Sunday, October 14, 2012

Climate Change In Our Own Backyards

When global warming impacts come up, it's often focused on vanishing Arctic Ocean ice or retreating glaciers or tropical islands inundated by sea level rise.   But global warming at home?   Not so much.

Yet there are windows into what's happening in our own backyards in the temperate zone.  The Boston Globe looks at an experimental forest that has logged a half-century of research into New England's warming winters.

For more than five decades, the changing face of winter has been studied by scientists at the 7,800-acre Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in Woodstock, New Hampshire, which is managed by the USDA Forest Service. According to our ongoing Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study, average winter temperatures have warmed by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1955. Maximum snowpack levels have declined by about 10 inches. Over the past 45 years, the ice cover on Mirror Lake in the White Mountains has decreased by 22.5 days.

These changes are incontrovertible. Less certain are the implications to our winter way of life. But in recent meetings between Hubbard Brook scientists and traditional users of the winter landscape — including ski area operators, managers of the White Mountain National Forest, and maple sugar makers — a picture is taking shape of a startlingly different kind of New England than that experienced by our parents and grandparents.

For ski area operators, winter seasons that once somewhat predictably started after Thanksgiving are now more likely to begin after the New Year. Needing to make do with less natural snow, ski areas must continue investing in significant artificial-snow making. Even though they have learned to make snow using less energy and water, the operators still face a battle of perceptions: When there is no snow on the ground in Boston, fewer people think about driving north to ski.

...Maple sugar producers are affected by a complex array of temperature and snow conditions. While improvements in technology, such as vacuum systems to extract sap, have kept pace with an apparently shortening sugaring season, scientists point out that sugar maples are already influenced by stresses such as acid rain (a threat discovered in North America at Hubbard Brook). Warming temperatures may also inflict harm to stands of trees over the long term.

Having been born and raised in southern Ontario in the post-WWII decades, I cringe a bit now when I see news clips of Torontonians golfing in February.   In my time and my parents' time and grandparents' time that sort of thing was unimaginable.   It simply didn't happen, not in what was the coldest month of the year.

Most of us are familiar with the story of the "boiled frog" in which a frog dropped into a pot of hot water immediately jumps out but a frog dropped into a pot of cold water atop a stove stays put and dies as the water gradually heats to the boiling point.    We're often compared to the boiled frog except we're not.   There's one huge difference.   That frog dies because it doesn't know any better.

1 comment:

Deno said...

In the continental USA, there were 137 high temperature type records versus 857 low temperature type records this past week , a 6-1 difference. Last week there were 1154 low temperature type records putting the two week total for October at 2011. There were also 24 new snowfall records set this week in the upper plains.

Once again, if this had been summer, and the numbers reversed, you’d see Seth Borenstein writing articles for AP telling us this is ‘what global warming looks like’. So far not a peep out of Seth on this cold wave and what it is supposed to mean.