent with warming,
such as a decrease in Northern Hemisphere snow cover, a
decrease in Arctic Sea ice, and continued melting of alpine
glaciers, have been corroborated. Globally, sea levels have risen

   Global Temperature Changes (1861-1996)
     \ y\\   \N\\\\   s\  s\   \  >\  \   \
regular, intense heat during a typical summer, one study suggests
that the population could still be sensitive to heat waves.

In Greensboro, a warming of 3 F during a typical summer
is estimated to increase heat-related deaths by nearly 70%, from
about 20 to about 35 (although increased air conditioning use
may not have been fully  accounted for).

Infected individuals can bring malaria to places where it does
not occur naturally. Also, some mosquitoes in North Carolina can
carry malaria, and others can carry California and eastern equine
encephalitis, which can be lethal or cause neurological damage.
If conditions become warmer and wetter, mosquito populations
could increase, thus increasing the potential for transmission if
these diseases are introduced into the area. In addition, warmer
seas could contribute to  the increased intensity, duration, and
extent of harmful algal blooms, that is, red tides. These blooms
damage habitat and shellfish nurseries, can be toxic to humans.
and can carry bacteria like those causing cholera.

Developed countries such as the United States should be able to
minimize the impacts of these diseases through existing disease
prevention and control methods.

Coastal  Areas

Sea level rise could lead to flooding of low-lying property.
loss of coastal wetlands, erosion of beaches, saltwater contami-
nation of drinking water, and decreased longevity of low-lying
roads, causeways, and bridges. In addition, sea level rise could
increase the vulnerability of coastal areas to storms and associ-
ated flooding.

North Carolina has a 3,375-mile tidally influenced shoreline.
consisting of a long chain of barrier islands, including the Outer
Banks, and extensive salt marshes and tidal freshwater marshes
that have formed behind these barrier islands.

As sea level rises, coastal marshes may initially expand by
spreading onto low-lying terraces, particularly in and around
Albemarle Sound. Further changes in the extent of coastal
wetlands will vary with location, with significant loss of wetlands

         Future Sea Level Rise At Long Bay



- 5% Chance
_ 50% Chance
90% Chance





    Source: EPA (1995)
2100     2150
                                      possible in some areas. North Carolina has experienced more
                                      direct hurricane strikes than any other Atlantic coast state except
                                      Florida, and the coast could be susceptible to additional damages
                                      from hurricanes as higher sea levels increase the vulnerability of
                                      some areas to storm surge.

                                      At Long Bay, sea level already is rising by approximately 2 inches
                                      per century, and it is likely to rise another 12 inches by 2100. The
                                      cumulative cost of sand replenishment to protect the coast of
                                      North Carolina from a 20-inch sea level rise by 2100 is estimated at
                                      $660 million to $3.6 billion. However, sand replenishment may not
                                      be cost-effective for all coastal areas of the state, and therefore
                                      some savings could be possible.

                                      Water  Resources

                                      Concerns about water demand exceeding supply could increase
                                      for growing cities such as Gary, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, and
                                      Asheville. Lower flows and higher water temperatures also could
                                      degrade water quality by concentrating pollutant levels and
                                      reducing the assimilation of wastes. This could affect rivers such
                                      as the Catawba River, which not only supplies water for Charlotte
                                      and other large cities but also receives the waste discharges from
                                      many municipalities and industries. Aquifers in the Coastal
                                      Plains, which currently suffer from declining levels and saltwater
                                      intrusion, could be diminished further. Irrigation from ground-
                                      water, which serves as an important source of water during
                                      drought periods in the Coastal Plains, also could be adversely

                                      Increased precipitation could alleviate water supply problems
                                      and provide more water for dilution of pollutants, but it also could
                                      increase flooding. In the mountainous areas of western North
                                      Carolina, where stream slopes are steep and flash flooding is
                                      common, recent development in floodplain areas would be
                                      especially vulnerable to floods. Pollution of streams, lakes, and
                                      estuaries by toxins, nutrients, and sediment is a primary water
                                      quality concern in the state. Higher rainfall could increase erosion
                                      and exacerbate levels of pesticides and fertilizers in runoff from
                                      agricultural areas. It also could increase pollution in runoff from
                                      mining and urban areas. Additionally, higher streamflows could
                                      exacerbate problems in low-lying coastal areas being developed
                                      for agriculture and peat mining.

The mix of crop and livestock production in a state is influenced
by climatic conditions and water availability. As climate warms.
production patterns could shift northward. Increases in climate
variability could make adaptation by farmers more difficult.
Warmer climates and less soil moisture due to increased evapora-
tion may increase the need for irrigation. However, these same
conditions could decrease water supplies, which also may be
needed by natural ecosystems, urban populations, industry.
and other users.

