Montana's climate future

A selection of data and projections on past and future climate in Montana:

Temperature Trends Western MT

Pederson et al. (2010) A century of climate and ecosystem change in Western Montana: what do temperature trends portend? Climatic Change 98:133-154. It’s hard to read precisely off the graph, but there have been significant increases in maximum and minimum temperatures, with the greatest increases in the minimums and in winter – exactly what you’d expect from a change in radiative properties. As a result the daily temperature range has shrunk slightly and there are fewer below freezing and below zero days. That last metric is critical, because it’s the severe cold that controls many forest pests. There’s much more on this in a poster.

Model Futures

Not every station shows a trend – the figure above contrasts Bozeman (purple, strong trend) with West Yellowstone (orange, flat). The Bozeman trend is probably not an urban heat island effect – thinks it’s a good site, and White Sulphur (a nice sleepy town up the road a piece) is about the same. The red line is an ensemble of  simulations (GISS, CCSM & ECHAM5) from, projected into the future with A1B forcings (i.e., a fairly high emissions trajectory). I interpolated the data to latitude 47.6, longitude -110.9 (roughly my house, near Bozeman). Simulated temperature rises about 4C, while precipitation (green) is almost unmoved. If that came true, Montana’s future climate might be a lot like current central Utah.


The figure above – from John W. Williams, Stephen T. Jackson, and John E. Kutzbach. Projected distributions of novel and disappearing climates by 2100 AD. PNAS, vol. 104 no. 14 – shows global grid points that have no neighbors within 500km that now have a climate like what the future might bring. In panel C (disappearing climates with the high emissions A2 scenario), there’s a hotspot right over Montana. Presumably that’s loss of today’s high altitude ecosystems. As it warms up, climate zones move uphill, but at the top of mountains there’s nowhere to go. That’s why pikas may be in trouble.


MT Field Guide

MIT Updates Greenhouse Gamble

For some time, the MIT Joint Program has been using roulette wheels to communicate climate uncertainty. They’ve recently updated the wheels, based on new model projections:

No Policy Policy
New No policy Policy
Old Old no policy Old policy

The changes are rather dramatic, as you can see. The no-policy wheel looks like the old joke about playing Russian Roulette with an automatic. A tiny part of the difference is a baseline change, but most is not, as the report on the underlying modeling explains:

The new projections are considerably warmer than the 2003 projections, e.g., the median surface warming in 2091 to 2100 is 5.1°C compared to 2.4°C in the earlier study. Many changes contribute to the stronger warming; among the more important ones are taking into account the cooling in the second half of the 20th century due to volcanic eruptions for input parameter estimation and a more sophisticated method for projecting GDP growth which eliminated many low emission scenarios. However, if recently published data, suggesting stronger 20th century ocean warming, are used to determine the input climate parameters, the median projected warning at the end of the 21st century is only 4.1°C. Nevertheless all our simulations have a very small probability of warming less than 2.4°C, the lower bound of the IPCC AR4 projected likely range for the A1FI scenario, which has forcing very similar to our median projection.

I think the wheels are a cool idea, but I’d be curious to know how users respond to it. Do they cheat, and spin to get the outcome they hope for? Perhaps MIT should spice things up a bit, by programming an online version that gives users’ computers the BSOD if they roll a >7C world.

Hat tip to Travis Franck for pointing this out.