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February 26, 2014

Editorial: A front row seat to nature's changing scene

Anyone who pays even scant attention to environmental news has heard a steady drumbeat of stories and reports demonstrating how the world’s ecology is steadily changing. These reports can seem distant and unconnected to us, until you begin to consider how even in our small piece of the world, there are signs all around us that in the span of just a few years we are witnessing some dramatic changes.

Many have been chronicled in the pages of The Eagle-Tribune and its sister newspapers, The Daily News of Newburyport, Salem News and Gloucester Daily Times.

One phenomenon is a change in the ice on the lower Merrimack River. Up to 80 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for the river to freeze so thickly that humans, horses and sleighs could cross it. Today such a phenomenon is unthinkable. The river rarely freezes all the way across, never thickly enough for a human to walk across it, let alone a horse.

Experts who study our rivers and environment don’t have a specific culprit in mind; rather it’s a combination of things. Data compiled by the federal government shows that winters are no longer as cold as they once were, although other data shows there has been no global warming in more than a decade.

There has also been an increase in the flow of fresh water in the Merrimack, which has made it more difficult for the river to freeze. The Merrimack Valley region in particular has seen a surge in the amount of rainfall it experiences annually. Dams and reservoirs have changed the flow of the river, injecting more fresh water. And there is also an increase in the amount of runoff going into the river from industrial and commercial sites, roads, and residential neighborhoods, all a result of increased development.

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