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Forests the Potential Impacts of Global Warming

Forests the Potential Impacts of Global Warming

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Published by: tejass143 on Jan 14, 2010
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 Critical Findings for Forest Lands from the First National Assessment of the PotentialConsequences of Climate Variability and Change -- An Overview prepared by JanineBloomfield, Ph.D. (Environmental Defense)
Climate and changes in it
regardless of their cause
matter to people,communities and businesses. Global warming is likely to bring many changes to thenation. The United States as a whole is in a strong economic position to adapt to manyof these changes, but adaptation is often expensive, not always possible or successful,and during transitions ecosystems, communities, and individuals could suffer.Moreover, national impact summaries disguise local dislocations and disruptions tothe ways we live, work and recreate. Climate change adds a serious stress to ouralready threatened resources and treasured places. Overall impact statements alsomask significant opportunities. To minimize the negative changes and make the mostof the positive changes, we need to take a close look at how climate change will affecteach region. How will America's forests experience the effects of global warming?And how can we respond?Summary
With over twenty major forest types across the continental US, forestecosystems will respond to global warming in a variety of ways. The projected increasein temperature will likely shift the ideal range for many forest species by about 200 milesto the north. If the climate changes slowly enough, warmer temperatures may enablesouthern tree species to colonize to the north. Many factors, including the pace at whichdifferent species colonize new areas, determine the future composition of forestlands.Where species move into new areas more slowly than other tree species migrate out, thespecies previously common will still grow, but likely at a different density. In addition,cities, highways, agricultural fields and other human activities limit available habitat andcreate barriers to the migration of plants and animals. Forests in protected areas likenational parks and national and state forestlands were established without considering the possibility of changing climates. Rapid climate shifts may reduce appropriate nativehabitats within protected areas while development outside the boundaries of the protectedareas makes adjacent new habitat unavailable and limits the creation of migrationcorridors. In some US temperate forests, rapid climate change and accompanyingextreme events, such as droughts, floods, and wind storms could lead to increaseddisease, insects, landslides and wildfires that could increase tree mortality and, in somecases, replace forests by grasslands. Some of the models used in the NationalAssessment indicate that forest productivity overall is likely to increase, leading toincreased supply of certain types of timber, though possible interactions with extremeevents and other disturbances could reduce these gains.
Key Findings
Wood, pulp, carbon and water 
Across a wide range of climate scenarios analyzed in the National Assessment, it appearsthat modest warming could result in increased carbon storage and forest productivity inmost forest ecosystems in the conterminous US. Yet, under some warmer scenarios,
forests, notably in the Southeast and Northwest, could experience drought-induced lossesof carbon, possibly exacerbated by increased fire disturbance. Increasing CO2 in theatmosphere acts as a fertilizer for plants and enables them to use water more efficiently.While forest productivity seems to increase with increased atmospheric CO2, localconditions such as moisture stress and nutrient availability strongly temper these results. Nitrogen oxides are expected to increase with fossil fuel combustion. Nitrogendeposition that results may further stimulate forest growth but also increase soil andstream acidification ("acid rain") increasing risks to lake fish and decreasing foresthealth. In some regions, increases in ground-level ozone are likely, due to warmer temperatures. The air-pollutant tends to cause a decrease in forest health and productivity.Forests also play a major role in the water cycle. Many municipal and regional water systems are dependent upon healthy forest ecosystems to catch and filter rain and snow.In some areas, such as the Great Plains states, increased forest productivity may decreasethe water that flows from forests into rivers, streams and reservoirs. While beneficial toforestry, the downstream impacts could be severe enough to negatively affect the use of the Mississippi River inter-coastal waterways. In areas where forest ecosystems suffer from increased disturbances, water quality could be affected by increased soil erosion andcontamination.
 Biodiversity change
Under the scenarios used in the National Assessment,we could lose the maple/beech/birch forests currently found in the Appalachian Range asfar south as West Virginia and western Pennsylvania, and all throughout New England.The upper Great Lakes region could lose its aspen/birch forests as well. Isolated forestcommunities such as red spruce may become extinct within their current range. Theseforest types would be replaced by oak/pine and oak/hickory forests, provided thewarming is gradual. If the temperature increase is substantial, droughts, insectinfestations and fires could become more likely, and forest cover loss may occur and persist while the new forest types migrate north. If the average global temperatureincrease is 2 °C over the next 100 years, tree species will have to migrate 1 to 3 milesevery year, improbably fast except for trees whose seeds are spread by birds. While theeffect of changes in tree compositions on other species is difficult to predict with themodeling tools currently available, plants and animals that live in the forest will beaffected, both by changing habitat and in direct response to temperature increases andchanges in precipitation, fire regimes, and storm events. It is unknown as yet whether  biological diversity would be reduced if climate change occurred at a fast rate, but thenew composition of species is likely to be one of heat-tolerant fast adapters. Wildlife has been able to adapt to changing climates for millions of years. But unlike during previousclimate changes, roads, development and other changes to the natural environment now block their migration routes or otherwise impede their adaptations. Parks and naturereserves established to protect certain species may no longer be hospitable to thosespecies. In other words, appropriate climate for currently protected forest ecosystemsmay only exist outside protected areas. In many cases, these areas will already bedeveloped and wholly unsuitable to new forests.
Forests, weather and pests
Forests are strongly affected by a number of disturbances, including fire, drought, insects,diseases, and severe storms. Under the global warming scenarios used in the nationalassessment, insect and pathogen outbreaks will likely increase in severity. As forestecosystems change and move in response to climate changes, they will become morevulnerable to disturbances. Fires, for example, may become more frequent. The amount

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