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ESF Climate Change Research: Land Use, Ocean Waves, Forests and Invasives

Active projects also investigate subjects ranging from ocean-derived aerosols to worms in Lake Erie

Scientists at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry are conducting research into an array of subjects related to climate change, including land use, ocean waves, forest health and invasive species.

Among the currently active researchers are:

Myrna Hall: A decision-support toolkit for climate adaptation

A recently completed study outlines the climate risks for New York, with wide-ranging impacts to our water resources, coastal zones, ecosystems, agriculture, public health and much more. Rapid change will create a bottleneck for plants and animals, which may need to adapt or move to survive.

The goal is to maximize understanding of the diversity of plants and animals that can survive this bottleneck and maintain ecosystem services that people need.

The ESF role in this project funded by the Nature Conservancy and the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority is to project future land use changes independent of climate change considering other factors, such as increasing demand for housing and food for a growing population.

Failing to account for these possible changes and their impacts on species, habitats and ecosystem services might cause natural resource managers to underestimate future risk to natural resources and overestimate continued production of ecosystem services.

No statewide projection of land use change exists.

Dr. David Kieber: The climate impact of ocean-derived aerosols produced by breaking waves and bursting bubbles

There's already ample evidence indicating that ocean-derived aerosols play an important role in controlling the Earth's radiation balance, cloud formation and properties, and chemistry of the atmosphere.

What role will a warmer, more turbulent ocean play in aerosol production? For example, increasing cloud production and producing more numerous and more powerful storm activity?

The smallest aerosols introduced into the atmosphere through breaking bubbles are highly enriched in organic matter and contain very little sea salt. Funded by the National Science Foundation, research has been conducted in several oceanic settings and a model has been constructed to estimate global fluxes of organic matter (as carbon) to the atmosphere.

Dr. Robin Kimmerer: Saving forests

A grant from the U.S. Forest Service supports this project in which ESF works collaboratively with the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force to identify the potential ecological and cultural impacts of climate change and use the information to design and implement a pilot project that addresses those concerns.

One of the major issues is the threat of loss of culturally significant forest species as the climate changes. The goal is to engage the traditional indigenous responsibility for stewardship of those beings, through a process known as "assisted migration," or "Helping Forests Walk."

The plan is to identify the species that are particularly vulnerable to loss as well as those species from warmer places that may flourish here and establish demonstration populations/groves of these species at each of the Haudenosaunee territories and monitor their success.

Dr. Giorgos Mountrakis and Dr. Colin Beier: Using LIDAR (a remote sensing technology) to assess the roles of climate and land-cover dynamics as drivers of changes in biodiversity

This project takes advantage of recent advances in remotely sensed technologies to improve scientists' ability to measure the impacts of land-cover and evaluate the role of climate change on biodiversity.

The measure of biodiversity is songbirds using the New York State Breeding Bird Atlas that documents distribution of about 250 species across the entire state in 1980-1985 and again in 2000-2005. We have strong evidence of northward range shifts for many species. The two likely drivers of these shifts have been regional climatic changes and large-scale afforestation from agricultural abandonment.

Airborne LIDAR data collected through a custom NASA mission are integrated with other satellite and climatic information to assess their effects on songbird geographic distribution. Through a vegetation model the researchers will reconstruct vegetation 20 years back, which will allow them to see the effect of land cover changes versus climatic changes.

The project is funded by NASA's Biodiversity program.

Drs. Ralph Nyland, Eddie Bevilacqua and Diane Kiernan: Predicting the effects of even and uneven silviculture on commodity production, carbon sequestration and wildlife habitat in northern hardwoods

With the important role that trees play in the carbon cycle, forest managers must explore potential opportunities for increasing forests' potential for carbon storage through sustainable management. To evaluate and compare how various management options influence carbon budgets, the researchers used a growth-and-yield simulator to predict the volume of both carbon and commercially valuable timber for uneven-aged sugar maple stands over three cutting cycles. Three management options provided consistent commercial levels of timber production and harvest yields and increased carbon sequestration. The fourth method, diameter-limit cutting, resulted in the lowest levels of sequestered carbon. The results of the study have implications for forest managers.

Dr. Dylan Parry: The effect of climate on gypsy moths

Parry is studying the effect of climate on invasive gypsy moths, which defoliate trees and devastate forests.

Researchers believe the climate limits how fast the gypsy moth can expand northward because more variable climates decrease the chance that emerging males and females will overlap in time and mate successfully. Mating success in newly colonized areas is one of the biggest hurdles for the gypsy moth to overcome as it expands its range. Northward movement of gypsy moths is affected by both the insect's ability to adapt to novel climates and the warming of the climate along its range margins.

Dr. Kimberly Schulz and Andrew Brainard: The effect of climate change on a worm in Lake Erie

Brainard, a Ph.D. candidate, is studying the effect of climate change on a non-native worm that is becoming abundant in Lake Erie after being introduced from Asia.

Brainard, who works in Schulz's lab group, is focusing on a segmented worm that burrows into sediment and feeds on detritus. The burrowing can cause a release of nutrients and contaminants from the lake's sediment, which shows evidence of a legacy of water pollution. This can cause unsightly - or toxic - algal blooms and contribute to contamination of commercially important fish species. Brainard is testing how climate change will affect both the worm and the invertebrates native to the lake. The research, which is being done at Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve on Lake Erie, is supported by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Estuarine Research Reserve Fellowship.

Dr. Stephen B. Shaw: The effect of climate change on flood risk in the Mohawk and Hudson River basins

Shaw is studying the effect of climate change on flood risk in the Mohawk and Hudson River basins. The goal of the research is to learn more about how flooding occurs to guide policymakers as they make decisions about flood planning.

Said Shaw: "There is often the general assumption that since climate change will lead to increased rainfall intensities it will also lead to increased flooding, but this does not apply in all locations." For instance, on the Mohawk River, many floods have been linked to snowmelt and ice damming but the frequency of flooding with various causes has not been systematically analyzed so it is difficult to accurately predict how flooding might change in the future.