UMaine Report: More Intense Precipitation, Rising Seas in Maine's Future

Mar 2, 2015

ORONO, Maine - A new report from the University of Maine highlights the effects of climate change being felt in Maine, such as intense precipitation events, warming temperatures in the atmosphere and ocean, and rising sea levels.  

It comes five years after an initial climate change assessment done in 2009 at the request of Gov. John Baldacci.  Back then, Professor Ivan Fernandez says the big question was:  Is climate change happening?  Now, he says, it's more a question of how can Maine plan to respond?

The report highlights researchers' grasp of past, present and future trends in Maine, given the growing body of climate change indicators.  Fernandez, one of the authors of the report, is a professor of soil science in the University of Maine's School of Forest Resources.

"And as we look backward in time, we see changes over the last hundred years, such as about 3 degrees Fahrenheit warming, two weeks longer of a growing season, rising sea levels - by about six-tenths of a foot in the last century," Fernandez says. "And as we look forward to 2050 we anticipate seeing as much change as we saw in the last hundred years."

For example, Maine State Climatologist Sean Birkel, of the Climate Change Institute, analyzed Maine's future climate using models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.  His findings suggest that by 2050 the annual temperature in Maine will rise another 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. And Maine's warm season, the period of time when the average daily temperature is above freezing, is expected to lengthen by another two weeks by 2050.

And then there's the matter of precipitation. According to the report, since 1895, total annual precipitation in the state has increased by about 6 inches - or 13 percent - mostly in the summer and fall.  Over the next 50 years, precipitation in Maine is expected to increase another 5 to 10 percent.

Professor Fernandez says one of the goals of the report is to lay the groundwork for more coordinated adaptation efforts that are evidence-based and cost effective.  He points to the use of culverts as one example.  Because the report shows a notable increase in the frequency of intense rain and snowstorms, Fernandez says culverts will be crucial to mitigation of such events.

"What culverts do is they handle that overflow," he says, "and when they don't, we get the washout of roads in all sorts of different contexts and what have you.  So, a cost-effective adaptation measure is to put in a larger culvert that is sized to meet the expected flow now, and prevent the cost of rebuilding infastructure such as roadways later on."
 
The report points to adaptation efforts by state agencies and Maine communities to respond to climate change, including Gov. Paul LePage's establishment of the Environmental and Energy Resources Working Group to develop a coordinated strategy.

In addition to better coordination between agencies, businesses and communities, and plans for cost-effective adaptation, Fernandez says mitigation will also be important.  Mitigation means taking steps to prevent further release of greenhouse gas emissions.