The past century has been the warmest in the history of modern civilization. And 16 of the 17 warmest years on record globally have occurred since 2001. How will the changing climate shape future forests? Ecological modeler John Kim addresses this question in his work with the Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center and the Pacific Northwest Research Station. He studies climate change impacts to vegetation using dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs). Modeling the Earth's climate is one of the most highly complicated endeavors in science. But DGVMs provide a way to improve understanding of the interactions between two very complex systems: forest ecosystems and climate. These computer programs simulate forest responses to climate by modeling vegetation dynamics, biogeochemistry, biophysics, and the distribution of vegetation over geographic space.
Kim recently led a study simulating possible impacts of climate change on the world's forests, using a DGVM that simulates future potential changes in terrestrial ecosystem productivity, climate-driven vegetation migration, wildfires, competition between vegetation types, and forest regrowth and carbon dynamics. His team characterized forest responses to climate change for various global forestry regions and looked at the potential impact of mitigation actions. They found that even though climate mitigation policies may be effective at reducing changes in temperature, precipitation, and carbon dioxide concentrations, forest biomes may still be significantly altered by climate change. For example, temperate forest regions are projected to see strong increases in productivity offset by carbon loss to fire and increasing competition from the Southern Hemisphere in soft wood products.