Climate change studied | TheUnion.com

Climate change studied

Dave Moller

Some scientists view the Sierra Nevada as a massive trap for the greenhouse gasses that cause global warming.

That has spurred a current study to see how 22 square miles of the Tahoe National Forest above Downieville are being affected by climate change, and what the U.S. Forest Service can do to deal with this modern phenomenon. It might also tell forest officials how to plan for future fires and what to plant in each forest zone.

The collaborative study headed up by the Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service was unveiled Tuesday at the forest headquarters in Nevada City.

“Global warming threatens human well-being,” said Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist and principal in the study for The Nature Conservancy. “The past 10 years have been the hottest in the world in the last 1,000 years.”

Temperatures have been increasing ever since the industrial revolution started around 1900, he said. Although the average temperature has only increased about one degree Fahrenheit in that time, he said, that has been enough to raise the sea level five inches in the past 100 years on California’s coast. It has also caused a 10 percent decrease in global snow cover since 1960, Gonzalez said.

Scientists fear temperatures could increase 2 to 10 percent by the year 2100, causing sea levels to increase dramatically, Gonzalez said. A worst-case scenario has the sea rising eight inches, driving salt water and mayhem into the San Francisco Bay and surrounding water system.

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The study area above Downieville was chosen because of its variations of species and large carbon deposit. “One half of a log is carbon,” Gonzalez said. “Trees absorb carbon and reduce global warming, whether it comes from cars or burning wood. It’s a natural way of decreasing global warming.”

The study is gathering tree inventory data and other information to compare to future studies, which will use satellites and sensors, Gonzalez said.

“Hopefully we’ll follow up in the next five years to see what changes actually occurred,” Gonzalez said, “to see if the carbon has increased or decreased.”

The ground and aerial work started in July and will be complete in a few weeks, Gonzalez said. The data will then be compiled and released in June of next year.

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To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

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