If worldwide carbon emissions continue at the present rate, rising temperatures could cause the Sierra Nevada to lose 80 percent of its winter
snowpack in just 40 years, a United States Geological Survey scientist predicts.
The decrease in snowfall was among several grim impacts that climate change could have on the Bay Area if current carbon emissions go unabated, USGS climate change coordinator Tom Suchanek said in a lecture called "Projected Climate Change Impacts in California."
Suchanek said that some effects of climate change are already impacting life in the Bay Area and across the country, such as year-round high temperatures that are "breaking records right and left."
"Temperatures are climbing all the time and climbing rapidly," he said.
Higher temperatures -- between 3 and 6 degrees higher depending on projection models -- carry a barrage of side effects, including heat waves
that are longer-lasting and more intense, increased fire danger, and winter
storms that are stronger, more violent and more frequent.
Suchanek said that "1,000-year storms" are already 10 times more frequent now than they were in the 1920s.
"We now have multiple 1,000-year storms per decade," Suchanek said.
Climate change is also expected to usher in a significant rise in sea levels, Suchanek said. With no change in current carbon emissions, sea
levels are projected to rise at least 1.4 meters in Northern California by the year 2100.
Higher sea levels will bring higher wave heights, which will lead to increased beach erosion, cliff failures and coastal flooding, Suchanek
Cities, beach towns and every coastal ecosystem from marshland to redwood forest would be impacted, Suchanek said.
There is still hope to curb carbon emissions if countries that burn the most fossil fuels -- China, the U.S., India and Russia -- continue
to develop alternative energy sources and work through the United Nations Framework on Climate Change to draft a treaty that would reduce emissions
But for the U.S. to join any treaty, it first has to be ratified and approved by both houses of Congress, which in the current political climate does not seem likely at all, Suchanek said.