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Climate control?

Students in ‘Environmental Change’ class at Senior College learn about the change the Earth has gone though and what those changes mean

March 26, 2011
Story, photo by Karin Elton

The old axiom of "the more things change, the more things stay the same" doesn't always apply as Senior College students are learning in their "Environmental Change" class.

Southwest Minnesota State environmental science professors Thomas Dilley and Emily Deaver's class included discussions about the interaction of Earth's various spheres, climate change, energy resources, population issues and the connections of humans to the environment.

"The Earth has gone through huge changes," Dilley said. "Now we're a player and we are altering those spheres (land, water, living things and air)."

Article Photos

Southwest Minnesota State environmental science professor Thomas Dilley discusses the consumption of energy in the United States — with oil being the most used. Dilley told the Senior College students that we are “oil junkies.”

A recent class discussed how climate change is affecting Minnesota - the ducks, moose, wetlands, topsoil and even what we plant in our gardens are all undergoing change, they said.

Deaver said that Minnesota's temperature has risen an average of 1 degree during the last 100 years and northern Minnesota has warmed up more than southern Minnesota.

"Warming is not consistent, that's why we call it global climate change, not global warming," she said.

And the warm-up is not consistent by season either - Minnesota has warmed up an average of 3 degrees in the winter, according to temperature trends noted from 1895 to 2006.

If the Earth keeps warming, northern cities such as Hibbing may become more like Albert Lea or Des Moines, Iowa, Deaver said.

"They don't have any snow on the ground right now," she said.

Experts predict a wetter and more humid climate.

"Minnesota may look more like Missouri," she said.

"One of the positives is that farmers will have a longer growing season, but with the increase in evaporation, irrigation will be needed and there goes your price going up," she said.

More severe storms and floods during planting and harvest may decrease yield. Also with the increased erosion there would be a loss of topsoil.

With the warmer temperatures comes more favorable conditions for pests.

"We are already seeing the bean leaf beetle moving much farther north and a new one is the corn earworm," she said. "Typically winter kills off a lot of our pests."

And with the new climate comes a loss of species unable to adapt quickly.

"The ones that take longer to reproduce might not be able to adapt," she said.

We will see a change in bird diversity, she said.

"We are seeing fewer chickadees and northern cardinals - they are breeding earlier but may not survive because they may not have the resources," she said.

Another animal feeling the effects of climate change is the moose.

"We used to have 4,000 moose in Minnesota, now we have about a 100," she said. "The brainworm is on the rise. Deer is a carrier, but it kills moose."

The climate change affects the forest and terrestrial life including "what we consider pests - we'll see an increase in raccoon, skunk and white-tailed deer and possums," she said.

The climate change also affects human health.

"We'll see an increase in dehydration and heat stroke with more high heat days which are days above 97 degrees," she said.

With a shorter season of snow and ice cover there will be fewer winter recreational opportunities.

"If you really like snowmobiling and skiing - do it now," Deaver said.

The warmer and drier climate will result in reduced prairie pothole wetlands, which will result in reduced duck populations.

The water quality will be reduced, Deaver said, resulting in increased algal blooms and less oxygen.

"Warm water promotes plant growth," she said. "Plants will compete for nutrients, die and decompose, which will result in fish kills - it's a whole chain of problems."

Dilley said currently the world uses mostly fossil fuels for energy - oil, coal, natural gas and wood, peat, charcoal and manure. Nuclear, solar, wind and hydroelectricity accounts for about 9 percent.

"We are oil junkies," he said.

Dilley said it is estimated that by 2020 we'll have reached a peak in oil production.

"We will have maximum production then a decline," he said.

"Oil is an important resource that is almost too good to burn in our cars," he said. "We make plastic with it for one thing."

Dilley said peak production is coming. Some say it will be in 2015.

"We will be forced to find alternative sources of energy," he said.

People wanting to check their ecological footprint can use The EcoCalculator found at the Center for Sustainable Economy website at myfootprint.org/en/

 
 

 

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