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Duke Studies Show U.S. Central Plains Vulnerable To Global Warming

he region at various times during the period, as well as the incidence of fires fed by tallgrass prairies.

Their conclusion from the study -- that the region rapidly changed with even short-term climate fluctuations -- was not surprising, Clark said.

"One reason this region is so susceptible to climate change is that it lies at the boundaries between air masses that have very different climates associated with them," he said. "The center of the continent is dry because it is dominated by Pacific air that has passed over the mountains and lost its moisture. At that point, however, it loses out to tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico, which provides the eastern states with moisture. In addition, there's an Arctic air mass that plays a climatic role.

"Subtle changes in the factors that affect atmospheric circulation can translate into shifts in the boundaries where these air masses meet. And small changes in those boundaries can change the climate from a prairie climate to a forest climate."

Climatologists expect that the "greenhouse effect" -- atmospheric heating caused by increases in solar-energy-trapping carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning -- will significantly increase temperatures worldwide over the next century. The past climate changes studied by Clark and his colleagues were not caused by increased carbon dioxide, but rather by changes in solar heating due to a wobble and tilt in Earth's spin and changes in its orbit around the sun.

In another paper prepared for the ESA, Clark and graduate student Philip Camill reported on the expected effects of global warming on peatlands in permafrost regions of Earth's northern latitudes. Scientists have theorized that such warming may speed decomposition of the vast peat deposits, increasing even further the release of carbon dioxide into the air.

However, Camill's research suggests that global warming might actually produce a sequestration o
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Contact: Monte Basgall
Monte@dukenews.duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University Medical Center
4-Aug-1998


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