From: Robin Blackstone, ENN
Published April 17, 2014 03:37 PM

Scenario development yields environmental success story

With so much scenario modeling currently available, we are able to better predict our future and anticipate the outcomes of various habits and activities. While invaluable in the area of prediction, how has that information transformed our environmental status? Is our environmental future optimistic or dismal? Will we be able to celebrate Earth Day in the future knowing that we have responded appropriately to the bleak prophecies?



In the past couple of decades we have identified and followed urban growth in Phoenix, climate change in the Arctic, el Niño and west coast fisheries, land-use change in New England, nutrients in watersheds in the Midwest and acid rain in the Northeast. While initially identified at one time as a crisis, each of these stories has yielded change that has resulted in progress. But once the potential outcome was revealed through modeling, regions have responded.

For example, the Big Moose Lake in the New York Adirondacks was oncethe poster child for acid rain damage. Fed by the Hubbard Brook, it was documented as having a four-fold increase in sulfate, a ten-fold increase in nitrate and a drop in pH from 6.5 to 5 threatening aquatic ecosystems.

According to Charles Driscoll, scientist with the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Hubbard Brook Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) and Syracuse University, "these lakes are the canaries in the coal mine," warning us of impending ecological disaster.

But in the twenty plus years since, acid rain-impaired lakes like Big Moose Lake show improvement in sulfates, nitrates, and pH--and a growing ability to neutralize acid permitting Driscoll to now claim the lake as a success story.

Researchers are able to identify and predict that with additional pollution controls, the number of Adirondack lakes "in recovery" could nearly double by 2050, from 40 to 76 however, without these controls, it could take 200 years to undo the damage. But without the initial modeling predictions we might not have been able to recover.

"We frequently wonder how altering current decisions would affect the future," says Saran Twombly, an LTER program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

"This research demonstrates that long-term data are essential," says Twombly. "It indicates which decisions to modify, and shows the consequences in ecosystems as we have come to know them for the past 50-100 years."

Ecological scenario development advances our understanding of ecosystems, providing management options.


 Tree damage from acid rain image via Shutterstock.

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