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

AP
July 2, 2016 | NPR · Browser can go on delighting patrons and terrorizing rodents at the public library. Amid international outrage, lawmakers in White Settlement in North Texas have decided not to fire him after all.
 

Taiwan Ministry of National Defense
July 1, 2016 | NPR · The incident occurred Friday morning, when a 500-ton corvette that was sitting in a military harbor launched a supersonic missile that flew nearly 40 nautical miles.
 

AFP/Getty Images
July 1, 2016 | NPR · The capacity of guns’ magazines will now be limited to 10 bullets, and background checks will be required to buy ammunition. The new laws also target “straw purchasing” guns for other people.
 

Arts & Life

July 1, 2016 | NPR · NPR’s Robert Siegel uses a new documentary about film director Brian De Palma to talk to him about his career highs and lows, techniques, and how deeply he has been influenced by Alfred Hitchcock.
 

July 1, 2016 | NPR · NPR’s Kelly McEvers speaks with Paul Farhi of the Washington Post about Gay Talese’s new book, The Voyeur’s Hotel. The credibility of the book, which follows a self-proclaimed sex researcher who bought a hotel to spy on his guests through ventilator windows, has been called into question after Farhi uncovered problems with Talese’s story.
 

AP
July 1, 2016 | NPR · An appreciation of Olivia de Havilland — Gone With the Wind‘s last surviving cast member — on her 100th birthday.
 

Music

NPR
July 1, 2016 | WBGO+JAZZ.org · The eminent pianist was the guest of honor at this year’s Panama Jazz Festival. His quintet performs, and host Christian McBride speaks with the great musician.
 

Courtesy of Vanguard
July 1, 2016 | WBGO+JAZZ.org · Trumpeter Kenny Rampton launched his career on the road with the great performer. At Jazz at Lincoln Center, he presents Ray’s music in the most authentic way he can.
 

Courtesy of the artist
July 1, 2016 | NPR · The pianist and educator shows off her classical chops in a solo during “It Could Happen To You.”
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab