How Do Greenhouse Gases Impact the Mid-Atlantic Region?

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - The continued melting of polar ice has been well-documented and a primary factor is the greenhouse effect.  As the name suggests, the “greenhouse effect” is the process by which the air at ground level is warmed by energy from the sun. At night, solar energy then radiates back into the atmosphere allowing surface temperatures to cool. However, the greenhouse effect traps some of the solar energy from escaping at night, thereby, keeping temperatures warmer than they otherwise would be.

Although the greenhouse effect is a natural process that helps regulate Earth’s temperatures making it a livable planet, the increased amount of atmospheric pollution has enhanced the process.  Some of the primary pollutants that contribute to the greenhouse effect include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane gas and ground level ozone.  People might wonder, isn’t ozone a good thing? The ozone layer is a very important component of the atmosphere that helps filter UV radiation from the sun – but ozone is a pollutant at ground level.  Although ground level ozone and methane gas occur naturally, carbon dioxide has been produced at much higher levels in recent decades. Transportation and energy production are two of the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions.

The higher level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contributes to a more pronounced greenhouse effect.  This has led to a more rapid melting of polar ice.  That, in turn, has several significant impacts including rising sea levels and increased temperatures.  A reduced number of square miles of polar ice means less solar energy is reflected back into space which leads to more surface warming.  People have seen how important sea level is over the last few days as Hermine lurked offshore over the Labor Day weekend.

On a calm day at the shore, absent high surf from a storm such as Hermine, scientists have measured a tangible rise in sea level up and down the East Coast from Miami to Boston.  For example, the EPA points out that sea level at “…some stations registered increases of more than 8 inches between 1960 and 2015.”  That includes the Mid-Atlantic Region where Norfolk, Virginia and Annapolis, Maryland have observed a rise in sea level during recent decades that’s coincided with the rise in global temperature.

There are some things that can be done to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels and the changing climate.  Smart development along the shore that follows strict building codes can help reduce damage from coastal flooding when a storm produces storm surge. It’s also important to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants that exacerbate the natural greenhouse effect. That requires a worldwide effort with participation from both developed and developing nations. The international Paris treaty negotiated in December 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and included representatives from nearly 200 countries will advance this effort.

Locally, Maryland is one of nine states (along with CT, DE, ME, NY, MA, NH, RI and VT) that are part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  Implemented in 2014, its purpose is to cap and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power industry.  The RGGI runs through 2020 and leaders will have to determine whether to extend this program which has helped reduce the emission of this key greenhouse gas, or not because of the cost of cleaner energy.  More environmentally friendly stories can be found on the WUSA9 website and free WUSA9 app for your mobile devices.
 


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