New climate change map adds a new factor: people
A new map, published this week in Nature Climate Change, assesses the degree to which humans have modified regional landscapes, in addition to how exposed those regions already are to climate change.
A new map adds a new variable to assessments of the regional impact of climate change: people.Skip to next paragraph
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In making the new map, published this week in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, a team of scientists have factored humans’ modifications to their environment into a new calculation of the relative threats that climate change poses to the world’s different regions.
These alterations to the world’s landscapes – seen in burgeoning cities, industrial centers, and farmland – have already weakened certain regional ecosystems, putting them at a disadvantage as manmade changes to the global climate begin to tax the planet. In plotting which of the world’s ecosystems have already been pummeled with human development, the team says the map could help conservationists make difficult calls about where to funnel finite resources.
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“For the first time, this map places climate change within a human context,” says James Watson, director of the Climate Change Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society and lead author on the paper. “It answers the question: how will climate change interact with how we have already modified the environment?”
The map comes just two weeks before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its much anticipated report, published every four years, on the state of global warming. A draft of the report leaked to Reuters in August had said that scientists were 95 percent certain that humans are to blame for global climate change.
The new map builds on a roster of existing work analyzing how various ecosystems will weather climate change. But the paper also adds a new variable to the map: how much those landscapes, and their ecosystems, have been modified. That anthropogenic variable, while included in some local case studies analyzing climate change, has been absent from broad portraits painting the regional effects of climate change, says Dr. Watson.
But once added, the authors say, the variable offers a more useful and accurate gauge of just how susceptible a region is to a changing climate – experienced at some locations in warmer temperatures, at others in colder temperatures, and at others still in super-storms, prolonged droughts, ebbing coastlines, and economically-taxing species loss.
“Within the context of conservation practice, vegetation intactness is more significant than climate stability for ecosystem vulnerability,” write the authors, in the paper.
And, once the relative intactness of the ecosystem is considered, the climate change map looks radically different than previous such maps, the researchers say.
“Normally, the map shows high vulnerability at the high latitude or high altitude areas,” says Watson.