Climate Change Killing Trees Off At Alarming Rates

A recent study has determined that if global warming continues unchecked at its current projected pace, we could see nearly all needleleaf evergreen trees die in the Southwest U.S. within the next hundred years.

The University of Delaware published its study, a product of five years of field research, today in the journal Nature Climate Change. The study projects a “72 percent loss of needleleaf evergreens by 2050″ and “almost 100 percent by 2100″ due to climate change.

The study was led by Nate McDowell from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who worked alongside 18 other researchers from universities and federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey.

They used global warming simulation models, regional predictions and field results to reach their ultimate conclusion: Climate change is ushering in a mass tree die-off.

“No matter how we investigated the problem, we got the same result. This consensus gives us confidence in this projection of forest mortality,” Sara Rauscher, a member of the research team and assistant professor of geography in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, said to Science Daily.

Climate change will affect trees in two ways: lack of water due to an increased prevalence of drought and something called “carbon starvation.” Carbon starvation occurs when tree leaves and needles close their stomata to retain water in dry conditions. This can slow or halt photosynthesis since the leaves and needles aren’t bringing carbon dioxide in as a result.

The study was inspired by the mass dying off of trees, including drought-resistant tree species, after recent droughts in the region, like the “megadrought” in California. This phenomenon seemed to parallel similar reports from around the world, and scientists began to question whether it was related to climate change. The UD study is especially relevant as dry spells in California are —> Read More