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Experts Examine Ohio's Future with a Warming Climate

PHOTO: A warming climate already is impacting the environment, according to researchers in Ohio who say the state's ecosystem will shift northward if the cause of climate change, carbon emissions, is not addressed. Photo credit: abbyladybug/Flickr.
PHOTO: A warming climate already is impacting the environment, according to researchers in Ohio who say the state's ecosystem will shift northward if the cause of climate change, carbon emissions, is not addressed. Photo credit: abbyladybug/Flickr.
March 26, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - If current climate trends continue, researchers say Ohio's ecosystem could be vastly different in the future. At an Ohio State University panel discussion Wednesday, experts examined the ways carbon pollution is impacting the environment and public health.

Associate professor of Forest Ecosystem analysis and Management Roger Williams says because of rising temperatures and changes in moisture, climate models predict the current ecosystem in Ohio will shift northward, changing the location of many native species.

"It is predicting that the Ohio buckeye actually will be almost absent from Ohio," says Williams. "And will actually have its core habitat located in Michigan."

Williams says reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere is critical to slowing climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan calls for 30 percent reduction in emissions, which Williams says will help ensure better air quality and health in Ohio.

Williams says the warming climate could produce more dangerous storms and flooding, and make it easier for toxic algae blooms to grow in Lake Erie. He adds, it also will make wildfires more prevalent, threatening forest ecosystems and public safety.

"Here in Ohio, we're not real concerned about fires right now because they just don't happen at the scale that they do in other places," says Williams. "However there is certainly the possibility that as the climate continues to warm that that can change."

Williams says while wind, solar and biomass are needed to help transition to a cleaner energy environment, he says there are also efforts from a forest-management perspective to reduce carbon emissions.

"Around the world, forest ecosystems have the greatest potential to store the greatest amount of carbon," he says. "We are looking at trying to improve management, to improve our growth and health of our forests so they will sequester carbon at faster rates and store it."

OSU is working to reduce its carbon footprint through its Climate Action Plan, which targets carbon neutrality by 2050. Projects already under way include the reduction of energy use in five campus buildings and investments in geothermal heating and cooling systems.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH