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Learn more about the environmental effects of climate change

Posted January 22, 2008
Updated March 22, 2009

Climate change affects people, plants, and animals. Scientists are working to better understand future climate change and how the effects will vary by region and over time.

Scientists have observed that some changes are already occurring. Observed effects include sea level rise, shrinking glaciers, changes in the range and distribution of plants and animals, trees blooming earlier, lengthening of growing seasons, ice on rivers and lakes freezing later and breaking up earlier, and thawing of permafrost. Another key issue being studied is how societies and the Earth's environment will adapt to or cope with climate change.

In the United States, scientists believe that most areas will to continue to warm, although some will likely warm more than others. It remains very difficult to predict which parts of the country will become wetter or drier, but scientists generally expect increased precipitation and evaporation, and drier soil in the middle parts of the country. Northern regions such as Alaska are expected to experience the most warming. In fact, Alaska has been experiencing significant changes in climate in recent years that may be at least partly related to human caused global climate change.

Human health can be affected directly and indirectly by climate change in part through extreme periods of heat and cold, storms, and climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria, and smog episodes. For more information on these and other environmental effects, please visit the Health and Environmental Effects section of this site, or review the answers to some frequent effects questions.


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