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June 18, 2016

UMass Boston scientists predict heat, sea level rise increase for city of Boston

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  • Boston
With more severe storms, higher coastal waters and extreme heat waves coming to Boston in the near future, UMass Boston professors contribute their knowledge to Climate Ready Boston, a group organized by Mayor Marty Walsh's administration that informs citizens of the Commonwealth about these drastic weather conditions.

More severe storms, higher coastal waters, and extreme heat waves are coming to Boston in the near future. Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration plans to prepare the city for climate change using scientific projections compiled by a team of scientists from across the region. This group, led by School for the Environment Associate Professor of Hydrology Ellen Douglas and Professor of Climate Adaptation Paul Kirshen brought together experts to focus on sea level rise, coastal storms, extreme precipitation and extreme temperature projections for the Boston region.

In a new report for Climate Ready Boston, the teams led by Douglas and Kirshen provided a scientific consensus that will be used to inform long term planning for the City of Boston. The study’s key findings include:

Sea level rise is an increasing problem:

  • By 2050, sea level rise in Boston will likely be between 8 and 18 inches. The worst case scenario could mean 30 inches of sea level rise by 2050.
  • By 2100, sea level rise will likely be between 2.5 and 7.4 feet. The worst case projection suggests that number could be as high as 10 feet.

Temperatures will be higher on average, with more heat waves:

  • Between 1981 and 2010, the average summer temperature in Boston was 69 degrees. By 2050 the average could be 76 degrees, and by 2100 the average could be 84 degrees.
  • Between 1971 and 2000 there were, on average, 11 days per year over 90 degrees. By 2030 there could be as many as 40 days per year over 90 degrees, and 90 days (three months) by 2070.

Extreme storms will become even more extreme:

  • From 1958 to 2010 there was a nearly 70% increase in the amount of precipitation that fell on the days with the heaviest precipitation. That trend is expected to continue.

The findings in the report are summarized in a document on the Climate Ready Boston website.

Whether or not the worst case scenarios come true is dependent on greenhouse gas emissions. Higher emissions will create higher seas, climbing temperatures, and more extreme weather. But even with lowered emissions, some sea level rise and temperature increases are expected. The Walsh administration plans to use the information in this study to determine how city neighborhoods and citywide infrastructure systems can be prepared to withstand the impacts of climate change.

“It is important to understand that the emissions choices we make today have a huge impact on our climate later in the century,” said Douglas.

Climate Ready Boston is currently focusing on assessing vulnerabilities within the city based on this data. Professor Kirshen is part of that  project team as well. The results of the vulnerability assessment will be released this fall. 

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