Thursday, September 21, 2017

On global warming's impact in the rural West

I was surprised to hear this story on NPR about a new climate change report out of...drumroll... Montana.  Montana? I thought  They have a Democractic governor (Steve Bullock), I know, but it's not the sort of state you would expect to be on the vanguard of climate research.  Turns out the report, the Montana Climate Assessment, was the product of several grants and sponsors and isn't a political document at all, but rather a scientific one.  The report's sponsors include the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Track 1 RII grant, Montana State University, the University of Montana, the Montana EPSCoR Office, and the Montana Institute on Ecosystems.  The lead scientist is Cathy Whitlock of Montana State University, who says the report is intended to help Montanans “plan, make wise decisions and become more resilient.”

Here's a summary of some of the report's findings, as reported by the Bozeman Chronicle.  
Montana’s average temperatures are increasing, mountain snowpacks are declining, large wildfires are more frequent, and all that is expected to continue in the coming decades.   
The assessment says temperatures across the state increased by about 3 degrees on average between 1950 and 2015. That increase outpaced the national average, which the study attributes to Montana’s geographic location, and the authors expect warming here will continue to outpace “most parts of the country, particularly when compared to states in coastal regions.” 
“Key to the concern is that coming temperature changes will be larger in magnitude and occur more rapidly than any time since our 1889 declaration of statehood,” the study says.

The report predicts that temperatures could warm as much as 6 degrees by 2050, and as much as 9.8 degrees by 2100. 
* * * 
Agricultural growing seasons are longer than they were in 1950, with 12 more frost-free days each year, according to the report. Even fewer days of frost are expected in the future, but the report also predicts there will be more days that surpass 90 degrees, which creates challenges for farmers and ranchers as water demand from crops and livestock increases.
Read more here.  And here is a related story from NPR today about Montana's epic (and tragic) wildfire season, which I wrote a bit about here.

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