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More extreme heat waves. The New Normal?

Even though we’ve had some cold weather recently, it’s getting hotter around Boston. And globally, 9 out of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, with 1998 being the tenth.

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Meet Ozzie
A curious ostrich who refuses to stick his head in the sand...

Climate science can be difficult to understand, and it may often seem like a scary or uncertain problem. It has been said that situations, like these, cause ostriches to stick their heads in the sand. Although this behavior is actually a myth and ostriches don’t really do this, we as human beings, sometimes act this way when we confront something scary or uncertain... like climate change.

In a way, Ozzie represents the uncertainty we may all feel about climate change. However, he also keeps his head above ground by being open-minded, making observations about the world around him, asking questions, looking at scientific evidence, and trying to find solutions.  Follow Ozzie on his climate change journey and check out his posters around Boston!

Boston
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So, climate change is real. What does it mean for Boston?
Boston Skyline
Boston Skyline
  • Warmer, more acidic ocean water could mean a change in Boston’s fishing industry.
  • Rising sea levels and more intense, frequent rainstorms may cause increased flooding on Boston’s shores.
  • When summers are hot, so are cities. Hotter summers will increase the urban heat island effect in Boston.
  • A changing climate could alter the growing season of local foods.
Climate change is happening now.

And that means hotter summers in Boston.

As temperatures rise, and Boston’s seasons change, summer in Boston will mean a greater likelihood of heat waves. A heat wave is more than 3 days in a row of 90 degree heat. While summers in Boston used to feature only a few days above 90 degrees, future climate conditions may boost this number to over 30 days each year!

Heat waves can be dangerous, especially in cities where the urban heat island effect can strike. Urban heat islands happen when cities become much warmer than natural areas during an extended period of hot weather. Cities feature many black, impermeable surfaces such as asphalt, which absorb more heat than natural areas. Residents in cities experience very hot weather during the day, with little relief at night.

  • Combined with drought, extended hot summer weather can damage trees in and around Boston that rely on milder summer conditions.
  • Heat waves are a public health issue. Hot days can reduce air quality and cause heat stroke and exhaustion in vulnerable populations.
  • Hotter summer weather may increase our use of electricity for cooling. Overuse of electricity could stress our energy infrastructure and release even more greenhouse gases!
  • Intense winter storms affect us all. What costs are associated with winter storms?
  • Because precipitation is more likely, warmer winters will mean rain in Boston. This will be an economic challenge for winter ski and recreation resorts in New England.
  • Some parts of the globe may likely experience decreased precipitation, but not Boston! Boston’s heavy storms will likely occur more in the winter than in the summer season.
  • Bostonians may need to take greater precaution against diseases carried by ticks and mosquitoes in the spring, summer, and fall.
    People in the park
    People in the park
  • Greater numbers of mosquitoes may stick around longer in Massachusetts.
    Mosquito
    Mosquito
  • Hemlock woolly adelgids are invasive pests that destroy Hemlock forests.
    Dead hemlock trees
    Dead hemlock trees

Get The Facts

Who are climate scientists?

Climate scientists study, well, climate. Climate is the average weather over a long period of time, like 20 or 30 years. People often confuse climate with weather, which changes daily. 

Climate science is challenging to study because it is measured all over the globe, over long periods of time, and is affected by many factors. Scientists in this field investigate aspects of oceanography, geology, paleontology, and chemistry. For example, these scientists might look at the rings of trees or ancient ice cores to find clues about our past climate. They also study human-recorded weather data over long periods of time. Analyzing these clues, scientists can create models to make mathematical predictions about what may happen in the future.

What causes climate change?

Many different factors cause climate to shift. Changes in ocean circulation, life on Earth, gases in the atmosphere, changes in the sun’s radiation, and geological activity such as volcanic eruptions and plate tectonic movement can all affect the climate. Some of these changes occur naturally and happen over hundreds, thousands, or millions of years, while others are caused by human activity and occur over centuries or decades.

Where is climate change happening?

Climate change is a global problem, but different places will experience different outcomes of climate change. While sea level rise, changes in precipitation, and warmer seasons are in Boston's future, much of the American southwest, for instance, will experience more problems with drought and water scarcity.

When did human-caused climate change begin?

Human beings began using fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases a few centuries ago, and scientists were able to make the first climate change predictions all the way back in the 19th century. However, it has been in the last 50 years that carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has risen most severely. Like the glass in a greenhouse, carbon dioxide (along with water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide) allows light from the Sun to reach Earth while preventing the Earth’s heat from radiating back out into space. Without these greenhouse gases, our planet would be cold and unlivable. While changes in atmospheric gases occur naturally over long periods of time, scientists are concerned that the recent increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could have unpredictable effects.

How are humans affecting climate change?

When scientists discuss climate and human activity, they are usually referring to what happens when people burn fossil fuels for transportation, electricity, and industrial uses. They provide the energy that we use to warm our houses, turn on light bulbs, make cars go, etc. It takes millions of years for the carbon from ancient organisms to become fossil fuels, but burning them gives off carbon dioxide, water, and other by-products and greenhouse gases in seconds. 

Why do so many scientists agree?

Scientists agree about human-caused climate change because it is the best way to make sense of the evidence and observations made over the last century. Thousands of independent scientists have considered other explanations such as solar output or volcanic eruptions for the increase in global temperatures, but these theories do not account for all the evidence collected.

Scientists have additionally observed changes in the past century—such as higher amounts of CO2 in the air, rising sea levels, quickly melting glaciers, and higher average surface temperatures on Earth.

Indeed, the Earth goes through natural cycles. Ocean currents, such as El Niño or La Niña, volcanic eruptions and changes in radiation from the sun can affect the Earth’s weather patterns for a given amount of time, generally within the span of a few years. But the sustained, nearly century-long patterns of higher carbon dioxide count in the atmosphere, surface temperature, sea levels, and glacier melt have pointed to something tied inextricably to our burning of fossil fuels over the last 150 years.

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Have a burning question about our methods, climate change, or this project in general? Ask us a question and we'll do our best to respond promptly!

Ask us a question!

Have a burning question about our methods, climate change, or this project in general? Ask us a question and we'll do our best to respond promptly!

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