Warming could turn Interior into prairie, UAF scientist says

CLIMATE CHANGE: Interior temperatures may rise 11 degrees.

September 17, 2010 

FAIRBANKS -- The projected warming of the planet could give Fairbanks the same weather as midwest Canada, according to a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor.

Rich Boone, an ecosystem ecologist at the College of Natural Science and Mathematics, used the climate around Saskatoon, Canada, as an example of what might be in store for Alaska's Interior, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

Fairbanks faces a roughly 11-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase by 2100 if moderate climate-change models are used, Boone said during a talk Wednesday.

If that happens, the Interior no longer will be characterized by permafrost and boreal forests, he said.

"That's very realistic," Boone said. "We'd be in a zone that would potentially be prairie."

Models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict worldwide temperatures will increase by about 6 degrees Fahrenheit during the next century. Arctic regions have been warming at roughly twice the rate of other parts of the globe, Boone said.

Based on indicators that include ice cores, tree rings and other data, Boone said the only other known period of such rapid change was the end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.

Earth's climate has been remarkably stable during the past 1,000 years, he said, allowing humans to develop reliable agriculture and the civilization that accompanies it.

Just after the ice age, "We were stone-age people, and there really wasn't a lot to lose," he said.

Boone said some climate change forecasts oversimplify the problem as a basic issue of growing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Methane, cloud cover and sunspots also appear to be contributing to warming or cooling, he said.

He believes the overall trend is toward a warming planet, and carbon dioxide appears to be the main culprit.

"The fact is, the stuff we've pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution is going to continue to have a warming effect for thousands of years," Boone said.

Despite the change he anticipates, Boone remains optimistic about the future of the planet and humans. He believes technological advances eventually will ease the effects of climate change.

"We're stupid, but when we have to, we solve problems," he said.

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