Historical and geological data indicate that significant changes can occur in the Earth's climate on time scales ranging from years to millennia. In addition to natural climatic change, climatic changes may occur in the near future due to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide and other trace gases in the atmosphere that are the result of human activities. International research efforts using atmospheric general circulation models (AGCM's) to assess potential climatic conditions under atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of twice the pre-industrial level (a '2 X CO2' atmosphere) conclude that climate would warm on a global basis. However, it is difficult to assess how the projected warmer climatic conditions would be distributed on a regional scale and what the effects of such warming would be on the landscape, especially for temperate mountainous regions such as the Western United States. In this report, we present a strategy to assess the regional sensitivity to global climatic change. The strategy makes use of a hierarchy of models ranging from an AGCM, to a regional climate model, to landscape-scale process models of hydrology and vegetation. A 2 X CO2 global climate simulation conducted with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) GENESIS AGCM on a grid of approximately 4.5o of latitude by 7.5o of longitude was used to drive the NCAR regional climate model (RegCM) over the Western United States on a grid of 60 km by 60 km. The output from the RegCM is used directly (for hydrologic models) or interpolated onto a 15-km grid (for vegetation models) to quantify possible future environmental conditions on a spatial scale relevant to policy makers and land managers.
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A strategy for assessing potential future changes in climate, hydrology, and vegetation in the Western United States