From the UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE and the “Aliens could also descend upon us and eat our brains by mid century” department comes this science press release with “beware” right up front. Of course, AGU17 is in session, also known as ‘worse than we thought week’ where scientists compete for headlines. Of course, the headline they use, seen below, doesn’t tell you the study only covers a tiny place; the Upper Merrimack River watershed in New Hampshire, with a focus on “backyard amenities”, whatever that is.
UNH researchers find effects of climate change could accelerate by mid-century
DURHAM, N.H. – Nature lovers beware, environmental models used by researchers at the University of New Hampshire are showing that the effects of climate change could be much stronger by the middle of the 21st century, and a number of ecosystem and weather conditions could consistently decline even more in the future. If carbon dioxide emissions continue at the current rate, they report that scenarios of future conditions could not only lead to a significant decrease in snow days, but also an increase in the number of summer days over 90 degrees and a drastic decline in stream habitat with 40 percent not suitable for cold water fish.
“While this research was applied to New Hampshire, the approach can be generally applied, and a number of things that people care about will worsen due to climate change,” said Wilfred Wollheim, associate professor in the department of natural resources and the environment and one of the study’s authors. “For example, right now the average number of snow days is 60 per year, but in 20 to 30 years the models show that the number of snow days could be as low as 18 days per year.”
The research, published recently in the journal Ecology and Society, used models bench marked to field measurements to evaluate the Merrimack River watershed in New Hampshire. They found that along with a decrease in snow cover in the winter, other potential impacts could include up to 70 hot summer days per year with temperatures of 90 degrees or more by the end of century, a greater probability of flooding, a considerable loss of cold water fish habitat, and accelerated nitrogen inputs to coastal areas which could lead to eutrophication, an abnormal amount of nutrients which can pollute the water and deplete fish species. Researchers say that the biggest impact will be around urban areas, near where people live.
“Land use and population growth interacting with climate change are also important drivers,” said Wollheim. “These models can help guide efforts to make plans to adapt to the changing climate. Alterations in land use policy could reduce these impacts. In particular, prevention of sprawl and investment in storm and waste water infrastructure would further maintain more ecosystem services. Implementing policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions are essential to limit even further changes.”
The researchers say this study is the first time a model like this has been applied to New England watersheds that consistently account for climate change, land use change, forest ecosystem processes and aquatic ecosystem processes, including variability in weather that occurs within years (seasonal and storm) and across years, to assess a whole suite of changes at the same time.
A coupled terrestrial and aquatic biogeophysical model of the Upper Merrimack River watershed, New Hampshire, to inform ecosystem services evaluation and management under climate and land-cover change
Accurate quantification of ecosystem services (ES) at regional scales is increasingly important for making informed decisions in the face of environmental change. We linked terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem process models to simulate the spatial and temporal distribution of hydrological and water quality characteristics related to ecosystem services. The linked model integrates two existing models (a forest ecosystem model and a river network model) to establish consistent responses to changing drivers across climate, terrestrial, and aquatic domains. The linked model is spatially distributed, accounts for terrestrial–aquatic and upstream–downstream linkages, and operates on a daily time-step, all characteristics needed to understand regional responses. The model was applied to the diverse landscapes of the Upper Merrimack River watershed, New Hampshire, USA. Potential changes in future environmental functions were evaluated using statistically downscaled global climate model simulations (both a high and low emission scenario) coupled with scenarios of changing land cover (centralized vs. dispersed land development) for the time period of 1980–2099. Projections of climate, land cover, and water quality were translated into a suite of environmental indicators that represent conditions relevant to important ecosystem services and were designed to be readily understood by the public. Model projections show that climate will have a greater influence on future aquatic ecosystem services (flooding, drinking water, fish habitat, and nitrogen export) than plausible changes in land cover. Minimal changes in aquatic environmental indicators are predicted through 2050, after which the high emissions scenarios show intensifying impacts. The spatially distributed modeling approach indicates that heavily populated portions of the watershed will show the strongest responses. Management of land cover could attenuate some of the changes associated with climate change and should be considered in future planning for the region.