Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Grasslands to replace US Forests

EXPERIMENTAL FUTURE: Chambers simulating hotter and drier weather test pinyon and juniper trees, suggesting that southwestern forests may transition to grasslands.Image: Josh Smith and Los Alamos National Laboratory

An article in this months Scientific American says that the evidence suggests that grasslands may replace forests in the US.

"In the steel and Plexiglas chambers that make up Nathan McDowell's research station near the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, the future of regional forests is playing out in miniature. McDowell is baking trees. Inside the chambers, temperatures climb 9 degrees Fahrenheit above the desert's already blistering averages. Meanwhile, precipitation, never abundant in this corner of the country, is cut by half.This is the kind of climate that the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects for the Southwest within the next half-century, as global warming drives heat and aridity in an already hot, dry region. And in these chambers, as in that predicted future, the region's trees are dying. By studying the plants' mortality in this simulated environment, McDowell hopes to better understand how the future climate may affect forests, possibly even altering the landscape."

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