Climate change in the USA

August 04, 2001

The Earth's climate is changing, that is certain. A change in climate will have implications for both people and natural resources. As politicians worldwide evaluate various policy alternatives many scientists will be assembling to discuss this very same topic. On Monday, August 6, 2001 researchers will soon gather for a symposium entitled "Local Ecosystem Effects of Climate Change: The Interaction between Climate Change, Societal Decisions, and Ecosystems."

The session, to be held during the Ecological Society of America's 86th Annual Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, will examine the impacts of climate change and societal perceptions on ecosystems and resources in the United States.

Jerry Melillo of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Institute will open the session with his presentation "Climate Change and our Nation - Report of the US National Assessment." The National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change was created to synthesize, evaluate, and report on what is presently known about the potential consequences of climate variability and change for the US in the 21st century.

The report seeks to identify key climatic vulnerabilities of specific regions in the context of other changes in the nation's environment, resources, and economy. Melillo will discuss the ten key findings of the Overview Report of the Assessment, focusing on natural and managed ecosystems, and setting the overall context for the other presentations in the symposium.

The second presentation, "Impacts of climate change on elk population dynamics in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado," will examine the relationship between changing climate and elk populations. Presented by N. Thompson Hobbs of the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, the study investigates historic weather data and information on elk populations in an effort to determine the potential impact of future climate change on these animals.

Managers of national parks have relied on the effects of weather to prevent elk populations from overabundance. Changes in weather patterns could ultimately affect how managers regulate these hoofed mammals.

Heading east, the next presentation will focus on the Great Plains. In "Climate change, society, and ecosystems: Interactions in the Great Plains," Jill Lackett of Colorado State University will discuss possible coping strategies to deal with the projected water and nutrient shortages in the Great Plains region over the next century.

She will also describe the implications that adaptations to climate changes may have on ecosystems and society in the region. With the prevalence of agriculture and ranching within the Great Plains, many residents rely on the natural resources of the region to make a living.

Alan Covich of Colorado State University will address, "Climate change and implications for the recovery of greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado." His team examined the effects of increased water temperature on the abundance and location of the threatened greenback cutthroat trout in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Low summer temperatures as well as habitat size and quality appear to limit where greenback live in river ecosystems. This talk will look at the question of how climate change will influence habitat recovery plans for endangered species.

"Confronting climate change in California," presented by Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, will examine future climate changes in California in the context of human impacts, including large areas of agricultural and urban development. He will discuss possible impacts on ecosystems relating to changes in water resources, wildfires, and increased pressures on endangered species.

Virginia Burkett of the US Geologic Survey's National Wetlands Research Center will present "Southern wetlands, climate change and development impacts." Wetlands are sensitive to changes in hydrology, air temperature, and carbon dioxide.

Additionally, about half of the pre-colonial wetlands in the lower 48 states have been converted to other uses, with the majority of losses occurring in the South. Burkett will discuss how growing season length, photosynthesis, and evaporation rates will most likely affect the potential range of many wetland plant species.

"Climate change and arctic ecosystems," will be reviewed by Edward Rastetter of the Marine Biological Laboratory. Since the 1970's the annual temperature of the arctic has risen by 2oC, and this number is expected to rise by another 10oC by 2100. These changing conditions influence plant life, plant and animal migration patterns and the chemistry of streams. By describing what has been observed over the past 30 years, Rastetter will discuss the findings in relation to the inhabitants of the tundra.

The final presentation of the session, "The interactions of climate, society, and natural resources in the mid-Atlantic US," will be discussed by Ann Fisher from Penn State University. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Assessment was conducted as part of the first US National Assessment of Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change.

Fisher will explain how the identification of probable impacts leads to questions about the likelihood of protecting ecosystems, and society's willingness to expend the necessary resources. The talk will highlight progress made in describing and sustaining complex ecosystems.
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For more information about this session, and other ESA Annual Meeting activities, visit the ESA website: http://esa.sdsc.edu/madison. Held in scenic Madison, Wisconsin the theme of the meeting is "Keeping all the Parts." Over 3,000 scientists are expected to attend.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, 7,800-member organization founded in 1915. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. ESA publishes three scientific, peer-reviewed journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs. Information about the Society and its activities is published in the Society's quarterly newsletter, ESA NewSource, and in the quarterly Bulletin. More information can be found on the ESA website: http://esa.sdsc.edu.

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The Ecological Society of America
1707 H Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 202-833-8773

Ecological Society of America

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