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For Immediate Release: 1:30 PM, June 16, 2009
Contact: Anne M. Waple, U.S. Global Change Research Program
awaple@climatescience.gov; 202-419-3463

Jerry Melillo

Jerry Melillo. Click for high-resolution image.


The MBL Ecosystems Center

Melillo Lab page

U.S. Global Change Research Program

New Comprehensive Climate Report Provides Authoritative Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on the United States

MBL Scientist Jerry Melillo Leads Project Unveiled Today in Washington, DC

MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA—The Obama Administration today released a report offering the most comprehensive assessment on the impacts of climate change on the United States to date. Jerry Melillo, senior scientist and former co-director of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Ecosystems Center, spearheaded the report, which emphasizes that the choices we make now will determine the severity of climate change in the future.

The report was produced by a team of U.S. climate experts and provides the most current information on impacts such as rising temperatures, heavy downpours, and sea level rise, and focuses on their effects on the U.S. by geographic region and various aspects of society and the economy such as energy, water, agriculture, and health.

According to the report, warming of the climate system is now unequivocal and visible throughout the U.S.  Americans are being affected by climate change through extreme weather, drought, and wildfire, and the current trend in greenhouse gas emissions is significantly above the worst-case scenario examined in the report.

“We now have strong evidence that the global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases,” says Melillo, who co-chaired and co-edited the report, titled Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, with Thomas Karl and Thomas Peterson, both of the National Climatic Data Center in Ashville, North Carolina. “These emissions come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), with additional major contributions from the clearing of forests and agricultural activities.”

The 190-page document was commissioned in 2007 by the interagency U.S. Climate Change Research Program and is written in plain language, intended to better inform policymakers and the public. The report focuses on current and pending impacts of global climate change in the United States, and why it is important to act now, rather than later, to minimize those impacts.

Climate-related changes, including increases in air and water temperatures, reduced frost days, increased frequency and intensity of heavy downpours, a rise in sea level, and reduced snow cover, glaciers, and sea ice, have already been observed globally and in the U.S. The report states that these changes are expected to increase with continued global warming and will impact human health, water supply, agriculture, coastal areas, and many other aspects of society and the natural environment.

According to the report, responses to climate change should not only include mitigation measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also adaptation measures to improve our ability to cope with or avoid harmful impacts, and take advantage of the beneficial ones.  “An important message is the need to begin to focus our attention on the issue of adaptation,” stresses Melillo. “What might we do for the climate change that is inevitable, beyond slowing down emissions? What are our adaptation options? “

The report is available for download online at the U.S. Global Change Research Program website: http://www.globalchange.gov

About Jerry Melillo
Jerry Melillo is a senior scientist and former co-director of the Ecosystems Center at the MBL, where he has conducted research for more than three decades. He is also a professor of Biology at Brown University. Melillo specializes in the impacts of human activities on the biogeochemistry of terrestrial ecosystems. He has studied carbon and nitrogen cycling in ecosystems across the globe, including arctic shrublands in northern Sweden, temperate forests in North America, and tropical forests and pastures in the Amazon Basin of Brazil.

Melillo has had a long association with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), having served as a lead author on both the 1990 and 1995 IPCC Assessment Reports. He was selected by the IPCC to contribute to the reports because of his special expertise in climate change research.

Melillo holds a B.A. and a M.A.T. from Wesleyan University and a M.F.S. and Ph.D. from Yale University. From 1996 to 1997, Melillo served as the Associate Director for Environment in the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, and was the Director of the Ecosystems Studies Program for the National Science Foundation from 1986 to 1988.

Melillo has served as President of the Ecological Society of America and of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), the environmental assessment body of the International Council for Science. He has also served several terms as a Trustee of the MBL and is currently on the Board of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment and the Board of the National Ecological Observatory Network. Melillo is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and an Honorary Professor in the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


The MBL is a leading international, independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to discovery and to improving the human condition through creative research and education in the biological, biomedical and environmental sciences. Founded in 1888 as the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the Americas.