How do changes in climate and land use relate to one another?

The link between land use and the climate is complex. First, land cover--as shaped by land use practices--affects the global concentration of greenhouse gases. Second, while land use change is an important driver of climate change, a changing climate can lead to changes in land use and land cover. For example, farmers might shift from their customary crops to crops that will have higher economic return under changing climatic conditions. Higher temperatures affect mountain snowpack and vegetation cover as well as water needed for irrigation. The understanding of the interactions between climate and land use change is improving but continued scientific investigation is needed.

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What are the long-term effects of climate change?

Scientists have predicted that long-term effects of climate change will include a decrease in sea ice and an increase in permafrost thawing, an increase in heat waves and heavy precipitation, and decreased water resources in semi-arid regions. Below are some of the regional impacts of global change forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on...

What is the difference between weather and climate change?

Weather refers to short term atmospheric conditions while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a long period of time. Climate change refers to long-term changes.

How can climate change affect natural disasters?

With increasing global surface temperatures the possibility of more droughts and increased intensity of storms will likely occur. As more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere it becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop. More heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures can lead to increased wind speeds in tropical...

What are some of the signs of climate change?

• Temperatures are rising world-wide due to greenhouse gases trapping more heat in the atmosphere. • Droughts are becoming longer and more extreme around the world. • Tropical storms becoming more severe due to warmer ocean water temperatures. • As temperatures rise there is less snowpack in mountain ranges and polar areas and the snow melts...

What is the difference between global warming and climate change?

Although people tend to use these terms interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. “Global warming” refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “Climate change” refers to the increasing changes in the measures of climate over a long period...

Why is climate change happening and what are the causes?

There are many “natural” and “anthropogenic” (human-induced) factors that contribute to climate change. Climate change has always happened on Earth, which is clearly seen in the geological record; it is the rapid rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring now that is of great concern worldwide. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb...

How do we know the climate is changing?

The scientific community is certain that the Earth's climate is changing because of the trends that we see in the instrumented climate record and the changes that have been observed in physical and biological systems. The instrumental record of climate change is derived from thousands of temperature and precipitation recording stations around the...

Does an increase in the 100-year flood estimate originate from climate or land-use change?

Climate variability (dry cycles to wet cycles) and land-use change play a significant role, but there is a large amount of uncertainty around the flood quantile estimates (the value of discharge corresponding to the 100-year flood), particularly if there isn’t a long record of observed data at a stream location. Learn more: Flood recurrence...
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Date published: March 13, 2019

New US Geological Survey-led Research Helps California Coastal Managers Prioritize Planning and Mitigation Efforts Due to Rising Seas and Storms

New U.S. Geological Survey-led coastal modeling research presents state, federal, and commercial entities with varying storm and sea level-rise scenarios to assist with planning for future infrastructure and mitigation needs along the California coast. 

Date published: June 6, 2017

Increased Sea Ice Drift Puts Polar Bears on Faster Moving Treadmill

A new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wyoming found that increased westward ice drift in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas requires polar bears to expend more energy walking eastward on a faster moving “treadmill” of sea ice.  

Date published: May 25, 2017

Mapping Chesapeake's Future From Today's Land Use

USGS’ pixel-by-pixel land use forecasts offer essential road maps for restoration. 

Date published: November 2, 2016

Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away

Habitat for the Pacific walrus in the Chukchi Sea is disappearing from beneath them as the warming climate melts away Arctic sea ice in the spring, forcing the large mammals to “haul out” of the ocean and temporarily live on land.

Date published: September 20, 2016

Changing Times, Changing Stories: Climate Change Perspectives Vary Notably Among Generations in Subarctic Alaska

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey and partners illustrates how climate change is perceived among different generations of indigenous residents in subarctic Alaska. While all subjects agreed climate change is occurring, the older participants observed more overall changes than the younger demographic.

Date published: August 8, 2016

How Climate Change Will Transform the National Parks' Iconic Animals and Plants (Smithsonian)

WERC Ecologist Nate Stephenson talks about how climate change could affect trees in National Parks in this article from Smithsonian.com.

Date published: October 21, 2015

New Model Improves Predictions for How Climate Change Will Affect Fish Habitat

A new approach by U.S. Geological Survey scientists to modeling water temperatures resulted in more realistic predictions of how climate change will affect fish habitat by taking into account effects of cold groundwater sources.

Date published: May 11, 2015

Boom and Bust in the Boreal Forest: Climate Signals Seen in Bird Populations

Weaving concepts of ecology and climatology, recent interdisciplinary research by USGS and several university partners reveals how large-scale climate variability appears to connect boom-and-bust cycles in the seed production of the boreal (northern conifer) forests of Canada to massive, irregular movements of boreal birds.

Date published: March 25, 2015

Home on the California Range, Year 2100: Land Use and Climate Change Could Impact Wildlife, Water Supplies

Grassland habitats on rangelands in California’s Central Valley and surrounding foothills could decline by as much as 37 percent by 2100 due to changes in land use and climate, according to new scientific projections by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Attribution: Northeast
Date published: December 2, 2008

New National Program to Study Seasonal Changes in Wildlife Begins

A new Wildlife Phenology Program will enlist professional and citizen scientists across the country to monitor and record seasonal wildlife events to help managers understand and respond to climatic and other environmental changes.

Date published: December 28, 2006

As Population Grows, So Do Urban Areas — New Perspectives on Urban Land Use Change

Over 300 million Americans have to live somewhere. And, of course, we do. Nearly 80 percent of the growing U.S. population resides in urban areas while the land area dedicated to urban use continues to expand.

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May 31, 2018

Landsat in Action - Land Cover and Land Cover Change with Tom Loveland

Tom Loveland talks about using Landsat's data for land use and land cover change research.

Find this video and thousands more at https://usgs.gov/gallery.

Stay up-to-date on USGS topics and news on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and more at https://usgs

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July 30, 2017

A Record of Change: Science and Elder Observations on the Navajo N.

A Record of Change—Science and Elder Observations on the Navajo Nation is a 25-minute documentary about collaborative studies using conventional physical sciences, combined with tribal elder observations to show that local knowledge and conventional science partnerships can effectively document ecosystem change and determine the resulting challenges to livelihoods. 

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Wilted wheat in Arsi Negele, south-central Ethiopia
December 15, 2016

Wilted wheat in Arsi Negele, south-central Ethiopia

Wilted wheat in Arsi Negele, south-central Ethiopia, Sept. 2, 2015. Photo credit: Getachew Abate (FEWS NET) and Kelbessa Beyene (World Food Programme), public domain.

October 22, 2015

PubTalk 10/2015 — Fire-climate Relationships in the Sierra Nevada

Surprises relevant to future fire regime forecasts

by Jon E. Keeley, USGS Research Scientist

  • Historical variation in annual fire activity is tied to climate only in the montane forests.
  • Fires are largely insensitive to winter temperatures but significantly affected by spring and summer temperatures.
  • Future
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March 22, 2012

PubTalk 3/2012 — Projected Climate Change Impacts in California

--the consequences of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases

Tom Suchanek, USGS Western Ecological Research Center Lead Scientist and Climate Change Coordinator

  • How will decisions that the global community makes about emissions likely affect the future of the western U.S.?
  • How will rising sea level likely affect
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