How will climate change affect local forests?

Update: Dr. Templer’s talk is online here.

New England is known for its forests. For the blaze of color that explodes every fall, the dazzling stillness of a newly fallen snow, the austere refuge that drew Thoreau to “live deliberately” by Walden Pond.

But what will become of these iconic landscapes in a warming world? Pamela Templer, a biology professor at Boston University, will discuss her research on the topic at a free public lecture on Tuesday, October 29, 2019, at 7 pm. The talk will be held at the Thomas Crane Library at 40 Washington Street in Quincy and is co-sponsored by the Quincy Climate Action Network, Fore River Residents Against the Compressor Station, and the library.

1280px-New_hampshire_colors(Image: bluepoint – Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

The research has important implications for New England. “I think of our forests as natural filters,” says Templer. Trees pull pollutants out of the air, draw the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and lock it in their wood and roots, and soak up pollutants from soils, preventing them from contaminating waterways.

Finding out how climate change will affect these critical processes involves measuring competing seasonal influences. Higher temperatures from climate change – on average, annual temperatures will rise 9 °F by 2100 in the region – could actually boost trees’ metabolism during spring and summer and help them lock away more carbon dioxide in their wood. But warmer temps will also mean less snow on the ground in the winter. And because snow is an insulator, its absence will cause the ground to freeze and thaw more frequently, which could damage roots.

Templer has been studying these rival factors since 2012 at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire. There, she and her team heat the ground by 9 °F during the growing season in some areas and then shovel the snow off them during the winter to induce the soil to freeze. The group studies how trees grow but also how plants interact with waterways and soil microbes and how those microbes interact with the air. “We’re really interested in the forest ecosystem as a whole,” says Templer.

Pamela Templer (2016)Her results could help local industries prepare for climate change as well. “We know summers are getting warmer – heatwaves are getting longer and more intense, but the biggest changes are happening in winter,” Templer says. “Ski resorts that rely on snow are seeing dramatic shifts, where they’re going from using the natural snowpack to having to make more snow. And the conditions where trees make maple syrup in the middle of winter are getting earlier, and the concern is that those conditions might disappear.”

Anyone interested in helping to fight climate change in Quincy is welcome to attend a QCAN meeting. The next one is on November 13 at 7 pm at the Quincy Community United Methodist Church at 40 Beale Street in Wollaston. FRRACS next meets on November 12 at 7 pm at the Fore River Clubhouse.