Wednesday, May 05, 2004

West Is Heating Up!

Temperatures are warmer, ocean levels are rising, the snowpack is dwindling and melting earlier, flowers bloom earlier, mountain glaciers are disappearing and a six-year drought is killing trees by the millions.
"The West has become habitated because of the ability to store and have a reliable water supply," said Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist who studies climate for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Simply the tMany scientists blame greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and ozone for causing global warming because the pollutants tend to trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere. But some contend the warming is just natural climate variability and humans have nothing to do with it.
emperature effect is going to put a much greater strain on water availability."
Warmer temperatures only help the beetles reproduce more quickly, leading to more lost trees. Some types of beetles that used to propagate two generations in a year now can produce three.Mike Wagner, a regents' professor of forest entomology at Northern Arizona, predicted a beetle outbreak years ago in northern Arizona when he saw how abundant older trees were in overcrowded forests. When the drought began, the beetles were ready. By 2002, trees weakened by drought were unable to fend off the beetles, and they were soon overcome. Tens of millions of trees across the West have been killed at a rate never seen before."Absolutely unprecedented," said Wagner,. "We've never had these conditions before, never had that combination."Scientists expect another devastating beetle outbreak this year.
And while most scientists agree humans are to blame for at least part of that warming trend, as Whitham, a regents' professor of biology at Northern Arizona University , said: . "If we aren't causing it, we're certainly contributing to it. Humans can take a drought and make it even worse." Frontiers of Freedom, a Washington, D.C. public policy group, doesn't believe humans have anything to do with the gradual warming of the Earth. These things happen. That's just the way nature has always been," said George Landrith, president of Frontiers of Freedom. "Variability has always existed. There's nothing new about that."
Scientists say continued warming across the West will mean a smaller snowpack that could affect ecosystems that depend on stream flows and water temperature. Soils and vegetation will be drier, increasing fire risk and prolonging the fire season. Plants and trees will be able to grow at higher elevations, threatening ski resorts. Sea levels will continue to rise, putting beaches and cities at risk.
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