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Innovative New Online Tool Illustrates Future Forest Change

Posted in Bulletin Board

Aspen, Colorado, October 27, 2015 — Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES), a Colorado-based science education nonprofit, has developed an interactive online tool Forest Forecasts, which illustrates future forest change under best- and worst-case climate change scenarios. The tool utilizes innovative technologies to display detailed views of current forests that utilize cutting-edge climate models to generate high-resolution portrayals of what Western forests are likely to look like in the future. Under the worst-case climate scenario, the model predicts that the Western United States could lose up to 40% of its forests by 2100.

How to use ForestForecasts.org

Visitors to forestforecasts.org first select one of 100 tree species and then choose either the best- or worst-case climate change scenario. After clicking “play,” a Weather-Channel-style animated map shows the areas where the climate will be expected to be suitable for those trees from now until 2080. Users can zoom into their hometown or their favorite backcountry getaways, local ski resort and other treasured landscapes, such as Yosemite National Park, Glacier National Park or the Grand Canyon to see how climate change will likely effect the landscape of these areas. Tilting the viewing angle to a 3D view allows you to watch the shifting of areas suitable for tree species shifting up-or-down a mountainside over the next 90 years in response to a changing climate. (See page two for detailed instructions.)

The model, created in partnership with scientists from the University of Arizona, currently features current and future species distributions (in 10-year time slices) of 100 Western tree species under best- and worst-case climate change scenarios. The resulting animations paint a sobering picture of our future forests and how quickly they will change in our lifetimes if global action is not taken.

“As dramatic climate change continues to unfold over the next century, our forest ecosystems in the American West are expected to experience large-scale changes in both extent and composition,” Chris Lane, CEO of ACES said, “This tool allows everyone from policymakers to the general public to school kids to visualize what the future of our forests will look like if there is no policy shift on climate change.”

Government agencies and businesses in Colorado have already taken notice. The model indicates that the picturesque ski town of Aspen may lose its namesake trees by 2080 under the current rate of emissions. “It’s one thing to think about Aspens going away in the city of Aspen. But the implications are worse: drastic changes like that would mean no skiing, thus no jobs and no economy. We need tools like this to help people understand, and prevent, a warmer world,” stated Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company.

The option to view both best- and worst-case climate scenarios illustrates the critical choice humans are facing today. “This tool allows people to envision how decisions made today will impact our forests, and our lifestyles, in the future,” said ACES Forest Programs Director Jamie Werner.  

Ecologists from the University of Arizona are conducting scientific analysis on what these predicted changes mean to the critical ecosystem services our forests provide, including carbon storage.

According to Brian Enquist, ecologist from the University of Arizona, “We have used a very large database of tree and forest occurrences throughout the United States and the latest detailed climate forecasts for the United States to construct forecasts for where the suitable climate will be for trees in the near future. We then utilized new visualization tools, animation, and high performance computing to create detailed projections for how our local landscapes will change. This enabled us to give the public an easy to use view of where trees in the future will likely grow best.”

Visit www.forestforecasts.org to explore the interactive portal and the results of the initial scientific analyses

About Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) is a non-partisan, nonprofit environmental science education organization founded in 1968. ACES provides year-round programs in ecological literacy, forest health, and sustainable agriculture for everyone from school children to leaders and decision makers. With four locations between Aspen and Carbondale and partnership programs with 48 regional schools, ACES works to build a community of knowledgeable, capable, and motivated citizens.

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For more information or to get involved and support this initiative, contact Jamie Cundiff, ACES For the Forest Program Director, at 970.925.5756 or jcundiff@aspennature.org.