Vegetation Matters: Type conversion could impact Sierra stream flow more than changing climate alone

Comparison of mean daily streamflow under historical conditions (100% forest and historical temperatures) and the following change scenarios; (a) & (b) 100% type conversion to shrubs with LAI 1/2, LAI 1/4 and LAI 1/6; (c) & (d) 3°C temperature increase, and (e) & (f) both type conversion and temperature increase.

02 Sep 2016
News Source: The Current at UCSB

Image: Comparison of mean daily streamflow under historical conditions (100% forest and historical temperatures) and the following change scenarios; (a) & (b) 100% type conversion to shrubs with LAI 1/2, LAI 1/4 and LAI 1/6; (c) & (d) 3°C temperature increase, and (e) & (f) both type conversion and temperature increase. [Click image to enlarge]

This is an excerpt of a press release originally published on 30 August 2016 by James Badham, covering a new peer-reviewed article published by SSCZO researchers Ryan Bart, Naomi Tague, and Max Moritz. Click here to read the entire article.

"In California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, as more precipitation falls in the form of rain rather than snow, and the snowpack melts earlier in spring, it’s important for water managers to know when and how much water will be available for urban and agricultural needs and for the environment in general.

While changing precipitation patterns can have a significant impact on stream flows in the Sierra Nevada mountains, a new study by UC Santa Barbara researchers indicates that shifts in vegetation type resulting from warming and other factors may have an equal or greater effect. Their findings appear in the journal PLOS One.

“We found that vegetation change may have a greater impact on the amount of stream flow in the Sierra than the direct effects of climate warming,” said lead author Ryan Bart, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Bart co-wrote the paper with Bren professor Naomi Tague and fire ecologist Max Moritz, an associate at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.

As the climate continues to warm and produce more severe droughts, fires and tree die-off events across the western United States, the potential for widespread vegetation-type conversion is becoming increasingly plausible. ..."


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Max A. Moritz - Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley.


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