It hopes to draft strategies for Silverton and San Juan County to cope with change
Mountain Studies Institute is turning up the heat on its San Juan Climate Initiative, hoping to assess the potential impacts of climate change and address the issue through planning and community action.
A conference on the issue will bring researchers to Silverton Oct. 7-9.
Koren Nydick, outgoing director of MSI, said that despite the skeptics, “for me, the science is unequivocal. We are already seeing some effects.”
She pointed to a “pronounced warming trend” in the San Juan Mountains since the 1970s, and said that it appears to be linked to the steep rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The question is how will the changing climate affect the San Juans.
“We don’t have a lot of information yet on impacts,” Nydick said. “One of MSI’s goals is to try to remedy that.”
But data show temperatures on rising and snowfall decreasing.
“Snow depth and snow fall has more consistently been below average in recent decades,” Nydick said.
She said by the middle of the century, the San Juans could see a reduction of 30 to 60 days a year in its “frozen season.”
“Some species may benefit and some may lose out,” Nydick said.
One study showed marmots emerging from hibernation an average of 38 days earlier than in 1977 and robins arriving here about 14 days earlier.
“Some animals are changing their patterns,” Nydick said.
While researchers can develop scenarios on what the San Juans might face in the future, Nydick said there are still many variables.
Those include how fast carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise, how climate systems respond and how the physical and biological environments react.
“Uncertainties are not going away any time soon,” Nydick said. “But we need to make decisions even under conditions of uncertainty. And this is where MSI is finding its niche.”
Nydick said MSI intends to try to provide data that will help guide various policy makers in trying to cope with the changes to come.
Marcy Demmy Bidwell, who is now the interim executive director at MSI, pointed to other communities that have begun to implement plans to cope with a changing world, including Kimberley, British Columbia, and Bonner County, Idaho.
She said La Plata County is also working on such a plan, with a draft expected next month.
And now MSI is trying to gauge interest in San Juan County for also taking steps to prepare.