Researchers scale the Rockies to predict climate change's effects

Prof. Gedalof stands in a forest beside a temporary weather station - a solar panel and wiring, mounted on a metal tripod

By Samantha McReavy 

On a remote tree line in the Rocky Mountains, University of Guelph researchers are setting up temporary weather stations to better understand how forest and non-forest areas will interact as the climate changes.

Inspired by the remarkable mountain landscapes there, Geography Prof. Ze'ev Gedalof and PhD student Emma Davis say their research is designed to increase understanding of factors in the environment that contribute to tree line dynamics, and the role climate change will play in future species distribution.

Determining why tree lines are prevented from advancing will help enhance the understanding of how climate change will affect forest and non-forest interactions. Because interactions between forest and non-forested areas are displayed so effectively on tree lines, researchers can better predict the future effects of climate change across multiple biomes and habitats. That information can be used to predict the potential effects climate change will have across Canada.

 “Climate change has been called the defining issue of our generation,” says Gedalof. “By using our weather stations, we can better understand how climate change will unfold.”

The researchers are setting up 12 weather stations in multiple locations across the Rockies, including at Kananaskis and the east and west Kootenays. The sturdy weather stations range from two to three metres in height with added panels, boxes, and instruments that allow the atmospheric information to be measured and collected.

Two weather stations will be used per area – within and out of the tree line – which will allow the team to measure and compare multiple variables such as temperature and precipitation in small, isolated areas.

The information collected will be used to compare to the closest Environment Canada weather stations to show the variation and similarities over larger distances.

The team will also use iButtons, which are placed next to planted seeds to measure and collect the specific temperature that the seeds experience as they germinate and grow.

By planting seeds with these iButtons in multiple ground cover conditions and altitudes across a small area, the team will be able to study very specific variations of climate and evaluate the effects of these small climate changes on tree growth.

Using the information collected by the weather stations and iButtons will allow researchers to determine the effect climate change will have at the level of a growing seed and between and within different habitats and biomes across Canada. It will also increase understanding of how different factors in an ecosystem can affect seed growth.

This information will also be used by researchers including U of G Prof. Aaron Berg from Prof.  Lori Daniels, University of British Columbia, for their work in climate and environmental research.

The information will also be used by Parks Canada to better predict how climate change is going to affect species distributions, allowing them to maintain their mandate to conserve landscapes that are representative of Canada.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (John R. Evans Leaders Fund), the Ontario Research Fund for Small Infrastructure Funds, and the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences provided funding for this project