A new study led by a team of University of Colorado scientists shows that mid-level altitude forests are the most sensitive to rising global temperatures and a decline in snowpack. As KUNC‘s Kirk Siegler reports, the study was done in California but researchers say its findings apply across the entire West.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Scientists looked at forests from about 6,500 to 8,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada where much of that region’s water supply originates and where many live and recreate. Researchers found that forests’ ability to “green up” during the summer is largely linked with whether there’s been a healthy snowpack the previous winter. As the earth warms, and precipitation comes more in the form of rain than snow, scientists say forests at these altitudes will become even more stressed, and vulnerable for insect outbreaks and wildfires. Noah Molotch of the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research at CU-Boulder co-authored the study.

“And so in general we’re going to have less water storage in the form of snowpack in the future and our study shows that the forests are quite sensitive to this.”

Molotch says one important focus of the study was on the “tipping point,” that is the line between mid-level forests that are sustained by precipitation and snowmelt, and those at higher elevations that are less dependent on precip and more on sunlight and temperature.

“As the region warms, we would hypothesize that that elevation would continue to move up the mountain, and as it does, runoff production from these higher elevations will continue to go down.”

Which could have serious implications for water managers and users, as well as the health of the forests. The study was published this week in the journal, Nature Geosciences.

 

Comments are closed.

News

Reuters/Landov
April 18, 2014 | NPR · More than three days after the ferry capsized, nearly 270 of those who were on board remained missing. Most of them are high school students. Cranes will try to lift the ship, which is now submerged.
 

AFP/Getty Images
April 18, 2014 | NPR · As the president prepares to travel to Asia, the White House says a trade deal would boost U.S. exports. But opponents say the Trans-Pacific Partnership would hurt the environment and U.S. jobs.
 

Getty Images
April 18, 2014 | NPR · A mumps outbreak in Ohio has ballooned to 234 cases, even though the community is well-protected against the virus. One scientist explains why this “vaccine failure” occurs.
 

Arts & Life

Courtesy of Joan Chase
April 18, 2014 | NPR · Joan Chase’s 1983 debut During the Reign of the Queen of Persia is a careful, layered account of a troubled family in rural 1950s Ohio, narrated by a quasi-Greek chorus of daughters and cousins.
 

April 18, 2014 | NPR · In her memoir, A Fighting Chance, Warren reveals a childhood brush with bankruptcy, and reflects on hard-won political lessons.
 

BBC America
April 18, 2014 | NPR · The Orphan Black actress talks with Morning Edition about the return of her BBC America series. On the show, she plays multiple roles, and advanced technology helps her pull it off.
 

Music

Redferns
April 18, 2014 | NPR · Can you identify a song when it’s stripped down to a just few seconds of isolated drum pounding? This week’s puzzler comes courtesy drummer Sean Carey, otherwise known as S. Carey.
 

April 17, 2014 | NPR · Aimee Mann and Ted Leo began performing together in 2012, when Leo was Mann’s opening act. Mann began joining Leo onstage during his set. Their debut album is “The Both.”
 

Courtesy of Republic Records
April 17, 2014 | NPR · The Secret Sisters’ new album, Put Your Needle Down, displays their sophisticated, timeless sound and the country-twang influences of their hometown, Muscle Shoals, Ala.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab