Kentucky's average temperature could be more than 8 degrees higher by the end of the century, according to new analysis of the effects of climate change on each of the 50 states.
The analysis is from The Nature Conservancy, the worldwide conservation organization.
Terry Cook, director of the organization's Kentucky chapter, said higher temperature caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could mean "the weather and landscapes that have made Kentucky so special will be nearly unrecognizable in 100 years."
Among the potential effects:
■ Increased illness and death due to greater summer heat stress.
■ Decline in forests' growth and agricultural production.
■ Increased disease and insect attacks on the state's forests.
■ Fish kills and decreased aquatic species diversity because of declines in dissolved oxygen in streams, lakes and wetlands.
Working with the University of Washington and the University of Southern Mississippi, the Conservancy developed an online tool that combines scientific information and climate models with geographic information systems and mapping services. The tool, Climate Wizard, is at www.climatewizard.org.
The Conservancy looked at scenarios based on low, medium and high rates of CO2 releases. In the worst case, with continued increases in emissions, Kentucky's average temperature could spike 8.8 degrees by the century's end. Under the best case, which would require decreases in emissions, the state still would heat up by 5.9 degrees.
Cook noted that there have been models by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that looked at the global level, and, last spring, by the Environmental Protection Agency that looked at regions in the United States.
But this is the first to use models that break potential changes down to the state level, he said.
"What this does is allow you to go down to the state level and a little bit further and say 'This is what is happening in my back yard,'" Cook said.
It is designed for natural resources managers in the Conservancy and in government agencies such as the Kentucky Division of Forestry and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Cook said.
It also could be used by anyone with a computer.
"It allows the public to go from a global scale, which for me really is hard to decipher, to a geography that is familiar," Cook said.
The states with the greatest potential changes are in the middle of the country — Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota — where temperatures could rise more than 10 degrees.
Cook noted that the U.S. Senate is expected to take up a climate bill this fall.
"We've got to act now," he said.