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Projected changes in diverse ecosystems from climate warming and biophysical drivers in northwest Alaska

January 1, 2015

Climate warming affects arctic and boreal ecosystems by interacting with numerous biophysical factors across heterogeneous landscapes. To assess potential effects of warming on diverse local-scale ecosystems (ecotypes) across northwest Alaska, we compiled data on historical areal changes over the last 25–50 years. Based on historical rates of change relative to time and temperature, we developed three state-transition models to project future changes in area for 60 ecotypes involving 243 potential transitions during three 30-year periods (ending 2040, 2070, 2100). The time model, assuming changes over the past 30 years continue at the same rate, projected a net change, or directional shift, of 6 % by 2100. The temperature model, using past rates of change relative to the past increase in regional mean annual air temperatures (1 °C/30 year), projected a net change of 17 % in response to expected warming of 2, 4, and 6 °C at the end of the three periods. A rate-adjusted temperature model, which adjusted transition rates (±50 %) based on assigned feedbacks associated with 23 biophysical drivers, estimated a net change of 13 %, with 33 ecotypes gaining and 23 ecotypes losing area. Major drivers included shrub and tree expansion, fire, succession, and thermokarst. Overall, projected changes will be modest over the next century even though climate warming increased transition rates up to 9 fold. The strength of this state-transition modeling is that it used a large dataset of past changes to provide a comprehensive assessment of likely future changes associated with numerous drivers affecting the full diversity of ecosystems across a broad region.

Publication Year 2015
Title Projected changes in diverse ecosystems from climate warming and biophysical drivers in northwest Alaska
DOI 10.1007/s10584-014-1302-1
Authors Mark Torre Jorgenson, Bruce G. Marcot, David K. Swanson, Janet C. Jorgenson, Anthony R. DeGange
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Climatic Change
Index ID 70231261
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center