Tuesday, December 4, 2012

New Study On Local Impacts of Climate Change

In the northern hardwood forest, climate change is expected to reduce the viability of the maple syrup industry, encourage the spread of wildlife diseases and invasive species, and impact timber resources and the winter sports economy.

Accurately gauging the pace of change in the Adirondacks has been challenging, owing to the relative dearth of long-term local data. Now, a new study published by 21 scientists that reviews 50 years of data from Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire concludes that our current models of climate change don’t account well for surprising real world changes taking place in local forests.

“Climate change plays out on a stage that is influenced by land-use patterns and ecosystem dynamics. We found that global climate models omit factors critical to understanding forest response, such as hydrology, soil conditions, and plant-animal interactions,” Dr. Peter Groffman contends. Groffman is a microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the study’s lead author.

The absence of insulating snow pack, exposes soils to more frequent freezing, which damages tree roots. Sugar maples are suffering a one-two punch: soil frost is linked to tree mortality and warmer winters reduce sap yield. Mild winters are also encouraging the spread of pests and pathogens, including the destructive hemlock woolly adelgid—which was once held in check by cold winter temperatures.

As snow depth decreases, deer are better able to forage in the forest. Their browsing damages young trees and spreads a parasite that is lethal to moose. Reduced snow pack is also a challenge for logging operations, which use snow-packed roads to move trees, and ski resorts, which already rely heavily on manmade snow.

Groffman concludes, “Managing the forests of the future will require moving beyond climate models based on temperature and precipitation, and embracing coordinated long-term studies that account for real-world complexities.” Adding, “These studies can be scaled up, to give a more accurate big picture of climate change challenges—while also providing more realistic approaches for tackling problems at the regional scale.”

You can read the full study, “Long-Term Integrated Studies Show Complex and Surprising Effects of Climate Change in the Northern Hardwood Forest” here [pdf].

You can read more about climate change in the Adirondacks here.

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Community news stories come from press releases and other notices from organizations, businesses, state agencies and other groups. Submit your contributions to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com.

One Response

  1. Good post – this is an excellent study that is relevant to the Adirondacks, and reminds us that climate change will bring quite a few surprises, both good and bad.

    I would beg to differ, however, that we know little about what is occurring in the Adirondacks. Several recent studies, including an article that garnered national coverage by the Associated Press, have shed light on the changes happening in our region. These and other studies have relied upon long-term monitoring of weather and phenology (timing of natural events) at SUNY-ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb. Scientists from ESF, Paul Smith’s College and Queens University in Ontario, among others, are studying the impacts of climate change on forests, lakes and wildlife.

    Consistent with the important message that Peter Groffman and colleagues have put forth in the BioScience article, the changes we’ve seen in the Adirondacks are in some ways quite different than those observed elsewhere in NY and New England. We have surprises here too.

    A few notable observations from our region include:

    – Warming is occurring more rapidly during the autumn than in the spring, as shown by both weather records and lake ice records. Ice is forming much later, but not melting much earlier – and its not even close. This pattern is essentially opposite from what has been observed in much of the US Northeast.

    The AP piece can be found here:

    The scientific paper in Climatic Change can be found here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-012-0455-z

    – Our most pristine ecosystems may also be the most vulnerable to climate change. The above lake ice study based at Huntington Wildlife Forest found the most rapid rates of ice loss at Wolf Lake, one of the most pristine freshwater bodies in the region – a ‘heritage lake’ according to Curt Stager. Recent changes in lake algae, analyzed by Kristina Arseneau and colleagues at Queen’s University, are consistent with warming lake water which threatens native brook trout among myriad other impacts.

    – Mapped climate data indicates that warming is occurring at very rapid rates in several ares of the Adirondacks, particularly the sensitive High Peaks Wilderness. If accurate, these rates of change are among the highest observed in Northeast region (including Hubbard Brook) over the last 30 years. the trends observed across the region, including those at Hubbard Brook, NH. These studies include:



    Although these studies give us a good place to start, there is still much to be learned about the impacts of climate change on the Adirondack ecosystems and communities. The article by Groffman et al. points to several places we can start to better understand and adapt to the changes that are coming.

    Colin Beier, Ph.D.
    SUNY ESF Adirondack Ecological Center

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