We review twentieth century and projected twenty-first century changes in climatic and hydrologic conditions in the northeastern United States and the implications of these changes for forest ecosystems. Climate warming and increases in precipitation and associated changes in snow and hydrologic regimes have been observed over the last century, with the most pronounced changes occurring since 1970. Trends in specific climatic and hydrologic variables differ in their responses spatially (e.g., coastal vs. inland) and temporally (e.g., spring vs. summer). Trends can differ depending on the period of record analyzed, hinting at the role of decadal-scale climatic variation that is superimposed over the longer-term trend. Model predictions indicate that continued increases in temperature and precipitation across the northeastern United States can be expected over the next century. Ongoing increases in growing season length (earlier spring and later autumn) will most likely increase evapotranspiration and frequency of drought. In turn, an increase in the frequency of drought will likely increase the risk of fire and negatively impact forest productivity, maple syrup production, and the intensity of autumn foliage coloration. Climate and hydrologic changes could have profound effects on forest structure, composition, and ecological functioning in response to the changes discussed here and as described in related articles in this issue of the Journal.
Additional publication details
Climate and hydrological changes in the northeastern United States: recent trends and implications for forested and aquatic ecosystems