THE CATSKILL GEOLOGISTS: Climate change in Columbia County: the facts

ALL MODERN GEOLOGISTS have, to some extent, become environmental geologists. We have all been trained in the various traditional subfields of geology but have been forced by necessity to anticipate the environmental implications of our sciences. That includes the two of us. In this column we continue trying to answer the seemingly simple question how are possible climate changes likely to affect Columbia County. Let’s begin by summarizing some of what exactly is known about climate change hereabouts.

There are very good records on local temperature and rainfall rates from the Albany Weather Bureau. They go back to the 1820s. That’s less than two centuries but it includes most all of the world’s Industrial Revolution. So those records include almost all of the time during which climate change has been observed. The temperature records are not very exciting. We have had an average year-round temperature of 49½ degrees F. during all that time. The overall average has gone up about one degree. That may not sound like much—and it isn’t. It has been unusual for decadal temperatures to depart from the average by more than one or two degrees. In short, not much is happening to our temperatures.

Rainfall rates are more interesting—and more concerning. We received about 40 inches of rain per year during the 1820s and 1830s. Then there was a century of decline until a bottom of about 30 inches per year was reached during the 1940s. Since then, rainfall rates have climbed back up again to about 40 inches. That’s a steep rise, but is it for real? Climate change skeptics would likely cite this as typical random fluctuation of weather patterns. We can’t prove them to be wrong but if they are wrong and there is a continued increase in the rainfall, then we have serious worries. We fear heavier rains will trigger problems. Only time will tell for sure.

Well, those are the facts, not the conclusions; we will pursue this theme next time.

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