Tag: drought

Massive forest death continues in California

Latest survey tallies more than 100 milion dead trees

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A stand of pine-beetle killed lodgepole pines on the White River National Forest. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

California’s long-term drought has claimed another 36 million trees, the U.S. Forest Service said this week, announcing the results of a new aerial survey. Since 2010, more than 100 million trees have died across 7.7 million acres, the agency said.

The die-off intensified in 2016, after four years of drought,  with mortality increasing 100 percent. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years. Forest Service leaders once again emphasized that their ability to address safety issues linked with dead trees has been severely hampered by climate change and limited resources.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said a broken budget for the Forest Service sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health.  Continue reading “Massive forest death continues in California”

Study eyes ‘flash drought’ forecasts

State officials hope to be well-prepared for the next inevitable drought in Colorado.
State officials hope to be well-prepared for the next inevitable drought in Colorado.

Soil moisture, snowpack data help inform new forecast modeling

Staff Report

Some droughts creep up on you, while others seem to come out of nowhere, like in 2012 when spring came early and a hot, dry summer parched fields and forests and led to a busy wildfire season, including the destructive Waldo Canyon blaze near Colorado Springs.

Seasonal forecasts issued in May 2012 did not foresee a drought forming in the country’s midsection. But by the end of August,  the drought had spread across the Midwest, parching Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. Now, after analyzing conditions leading up to the drough, researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, say similar droughts in the future could be predicted by paying close attention to key indicators like snowmelt and soil moisture.  Continue reading “Study eyes ‘flash drought’ forecasts”

Study says global warming ups odds of Southwest megadrought

Heat-trapping greenhouse gases may dessicate Colorado River Basin

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.
Megadroughts ahead? Satellite photo of the Colorado River Basin via NASA.

Staff Report

It’s very likely the southwestern U.S. will be hit by droughts unlike any seen since the region was settled by Europeans. Global warming has driven the odds of a 10-year drought to at least 50 percent, and the chances of a 35-year megadrought range from 20 to 50 percent during the next century, according to a new study led by researchers with Cornell, the University of Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Global warming is “weighting the dice” for megadroughts, said lead study author Toby Ault, explaining that the buildup of greenhouse gases is shifting the climate dramatically. The study is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the  American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Continue reading “Study says global warming ups odds of Southwest megadrought”

California tree deaths part of global wave of forest mortality

Climate change is wiping out forests on a staggering scale

forests dying because of global warming
Red and dead lodgepole pines in Colorado. @bberwyn photo.
A beetle-killed lodgepole pine branch in Summit County, Colorado.
A beetle-killed lodgepole pine branch in Summit County, Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

California’s multiyear drought killed even more trees than previously thought, the U.S. Forest Service announced this week. Aerial and ground surveys show that 26 million trees across six counties in Southern California died, in addition to the 40 million trees that died statewide from 2010 to October 2015. Four years of drought, high temperatures and an outbreak of tree-killing bark beetles all contributed the historic levels of tree die-off, the agency said.

The tree mortality in California is the latest crest in a wave of forest die-offs in the past few decades linked with global warming. In the Southwest, an outbreak of ips beetles after the 2002 drought killed 80 percent of the piñon pine forests in the Four Corners region.

Around the same time, pine beetles started spreading across northern Colorado, parts of Wyoming and North Dakota, ultimately killing millions of acres of forest. And just as the pine beetle infestation waned, a spruce beetle outbreak in southern Colorado started to spread. Since 1996, spruce beetles have killed trees across about 1.5 million acres of forest.

Huge swaths of Colorado aspen forests also died in the early 2000s in a mortality event linked with extreme heat, and forest researchers say hardwood forests in the northern U.S. are also at risk from global warming. Continue reading “California tree deaths part of global wave of forest mortality”

Emerging La Niña likely to end streak of record-warm years

Pacific Ocean ENSO cycle a key player in global climate

La Niña
Cooler water welling up along the coast of South America and moving west suggests the start of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean.

By Bob Berwyn

The shift from a powerful El Niño to the cooler La Niña phase of Pacific Ocean temperatures will temporarily end the planet’s recent record streak of record-warm years, according to climate scientists who see the cyclical ocean changes as a key factor in the long-term global climate change equation.

Nearly all record-warm global years since 1950 (when accurate records start) have come during during El Niños, when the Pacific Ocean releases heat to the atmosphere and  intensifies global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution. The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the strongest on record, but it has now ended, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says sea surface temperatures in the central and equatorial Pacific have cooled to average in the past few weeks. Continue reading “Emerging La Niña likely to end streak of record-warm years”

Environment: Can prescribed fires make forests more resilient?

New study focuses on drought-stricken California forests

Beetle-killed forests now dominate the landscape in Summit County. Prescribed fires are needed to help regenerate forests and clear dangerous fuels, according to White River NF supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
Prescribed fires could help make forests more tolerant to drought and more resilient in a warmer climate. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

A rising tide of insect infestations, tree mortality and wildfires — all caused by global warming — has resulted in political pressure for more logging in U.S. Forests, but there’s plenty of research showing that cutting down trees doesn’t do much good and can even increase the fire danger.

Exploring alternative options for strengthening forest resiliency, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service recently found that thinning forests with prescribed fires can reduce drought. Continue reading “Environment: Can prescribed fires make forests more resilient?”

So how, exactly, does global warming kill forests?

Global warming has killed half a billion trees across the U.S.

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Global warming is killing forests around the world. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Scientists tracking massive forest die-offs say a new study may help forest managers learn how to predict which trees will succumb to global warming — and what the implications are for the global carbon balance.

“There are some common threads that we might be able to use to predict which species are going to be more vulnerable in the future,” said University of Utah biologist William Anderegg, explaining that recent tree-killing droughts in the western U.S. were marked more by elevated temperature than by a lack of rainfall.

“These widespread tree die-offs are a really early and visible sign of climate change already affecting our landscapes,” Anderegg said.

More stories on global warming and forests:

Continue reading “So how, exactly, does global warming kill forests?”