A farmer in Willmar who happens to be an avid bird watcher reported some exciting and troubling news to Lee Frelich, director at the University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology. Red bellied woodpeckers have been spotted on his swath of rural land.
"That's new," says Frelich, who studies climate change. "Red bellied woodpeckers, historically, were in Iowa and southern Minnesota. Now we're seeing them 100 miles further north and possibly even further than that. It's a result of climate change."
Frelich, the ever-curious scientist, considers the new birds and animals inhabiting Minnesota to be an "interesting" development that accompanies a warming planet.
Thirty five years from now, he predicts, the fall-out from climate change will result in serious hits to the state's quality of living.
Warmer water temperatures will fuel nutrients in lakes. That means algae in summertime will gag beloved recreational spots like Lake Calhoun and Lake Minnetonka, making swimming near impossible. Shallow water bodies like Lake of the Isles could become marshland or perhaps even dry up completely as a hotter Minnesota brings more evaporation. Winter will mean snow is replaced by rain, making snowmobiling, boot hockey, and ice fishing next to impossible. No deep freeze will give rise to more invasive insects like the beetle that spreads Dutch elm disease, since bugs won't be killed off by cold.
"Right now, the winter is still quite long in the far northern part of the state," Frelich says. "They might start feeling the effects in four or five decades whereas in the south, the snow is already more marginal.… We all know the skiing and the ice skating isn't what it used to be. It's not that we won't get a lot of precipitation during the winter. We actually think we'll get more winter precipitation. But some of that will be rain. More intrusions of warm air in the winter means a lot of snow may fall, but it could also melt rather quickly."
Minnesota in 2050, according to Frelich, will also incur more frequent clashes of warm and cold air, which will cause bigger, more erratic storms.
For instance, floods could deluge Winona and Red Wing, while Moorhead and Alexandria cough through drought. Around the Twin Cities, hailstorms will pound cars stuck in rush-hour traffic.
"We'll have episodes of rain, but heavier, more exaggerated," he says. "A lot of rain might fall, but we'll have periods where no rain falls at all. Increased hail frequency, that'll become a more common thing as warm air masses penetrate more often."
This is what happens when humans burn fossil fuels.
"We've already put so much CO2 into the atmosphere that we've determined the climate change for the next two or three decades," Frelich says. "What we do now will determine what happens toward the tail end of this century. We're on our way to returning the chemistry of the atmosphere to what is was at the time of the dinosaurs if we keep emitting more CO2."
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