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Climate change impacts

Water 
Changes to water resources can have a big impact on people's lives. In some regions, particularly in the western United States, drought is an important factor affecting communities. Less snow accumulation in the mountains is important in the West and Alaska, where the snowpack stores water for later use. In the Midwest and northeastern states, the frequency of heavy downpours has increased. In many regions, floods and water quality problems are likely to be worse because of climate change.

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent ties up to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean
A year locked in ice
Unprecedented international expedition to explore the central Arctic.

Food
Our food supply depends on climate and weather conditions. Although agricultural practices may be adaptable, changes like increased temperatures, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes create challenges for the farmers and ranchers who put food on our tables.

Health
Human health is vulnerable to climate change. The changing environment is expected to cause more heat stress, an increase in waterborne diseases, poor air quality,  and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. Extreme weather events can compound many of these health threats.

Stock photo of people on the street in Quebec, Canada, taking shelter from a heavy rainstorm, while three people in the background brave the elements with umbrellas.
Indo-Pacific Ocean warming is changing global rainfall patterns
Rainfall declines may affect U.S. West Coast and parts of the East Coast

The environment
Ecosystems are also affected by climate change. Habitats are being modified, the timing of events such as flowering and egg laying are shifting, and species are altering their home ranges.

Changes are also occurring to the ocean. The ocean absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, the ocean is becoming more acidic, affecting marine life. Rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and melting land ice sheets and glaciers put coastal areas at greater risk of erosion and storm surge.

Wildfires and heavy rains are specific types of weather events that can be made more extreme by climate change, say scientists in research published December 2019 in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. In this photo, a wildfire rages in the hills of the Los Angeles area. (2017 stock image.)
New research examines climate change’s role in 2018 extreme weather events
Scientists say recent extreme weather events were made more likely by human-caused climate change.

EDUCATION CONNECTION

This collection provides teachers and students with opportunities to explore some of the environmental changes that are taking place. The Climate Literacy Principles, developed by NOAA and our partners, provide educators with a framework to help them use these lesson plans and other resources. New reports are being released by the multiple federal agencies tasked with studying and responding to climate change. The websites in the background section provide access to the latest scientific information available. In addition to these resources, NOAA offers professional development opportunities (including the Planet Stewards Program) about climate and other topics.

 

Updated February 2019