Fading Fast? Colorado’s Iconic Aspen Trees Will Likely Decline with Climate Change — H2O Radio #ActOnClimate

Aspens October 2019. Photo credit: Hsueh Shih

From H2O Radio:

Tourists in Colorado’s high country might want to snap a lot pictures while they can. Researchers predict that climate change will reduce the number of aspens that make fall color in the Rocky Mountains so captivating.

In Colorado, nothing says fall like a drive in the high country to see the bright orange and yellow leaves of the aspen trees shimmering against a crisp, blue sky. People flock to the mountains not only to see the vibrant colors, but they can hear them, too.

“When the wind blows, they kind of rattle or shake. So it’s sort of a multisensory experience,” says Dr. Jelena Vukomanovic, assistant professor in the North Carolina State University Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management.

Vukomanovich and her team of researchers just released a study looking at how the iconic trees in the Colorado landscape will fare in a warming world. Unfortunately for aspens, the future is already here.

Vukomanovich told H2O Radio that scientists are already starting to see declines in aspen trees in recent years because of more drought and warming temperatures but that climatologists aren’t sure that, as the Colorado climate warms, if it will be drier or wetter. Vukomanovich says it’s not clear if the Front Range will “go with the Southwest or the Northwest in terms of changes.” For that reason, she modeled three scenarios: if climate does not change from historical conditions observed from 1980 to 2010; under a 4-degree temperature increase with 15 percent less precipitation; and with a 4-degree decline and 15 percent more precipitation.

NC State News explains that overall, they found that aspen are expected to decline in all three climate scenarios. In the two warmer scenarios, the losses were more than two times greater overall, and aspen loss was even greater in the visible areas from the scenic byways. And, even if current conditions continue, there would be declines in the trees. At elevations between 6500 to 9000 feet where aspen are most abundant, they saw consistent decreases across all three scenarios. At the highest elevations above 9000 feet they saw lower declines, and they think that means the trees will shift to higher elevations as warming occurs.

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