Warming Waters: Part 1

A Front Row Seat

“Global warming is a natural process” is a line that I hear quite often when talking with friends and family.   Those of you that know me, know how much I love the outdoors and how I spend my time doing anything related to fishing.  You know how strongly I believe that it is our duty to be stewards of the land.  It is no surprise that I concern myself with a lot of weather, climate and any other environmental related issues.  The further I progress in my fly fishing career the more fearful I become for the sport, and our well being for that matter.  We are seeing the effects of global warming/climate change first hand and we can no longer ignore the science behind it.  It is for these reasons that the position of accepting global warming as a naturally occurring process terrifies me.

Yes, it is true that the Earth’s temperature fluctuates naturally over thousands and thousands of years, but it is a scientific fact that the relatively recent rapidity of global warming is due to an increase in greenhouse gases.  This increase is, without a doubt, linked to human activity.  Since 1950, we have increased carbon dioxide emissions by 40% through the burning of fossil fuels.  That percentage is huge and projected to increase.

A little greenhouse effect is natural.  It keeps the Earth at a suitable temperature for human life.  Some of the sun’s light that reaches earth is radiated back into space by reflecting off of snow and ice caps.  The rest is trapped in our atmosphere by greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, thus warming our planet.  As more and more heat is trapped in the atmosphere, it begins a snowball effect.  A warming planet means less snow and less ice caps.  Now, not only are we battling our emissions, but we have less snow and ice to reflect the sun’s rays back into space. Greenhouse gasses are not the sole culprit.  Deforestation plays a big part in this as well, but we will discuss that further in a future post.

The effect is real, and becoming more evident by the day.  According to NASA, last year was the hottest year on record which out did the previous record set in 2015.  This is a scary trend that isn’t by any means new.  If you look back to the turn of the millennium, fifteen out of the sixteen hottest years on record have occurred.  Take a look at the graph below which illustrates this scary pattern very well.

That's an uptick you don't want to see!

That’s an uptick you don’t want to see!

I believe a major misconception of global warming is that it just means warmer temperatures.  However, global warming changes climate.   The warming atmosphere triggers climate change resulting in more severe weather.  Heatwaves are stronger, droughts are longer, storm surges are higher.  Our agriculture, health, water supply and infrastructure are all at risk.

We fly fishermen have a front row seat for the early effects of climate change.   Some are seeing this more than others.  Out west, river closures are becoming more and more frequent.  These closures are due to the ever increasing droughts and the earlier than normal melt of alpine snowpack.  The temperature sensitive fish that we love and devote our lives to chasing need our protection.  These closures are made in an effort to protect fish from the stress of low stream flows and warming waters.  We are seeing this on the east coast as well.  Over the past ten years that I’ve been chasing Maine brook trout, the effects of the lack of snow and rainfall have been very evident.  The lack of snow and rain means the water table does not get fully saturated.  This results in less water in these rivers, exacerbating our warming water situation.   The famous Rapid River is a prime example.  It seems that brook trout are dropping back into the cooler water of the lake earlier each year.

I have seen a huge change since I first started fishing 25 or so years ago.  I can remember high waters being a constant theme.  I spent much of my time waiting for the water to drop to fishable levels.  I’m sad to say that the new norm has become waiting for the water to rise to fishable levels, and getting in as much fishing as possible before they drop too low again.  Not only are low waters effecting us earlier each year, but rising water temps are kicking us off the stream earlier as well.   I spend a lot of my time on the United States Geological Survey website checking my local stream data, and all too often the data is depressing to see.

Depressing to see this in April.

Depressing to see this in April.

It’s not just our cold water friends that are being impacted.  In 2005, there was a mass die-off of smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River caused by a bacterial disease.  What does that have to do with climate change? This bacterial disease becomes extremely contagious in warmer temperatures.  Our warming waters are therefore becoming a huge problem for our warm water species.  These summer “die-offs” are becoming the new normal on the Susquehanna, and outbreaks are becoming increasingly reported across the country.

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The Great Lakes are also seeing the negative effects of warming waters.  They have seen a 5° Fahrenheit increase over the past three decades.  Not only do these warming waters pose a threat on the species that live there, it is creating an aquatic ecosystem in which sea lamprey thrive.  Sea lamprey survive by latching onto a host fish and sucking their blood.  They are friggin gross!  Warmer waters not only increase their numbers, but enables them to grow larger too.  Lampreys are already wreaking havoc and they are going to eventually become impossible to control as the temperatures continue to rise.

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The warming waters, earlier snow melts, droughts, floods, wildfires, bacterial disease and invasive species all add up to one thing.  Less time on the water doing what we love.  If that alone isn’t bad enough the business end of things is going to suffer greatly.  The National Wildlife Federation projects that by the year 2030, the number of days that anglers are able to fish will decline by more than one million days every year.  Projected out to the end of the century and you’re looking at more than six million days lost.  That translates into an annual loss of $6.4 billion for the fishing industry.

It is my hope that we all start to reevaluate our priorities in life and do our part to help protect and preserve the beautiful world that we live in.  I truly believe that the first step in doing so is to no longer ignore the fact that global warming is happening, it is changing our climate and we are in some serious danger if our politicians don’t follow suit.

I guess this quote sums it up better than I can, and should pull the strings in all of us that enjoy the outdoors.  “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” -Theodore Roosevelt

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Sources:

Grant, Miles. “New Report Details How Climate Change is Harming Freshwater Fish.” National Wildlife Federation. N.p., 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 Dec. 2016.

Jervey, Ben. “Climate Change Spells Trouble for Anglers.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 13 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 Dec. 2016.

“Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming.” NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 31 Dec. 2016.

“Why you need to care about climate change – now.” Environmental Defense Fund. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Dec. 2016.

Survey, U.S. Geological. “Water Resources of the United States.” Water Resources of the United States: U.S. Geological Survey. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Dec. 2016.

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