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Sunday, 20 February, 2000, 20:44 GMT
New England forests may vanish
Carrington
By BBC News Online's Damian Carrington in Washington DC

New England's forests, famous for their glorious autumn displays, may virtually disappear in the next century as a result of climate change.

AAAS Expo
Steven McNulty, from the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, made the forecast whilst revealing some of the conclusions of the US National Assessment on the impact of climate change.

This was set up in 1997 and involves dozens of working parties and thousands of scientists and interested parties. It will present its draft report on all the impacts of climate change in April and the report will then be passed to the US President.

Mr McNulty said 90% of the aspen, maple and cedars would be driven north by rising temperatures.

"It is actually already happening as shown by the maple syrup industry moving out of Vermont and into Canada," he said.

Incoming species

The trees will be replaced by hardwoods from the south, such as oaks. But there could be barren areas for a time, warned Mr McNulty. This would occur if the incoming settlers colonised more slowly than the dying species disappeared.

However, Mr McNulty said: "Total US national forest productivity over the next century will significantly increase," due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But ironically, this could lead to the eventual deforestation of the southern US, which currently provides 50% of the country's timber.

The reason, said Mr McNulty, was that in next the 30 years productivity may well rise in the south, again due to increased CO2. But by the end of that period, as temperatures rise and the climate dries out, dense, dry forests will be at much higher risk of sweeping fires.

"We expect an increase in the area of forest fire-burnt of 25 to 50% - the south could even end up largely as grassland savannah."

Snow systems

Another significant change in the US forests is likely to be the complete loss of the alpine forests in the western US mountains. Rising temperatures will drive them up the slopes until they can survive no longer.

According to Peter Gleick, from the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, these mountain forest changes will also be accompanied by "very significant changes in the hydrology of snow systems".

From the Sierra Nevada to the Rockies, there will be more rain and less snow and the snow season will start later and end earlier, he said. He added that this was already happening in some basins.

"We are likely to get the worst of all worlds - wet winters and dry summers," Peter Gleick said.

See also:

20 Feb 00 | Washington 2000
21 Apr 99 | Science/Nature
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