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“How do you sleep at night?” – a reaction to forest/climate research

Park Williams, taking a tree ring sample

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Park Williams gave a talk Friday on his work on climate change and southwestern forests at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, the first question from a faculty member during the Q&A was, “How do you sleep at night?”

It’s a question that can be misinterpreted, as in, “Don’t you feel guilty about what you’re doing?” That’s not what she meant. Instead, she was talking about how Park thought about the start reality his work shows. As I explained in a story in this morning’s newspaper:

If climate trends follow even the most conservative projections from scientists who study the effects of rising greenhouse gases, the work by Williams and his colleagues suggests a warming climate will push the Southwest’s forests by the middle of the 21st century into a regime in which the worst tree-killing drought conditions of the last thousand years become the norm.

Williams’ work pulls together threads that other scientists have been moving toward – the relationship between drought, warmer temperatures, fire, mortality (beetle kill and otherwise) into a single cohesive and, if you love the forests, gloomy story.

But in fact it’s not all bad news, because as Williams pointed out in his Friday talk, the new data also point toward forest management approaches that can help save some of what we’ve got, and help think ahead of time about the ecosystem trajectory these mountains are headed down.

If you have access to Nature ($$$$), the full paper is here.

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