The Western Regional Center of the National Institute for Climatic Change Research (NICCR, pronounced “nicer”) supports research on the impacts of climatic change on ecosystems, and on how altered ecosystems feed back to the climate system. The Western Regional Center covers thirteen US states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Nationally, the NICCR includes three other regional centers—midwestern, southeastern, and northeastern—as well as a coastal center.
Climate Change Background
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded recently that humans very likely have caused the global warming observed over the past century, and that continued emissions of greenhouse gases by humans will warm the planet further. We emit greenhouse gases by driving cars, heating buildings, growing food, harvesting forests, and raising livestock: all these activities produce carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, the three major greenhouse gases warming the Earth. Reflecting the global trend, annual temperatures in Flagstaff have risen over the past 50 years, increasing by more than 0.3 ºF per decade, a rate slightly higher than the global mean.
Greenhouse gases are a critical and natural part of Earth’s atmosphere, creating the mild climate that makes the planet favorable to life. These gases insulate the earth, trapping heat and warming the surface, just like a light blanket keeps the chill off during a Flagstaff summer night. Humans are thickening this natural atmospheric blanket by producing more greenhouse gases. Like throwing on an extra down comforter in the summer, our atmospheric blanket may be getting too thick.
Climate models implicate global warming in extreme weather events—heat waves, droughts, even hurricanes. Global warming will affect food production, increase the ranges of diseases borne by heat-tolerant insects like ticks and mosquitoes, and threaten human settlements near the coasts as sea levels rise. Natural ecosystems respond too. The ranges of many plant and animal species have shifted poleward in the past 100 years. Plants bloom earlier, and leaves fall later, compared to earlier periods when Earth’s climate was cooler. Continued warming will amplify these changes.
From the Earth Up: Research in Global Warming.
Showcases Dr. Bruce Hungate’s research on individual plant responses to changes in atmosphere and temperature.