By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – In the near future, Pacific Northwesterners could look out their windows and see something more similar to the Amazon than the cold, misty forests they’re used to.
Based on an aggregate of climatic forecasts, researchers at Washington State University have developed a model of what the United States could look like over the next century.
Nick Strigul, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics who helped develop the model at WSU, said the model simulates the development of Northwest forests as Earth grows warmer.
“The forest will have to develop something very similar to what we see in tropical forests, which is kind of amazing by itself,” he said, “but if you think about it, it does make sense as the climate will be warmer and we still have the same amount of rain.”
Strigul and co-researchers used a novel process to develop the model. The team “grew” forests in computer simulations based on information from forestry databases. They then used mathematical models to test the forests’ tolerance to the stresses of climate change, such as more frequent droughts and forest fires.
In the latter half of the century, the model predicted that forests in the Northeast would see the worst of frequent droughts. The Northwest would be more insulated from change, slowly transforming into a subtropical zone more similar to southern Brazil than anything in North America. However, John Harrison, an associate professor at the School of the Environment at WSU-Vancouver who also helped develop the model, said the Northwest will still be at risk of climate change.
“It’s not the really hot, dry areas that are going to be particularly sensitive to drought because those regions already have drought-tolerant species,” he said. “It’s regions where there’s plenty of rain currently.”
While the researchers do not prescribe any forest management plans, they say the model could be useful to forest managers. Soon, regional managers will be able to input their own data in order to predict forest areas in need of conservation efforts.
The team’s research can be viewed online here.
A full prediction for the U.S. also is online here.