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
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.