14.2 Current sensitivity/vulnerability
Annual mean air temperature, on the whole, increased in North America for the period 1955 to 2005, with the greatest warming in Alaska and north-western Canada, substantial warming in the continental interior and modest warming in the south-eastern U.S. and eastern Canada (Figure 14.1). Spring and winter show the greatest changes in temperature (Karl et al., 1996; Hengeveld et al., 2005) and daily minimum (night-time) temperatures have warmed more than daily maximum (daytime) temperatures (Karl et al., 2005; Vincent and Mekis, 2006). The length of the vegetation growing season has increased an average of 2 days/decade since 1950 in Canada and the conterminous U.S., with most of the increase resulting from earlier spring warming (Bonsal et al., 2001; Easterling, 2002; Bonsal and Prowse, 2003; Feng and Hu, 2004). The warming signal in North America during the latter half of the 20th century reflects the combined influence of greenhouse gases, sulphate aerosols and natural external forcing (Karoly et al., 2003; Stott, 2003; Zwiers and Zhang, 2003).
Figure 14.1. Observed trends in some biophysical and socio-economic indicators. Background: change in annual mean temperature from 1955 to 2005 (based on the GISS2001 analysis for land from Hansen et al., 2001; and on the Hadley/Reyn_V2 analysis for sea surface from Reynolds et al., 2002). Insets: (a) trend in April 1 snow water equivalent (SWE) across western North America from 1925 to 2002, with a linear fit from 1950 to 2002 (data from Mote, 2003), (b) Spring bud-burst dates for trembling aspen in Edmonton since 1900 (data from Beaubien and Freeland, 2000), (c) anomaly in 5-year mean area burned annually in wildfires in Canada since 1930, plus observed mean summer air temperature anomaly, weighted for fire areas, relative to 1920 to 1999 (data from Gillett et al., 2004) (d) relative sea-level rise from 1850 to 2000 for Churchill, MB, Pointe-au-Père, QB, New York, NY, and Galveston, TX, (POL, 2006) (e) hurricane energy (power dissipation index (PDI) based on method of Emanuel, 2005), economic damages, million U.S. dollars (adjusted to constant 2005 US dollars and normalized accounting for changes in personal wealth and coastal population to 2004), and deaths from Atlantic hurricanes since 1900 (data from Pielke Jr. and Landsea, 1998 updated through 2005), and, (f) trend North American Net Primary Production (NPP) from 1981 to 1998 (data from Hicke et al., 2002).
Annual precipitation has increased for most of North America with large increases in northern Canada, but with decreases in the south-west U.S., the Canadian Prairies and the eastern Arctic (see Working Group I Fourth Assessment (WGI AR4) Trenberth et al., 2007 Section 188.8.131.52, Figures 3.13 and 3.14) (Hengeveld et al., 2005; Shein, 2006). Heavy precipitation frequencies in the U.S. were at a minimum in the 1920s and 1930s, and increased to the 1990s (1895 to 2000) (Kunkel, 2003; Groisman et al., 2004). In Canada there is no consistent trend in extreme precipitation (Vincent and Mekis, 2006).