Global Climate Change Model Predicts Changes In U.S. Ecosystems

Ron P. Neilson, makes his presentation, "Projections of Changes in U.S. Ecosystems and Land Cover," January 22 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting and Science Innovation Exposition in Anaheim, California.

PORTLAND, Ore. January 22, 1999. What might be the impacts of global warming? How could those impacts affect forest growth, water resources, and land use? Dr. Ron Neilson, a bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service, has developed a computer model that simulates vegetation type in any area of the world and can determine the impact of global climate change.

Dr. Neilson's model, the mapped-atmosphere-plant-soil system (MAPSS) is one of six in the high-visibility vegetation ecosystem modeling analysis project (VEMAP) and is affecting national policy considerations on global warming, including the position the United States presented at the Framework Convention for Climate Change in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

"To make a fully dynamic model," Neilson says, "you must include vegetation distribution and vegetation productivity. Disturbance by fire should be thrown in as a third ingredient. You can then make quantitative predictions about vegetation, natural disturbance, and hydrolic change. In the future, these new dynamic models will allow you to get feedback between vegetation and the atmosphere."

Simulations from MAPPS show great changes in the United States in vegetation distribution and water resources under various global warming scenarios. Mixed conifers and hardwoods in the Northeast could decrease significantly and move into Canada. Certain desert species in the Southwest could shift north as far as eastern Washington. Fire could increase over large parts of the country because of widespread drought conditions. This could occur in the Great Lakes area and in the Southeast and Northwest forests.

Vegetation growth could in

Contact: Sherri Richardson
USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station

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