Understandably, most studies have not fully accounted for
changes in climate variability, water availability, crop pests.
changes in air pollution such as ozone, and adaptation by farmers

   Changes In Agricultural Yield And Production
              Dryland Yield                  Production
         Corn  Soybeans  Wheat       Corn  Soybeans  Wheat
            AT = 7F; Aprecip. = 11%  AT = 8F; Aprecip. = 3%
Sources: Mendelsohn and Neumann (in press); McCarl (per-
sonal communication)

to changing climate. Including these factors could change
modeling results substantially. Analyses that assume changes in
average climate and effective adaptation by farmers suggest that
aggregate U.S. food production would not be harmed, although
there may be significant regional changes.

In North Carolina, production agriculture is a $5.4 billion
annual industry, 60% of which comes from livestock. Very few
of the farmed acres are irrigated. The major crops in the state are
corn, wheat, hay, and tobacco. Soybean and wheat yields could
decrease as a result of climate change, with soybeans falling by
3-39% and wheat by 5-11% as temperatures rise beyond the
tolerance level of the crop. Corn yields could fall by 28% or rise
by 7%, depending on how climate changes. Estimated changes in
yield vary, depending on whether land is irrigated. Farmed acres
are projected to remain fairly constant based on estimated
changes in production and prices. Livestock and dairy produc-
tion may not be affected, unless summer temperatures rise
significantly and conditions become significantly drier. Under
these conditions, livestock tend to gain less weight and pasture
yields decline, limiting forage.


Trees and forests are adapted to specific climate conditions.
and as climate warms, forests will change. These changes could
include changes in species composition, geographic range, and
health and productivity. If conditions also become drier, the
current range of forests could be reduced and replaced by
grasslands and pasture. Even a warmer and wetter climate could
lead to changes; trees that are better adapted to warmer condi-
tions, such as southern pines, would prevail. Under these
conditions, forests could become more dense. These changes
could occur during the lifetimes of today's children, particularly if
the change is accelerated by other stresses such as fire, pests,
and diseases. Some of these stresses would themselves be
worsened by a warmer and drier climate. Commercial timber
production could also be affected by resulting changes in growth
rates, plantation acreage and management, and market conditions.
With changes in climate, the extent and density of forested
areas in North Carolina could change little or decline by 5-10%.
However, the types of trees dominating those forests are likely to
change. The warmer mixed forests, dominated by southern pines
and oaks, could spread northward, replacing the predominantly
hardwood forests of the north and west. The forests of western
North Carolina in and around the Great Smoky Mountains
National  Park support a rich variety of plants and animals, and
they are important recreation areas. Composition changes in
these forests could adversely affect diversity and recreation.
Maritime forests, important for their recreational and aesthetic
value and for their role in coastal hydrology, could be affected
adversely by changes in the frequencies of large storms (hurri-
canes in the late summer and fall, nor'easters in the winter and
spring). Warmer and drier conditions could increase the fre-
quency and intensity of fires, and result in increased losses to
important commercial timber areas. Even warmer and wetter
conditions could stress forests by increasing the winter survival
of insect pests.


Valuable  ecosystems in North Carolina include spruce-fir
forests, bogs, and unvegetated hilltops in the mountainous
regions; bottomland hardwood forests and fire-maintained
prairies in the piedmont;  and longleaf pine forests, Carolina bays.
swamps,  and maritime forests in the coastal plain. These provide
critical habitat for numerous native plants and animals, including
53 endangered species. The coast contains  estuarine wetlands,
where freshwater, saltwater, and terrestrial ecosystems are home
to endangered species such as bald eagles,  piping plovers, and
several species of sea turtles. The Smoky Mountains have long
been recognized as a global center of biodiversity. The highest
peaks are home to 95 species of plants, including Fraser fir trees.
and they  provide habitat  for animals that are typically found
farther north, such as Carolina northern flying squirrels, Canada
and Blackburnian warblers, and bog turtles. The southern
Appalachians also contain a diverse array of salamanders.
which  are very sensitive to climatic factors.

Warmer temperatures could lead to reduced stream flow and
warmer water temperatures, which could significantly impair
reproduction of fish such as the brook trout. With an increase in
average temperatures, the distribution of this species and others
could be reduced and their range could become more limited.
In coastal habitats, one consequence of rising sea levels will be
inundation, salinization, and sedimentation of vital wildlife
habitats. Rising sea levels will result in further inland penetration
of saltwater, and many of the  150 streams and rivers that flow into
the ocean could be adversely affected. The  Appalachian  spruce-
fir forests are already threatened by air pollution (acid rain and
ground-level ozone) and exotic pests (hemlock wooly adelgid).
Warmer and drier conditions could result in significant loss of red
spruce forests as conditions suitable for the growth of red spruce
and Fraser fir decline.

For further  information about the potential impacts of climate
change, contact the Climate and Policy Assessment Division
(2174), U.S. EPA, 401 M Street SW, Washington, DC 20460, or
visit http://www. epa.gov/globalwarming/impacts.