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There are substantial concerns that greenhouse gas induced climate changes will impact high elevation areas.

Conflicting predictions obscure certainty on what may occur under future climate conditions. However, in all cases, elevational shifts in vegetative composition are expected.

Many scenarios forecast a loss of native high elevation subalpine forests; as other species disperse up the mountains, the current high elevation species will eventually get squeezed off the mountain tops. The rate of these types of changes would more than likely be slow and subtle, given the longevity of the high elevation pines.

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The mature trees are less sensitive to environmental conditions than their seedlings. Future climatic conditions may prevent the survival of seedlings of high elevation species where they once were abundant. Warming temperatures may result in increased mountain pine beetle activity.

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And that's the same sort of thing that happens in the Arctic when the sea ice melts. In the United States, areas such as southern California and Arizona, which rely on water brought from the mountains, stand to be most adversely impacted, Miller said. As snow accumulates later in the fall and melts faster in the spring, less fresh water will emerge from the mountains during the late spring and through the summer. For both agriculture and the water supplies of major cities, that could spell trouble.

Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems (CCME)

Are you going to use the water to grow crops or are you going to use the water to fill swimming pools in LA? Those are ultimately social and political decisions.

With climate change, those changes could be more dramatic. Beyond water supply issues, the "elevation-dependent warming" phenomenon has implications for tourism, in terms of shorter ski and whitewater rafting seasons, as well as forestry. In Colorado, for example, a spruce beetle infestation has been devastating forests.

Working Group Key Output

The report by the international scientific team calls for improved observations, satellite-based remote sensing and climate model simulations to better understand elevation-dependent warming. In addition, existing observational data from around the world needs to be collated and evaluated.


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