Tools for imagining local climate changes

New tools will help us see forest changes 60 years into warmer globe

ASPEN, Colo. – Current average mean temperature in Aspen during summer is just shy of 79 degrees. And if civilization continues to spew greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere at the current rates? It’ll hit nearly 90 degrees by late this century, according to computer models.

Depending upon how much warming occurs and probably how much precipitation changes, the composition of the lodgepole pine forest seen in this view of Mount of the Holy Cross may change substantially.  Photo/Allen Best

Depending upon how much warming occurs and probably how much precipitation changes, the composition of the lodgepole pine forest seen in this view of Mount of the Holy Cross may change substantially. Photo/Allen Best

But what exactly does that mean? Dr. Brian Enquist, an expert in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, has been working on new techniques that can help the layperson get visual images of what the warming environment will mean for forests in the West.

Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival recently, he said much of our paralysis in the face of mounting evidence about greenhouse gas emissions can be traced to the inability of people to imagine how the changing climate will impact them personally.

“The thought is that global climate change is global—and it will happen someplace else, maybe rising sea levels and increased hurricanes.”

To watch hour-long video, go to Aspen Ideas Festival website.

With that in mind, several organizations have set out to make the face of climate change more personal and local. The team, including the University of Arizona Science iPlant Collaborative, tapped the burgeoning database about species and habitat. They then are creating tools to stimulate the changes.

One application has to do with how forests in the West will change. In this, his team worked with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

Set at 8,000 feet in elevation, Aspen is surrounded by forests of subalpine fir and, at higher elevations, Engelmann spruce and blue spruce.

As temperatures rise, that forest of subalpine fir will gradually be replaced. By 2081, assuming that global civilization does not curb its emissions of greenhouse gases, the existing tree species will nearly all be replaced with piñyon and ponderosa pine and other species now found at lower elevations.

“Subalpine species could decrease up to 95 percent under the worst-case scenario,” Enquist said.

“We now have the ability to start to visualize what climate change means for our forests, our landscapes, my backyard and my property,” he said while showing a computer simulation that uses Google Earth with its ability to zoom in on a landscape.

Worst-case warming will reduce biomass in Western forests by up to 40 percent. If civilization curbs emissions? There will be warming, but less of it.

The team is currently developing an app that will allow somebody to use a smartphone to access images of that precise landscape.

This story originally appeared in the July 9, 2014, issue of Mountain Town News, an e-zine distributed to paid subscribers.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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2 Responses to Tools for imagining local climate changes

  1. “It’ll hit nearly 90 degrees by late this century, according to computer models. ”
    Nearly? Late this century? Nonsense!
    There has been NO GLOBAL WARMING for over 17 years, though atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has increased by about 10%.
    The computer models – more than a hundred of them, paid for by our taxes – predicted we should have had a degree Centigrade (1.6 F) of warming during that time.
    Every scientific hypothesis is subject to test by experiment. We’ve had the experiment; the hypothesis is wrong. CO2 hasn’t caused ANY global warming – let alone the scary warming, rise of sea level, melting of polar ice, more severe storms, more hurricanes, death of the ski industry – that have been “predicted” based on these worthless computer models. Garbage in, climate change nonsense out. The climate changes normally, mostly in response to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).
    This clown Enquist had the nerve to speak at Aspen? Skiing revenue down? Snowpack down? Waaaaay wrong, like the rest of the”global warming” BS. Sounds like Enquist has a Federal Grant from Obama’s EPA.

  2. Brian J. Enquist says:

    Dear Richard,

    I stand by our results. Your assessment of the science is not correct and selectively picks some statements and distorts the consensus findings of climate science. Your opinion – and I emphasize opinion – is not held by 98% of scientists who have published their research on climate change.

    Our research uses the latest CMIP5 climate projections that have been vetted by international geophysical scientists. These are the consensus climate forecasts. We stand behind the forecasts and all projections.

    Richard, if you feel so strongly about your opinions, instead of placing misinformation on an internet website, you should argue your case – assess the data, critique the climate change models – and publish them and argue your points in the peer reviewed scientific literature. Until you can place a convincing argument forward, the consensus is that your opinions are not correct.

    Sincerely,

    Brian J. Enquist

    p.s. For the record, I should note that this research was not funded by any governmental grant – including EPA research.

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