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Weather Worries

Weather WorriesWhile many New Englanders may appreciate rising temperatures in the region, groundbreaking research at Tufts shows recent climate changes pose growing problems for the Boston area.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.05.02] On January 29, thermometers around Boston recorded the region's temperature as a record-high 62 degrees -- marking the latest occurrence of unseasonably warm weather in the area. While the high temperatures offer a reprieve from the frigid conditions usually associated with New England's winters, a Tufts engineer warns that the shifting climate could have a major impact on the city and its surrounding communities.

"Dr. Paul Kirshen heads a new study at Tufts University that is further narrowing the focus [on the greenhouse effect] by looking at the impact of climate change on the Metropolitan Boston area," reported Boston's WBZ News. "He says we can expect a sea level rise of a foot to a foot and a half over the next century with more frequent storms."

Rising temperatures will mean that big storms, like those the region has experienced over the last several decades, will grow more common.

"The Blizzard of '78 was a Northeaster and that caused hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage," Kirshen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tufts, told the CBS-affiliate in Boston. "Things like that are going to get worse. The Perfect Storm, the No Name Storm, all those were Northeasters. You can expect those sort of things to increase."

Using funds from the Environmental Protection Agency, Kirshen is in the midst of a groundbreaking study to determine the impact climate change will have on the Boston area.

"The project [is examining] how a warming planet, from rising sea levels to increasingly erratic weather, affects vital water, sewer, highway, and other infrastructure systems that serve Greater Boston," reported the Boston Globe.

Research on global warming is not new, but Kirshen's work is unlike anything done before.

"The Tufts study stands out in focusing on a specific metropolitan region, reflecting a need for more information of that kind as well as the reality that most Americans now live in urban and suburban areas, and by 2050, most of the world will," reported the Globe.

The list of possible problems stemming from climate change ranges from increased health problems to damaged city infrastructure.

Flooding, for example, may impact a greater area.

In an interview with WBZ, Kirshen explained that huge areas around the coastlines of Boston as well as inland areas may soon become "flood vulnerable," over the next 75-100 years.

"You're going to lose property," the environmental engineer told WBZ. "It's also going to disrupt transportation systems."

The problems could be widespread.

"[Kirshen said] as the heat rises, so too may heat-related health problems from asthma to insect infestation," reported the Globe. "More wet, stormy either may result in more frequent transportation delays everywhere from Logan Airport to the T, and overwhelm sewer systems, he said."

As scientists continue to look for new ways to understand and address climate change, and its related problems, Kirshen's ongoing research is expected to play an important role.

As one EPA official in New England told the Globe, "If we don't address these issues, the price we pay may be huge."

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