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Climate: More wine, less maple syrup in Vermont

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Vermont’s average temperature will increase by more than five degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

State assessment drills into global models to help planners prepare for climate change

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — State and federal climate experts say Vermont will see big changes as global temperatures warm in the next half century. The state’s ski industry may enjoy a “sweet spot’ of sorts, with the possibility of increased snow for the next 25 years, but the maple syrup business may struggle.

Vermont this week released a state-based climate assessment, scaling down global climate models and using local knowledge to try and get a solid handle on how the changes will play out in the Green Mountain State. Risks include an 80 percent change of increased flooding, as well as better odds for short-term droughts — extreme weather, in other words.

“The climate has already changed substantially in Vermont,” said Gillian Galford, a climate scientist at UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and the lead author of the new report, “Spring is coming seven days earlier across the state — and that has happened in just the last three decades.”

Galford and her colleagues were able to report this by drawing on numerous types of data such as satellite observations and global climate models from NASA—combined with local sources like weather station records from across the state over decades, apple farmers’ records of tree blooms going back into the 1960s, and the ice-out date on Vermont’s famed Joe’s Pond.

Long the site of bets about which spring day it will melt, the pond’s ice breakup varies considerably from year to year, but its average has gotten earlier. “As a scientist, the Joe’s Pond ice-out date makes a beautiful trend,” Galford says, “as a person, I find it tragic that our climate is changing this rapidly.”

The Vermont Climate Assessment was written by scientists at the University of Vermont, in collaboration with experts from the State of Vermont, meteorologists from the National Weather Service, as well as Vermont businesses, farmers, and non-profit organizations with local expertise and data.

Being ever-optimistic can-do Yankees, the Vermont scientists also found some silver linings. A longer growing season could help grape growers with new varieties of European grapes, and increasing snowfall is good news for ski resorts — at least until global warming turns most of that precipitation into rain sometime in the next 50 years.

By 2100, Vermont’s average temperature is expected to increase by more than 5 degrees Celsius. Precipitation will increase in the state’s mountains, threatening development in floodplains and driving pollution into Lake Champlain.

Until this new assessment, Vermont, like most other states, has not had a comprehensive examination of the economic impacts of climate change. “Some of the impacts in Vermont are going to present new opportunities that we can capitalize on in agriculture, recreation and tourism,” Galford said. “And there are some serious negatives that we need to be prepared to deal with. By acting now, we can adapt to and mitigate some of these problems.”

“This assessment is the first of its kind anywhere in the United States,” said Taylor Ricketts, the director of UVM’s Gund Institute that produced the Vermont Climate Assessment. It’s “rigorous research that integrates social and natural sciences,” he notes, and, “this report will guide our state to be more resilient to the changes we now know are coming.”

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