SENSITIVITY OF A PRAIRIE WETLAND TO INCREASED TEMPERATURE AND SEASONAL PRECIPITATION CHANGES1

Authors

  • Karen A. Poiani,

  • W. Carter. Johnson,

  • Timothy G. F. Kittel

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      Respectively, Research Associate, Center for the Environment, Cornell University, 624 Bradfield Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853; Professor, Department of Horticulture, Forestry, Landscape, and Parks, South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota 57007; and Deputy Project Scientist, Climate System Modeling Program, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Box 3000, Boulder, Colorado 80307–3000 (also Research Associate, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523).


  • 1

    Paper No. 94092 of the Water Resources Bulletin. Discussions are open until December 1, 1995.

Abstract

ABSTRACT: We assessed the potential effects of increased temperature and changes in amount and seasonal timing of precipitation on the hydrology and vegetation of a semi-permanent prairie wetland in North Dakota using a spatially-defined, rule-based simulation model. Simulations were run with increased temperatures of 2°C combined with a 10 percent increase or decrease in total growing season precipitation. Changes in precipitation were applied either evenly across all months or to individual seasons (spring, summer, or fall).

The response of semi-permanent wetland P1 was relatively similar under most of the seasonal scenarios. A 10 percent increase in total growing season precipitation applied to summer months only, to fall months only, and over all months produced lower water levels compared to those resulting from the current climate due to increased evapotranspiration. Wetland hydrology was most affected by changes in spring precipitation and runoff. Vegetation response was relatively consistent across scenarios. Seven of the eight seasonal scenarios produced drier conditions with no open water and greater vegetation cover compared to those resulting from the current climate. Only when spring precipitation increased did the wetland maintain an extensive open water area (49 percent).

Potential changes in climate that affect spring runoff, such as changes to spring precipitation and snow melt, may have the greatest impact on prairie wetland hydrology and vegetation. In addition, relatively small changes in water level during dry years may affect the period of time the wetland contains open water. Emergent vegetation, once it is established, can survive under drier conditions due to its ability to persist in shallow water with fluctuating levels. The model's sensitivity to changes in temperature and seasonal precipitation patterns accentuates the need for accurate regional climate change projections from general circulation models.

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