Nebraska Could See More Hot Days, NU Water Symposium Speaker Says
LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska and many parts of the Great Plains can expect more hot days and increased demands for water and energy as a result of ongoing climate change and rising temperatures, an environmental ecologist and climatologist told those attending Tuesday's University of Nebraska water symposium.
Shannon McNeeley of the North Central Climate Science Center at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. said that rising temperatures in the Great Plains will continue to stress natural resources and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production and ecological needs.
"Nebraska, under current climate change scenarios, will likely be using more water for irrigation of crops and using more energy for production of biofuels," McNeeley said.
If carbon emissions remain at current levels, she also said it is likely that in coming years, the state could experience as many as 25 to 30 days more per year of temperatures over 90 degrees.
Much of the information McNeeley presented at Tuesday's symposium will be published in the forthcoming U.S. National Climate Assessment report to be released to Congress. The report will be used as a tool for assessing how the effects of climate change may affect federal and tribal lands nationwide. McNeeley co-wrote the report's chapter on adaptation to climate change.
NCCSC is one of eight regional climate science centers contributing to the report, she said.
Along with more hot days, Nebraska could see its percentage of crop acres under irrigation increase dramatically as producers begin to feel the effects of changes in crop growth cycles due to warming winters and alterations in the timing and magnitude of rainfall events.
"These trends are already being observed and as they continue, they will require new agriculture and livestock management practices to help mitigate their effects," McNeeley said.
She also noted that communities already vulnerable to weather and climate extremes will be "stressed even further by more frequent extreme events occurring within an already highly variable climate system."
The magnitude of these expected changes will exceed those experienced in the 20th century and while government, organizational and private sector resources are increasing efforts to deal with these predicted changes, "existing adaptation and planning efforts are inadequate to respond" to projected impacts from climate change.
Implementing plans to mitigate effects from climate change have also been slow to come about, she said, noting that there are many political, cultural and institutional barriers to the process of making changes and that adaptation isn't "one size fits all."
Barriers to change include lack of resources to begin and sustain adaptation efforts, fragmented decision-making networks, lack of leadership and polarization of the issue politically as well as widely divergent perceptions on the potential risks posed by climate change, she said.
McNeeley is also working on a Drought Risk and Adaptation in the Interior study to help U.S. Department of Interior resource managers, and stakeholders such as the National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Reclamation among others, deal with drought in their landscapes. One of the partners in this study is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's National Drought Mitigation Center.
Tuesday's symposium was at Lincoln's Cornhusker Hotel and was followed by a one-day water law conference. The symposium was co-sponsored by the Nebraska Water Center, part of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute and U.S. Geological Survey's Nebraska Water Science Center.