MTU Research to Help Appalachians Adapt to Climate Change

Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science LogoResearchers at the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science at Michigan Technological University have completed a major report to help forest managers and forest planners in the Appalachians adapt to climate change.

The report, Central Appalachians Forest Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis, is published through the U.S. Forest Service. The researchers worked to assess vulnerabilities and to craft contingency plans for various areas, including forest ecosystems in the Central Appalachian Broadleaf Forest-Coniferous Forest-Meadow and Eastern Broadleaf Forest Provinces of Ohio, West Virginia, and Maryland for a range of future climates. 

Monitoring and analyzing local climate data is an arduous process that requires a specific skill set and a background in climate science. Forest ecosystems are complex with many inputs and outputs that affect their sensitivity and vulnerability, including rainfall, growing season length, temperature and soil type.

For most who work in the forestry industry, it is overly complicated and it often requires far more time and resources than are available to them. However, in order to best do their job, the forest managers need the most comprehensive data. If their forest ecosystem is vulnerable, they need to know.

The Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science saw this as a value proposition, an opportunity to provide workers and planners on the ground the tools they need to most effectively adapt to the best of their abilities.

Lead researcher and a member of the institute, Patricia Butler, explained the importance of the report to Michigan Tech News. ‘“This document is written for your average forest manager or forest planner who is ready to incorporate climate information into their work, but is not necessarily a climate expert,” Butler says, adding that the first step to thinking about climate change adaptation is understanding what might be vulnerable in the forest…. “the vulnerability rating we give reflects the exposure and sensitivity weighed against the forest’s resilience to those impacts. Resilience is the forest’s ability to withstand and bounce back from stress and disturbance. So, if you have high impacts and low resilience then you’ll have high vulnerability.”

She continued on to say that “we know climate change is happening. We need to get a better sense of the direction and magnitude of not only future changes in climate, but future changes in drivers and stressors.”

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