Global warming might doom skiing by 2100
July 27, 2006
ASPEN – If humans do nothing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, skiing in Aspen will be toast by 2100.And that’s probably the least of Aspen’s worries, according to a new study on climate change coordinated by The Aspen Global Change Institute and unveiled this week.Drier conditions will make it a challenge for the Roaring Fork Valley to supply its growing population with drinking water as soon as 2030, said the institute’s founder, John Katzenberger. Higher temperatures and little change in precipitation will require more irrigation of hay fields and other crops.And the Aspen area won’t be able to rely as heavily on its high elevation to protect it from major wildfire outbreaks. Rising temperatures, and quicker absorption of rain and snowmelt into thirsty soil, will place greater stress on the trees of the White River National Forest, which sprawls into Eagle County. The trees also will become more susceptible to insect outbreaks, creating the potential for longer and more intense wildfire seasons, the study concluded.The vegetation covering Aspen Mountain probably won’t look like that of today by 2100. Some plants and animals will be forced to higher elevations. Some won’t make it and will probably become locally extinct, the study said. Aspen’s vegetation is expected to look more like Basalt’s of today, even though that town is 1,400 feet lower.
Cataclysmic change possibleForget the effects on skiing. Global warming could bring “cataclysmic change” to everyday life in the Aspen area, said Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency and a contributor to the study.”It’s a sci-fi catastrophe – that world,” Udall said.To paint the possible picture, the Aspen Global Change Institute took three global change models that are widely accepted in the scientific community. One assumes humans get their act together in time to lower greenhouse gas emissions. A “do-nothing” scenario assumes world population continues to climb along with industrialization and emissions. The third falls in between.Those models assume Colorado’s central mountains could see a rise in annual average temperature between six and 14 degrees by 2100.A key part of the study looked at potential impacts to Aspen’s ski industry as well as to rafting and fishing. While the stakes might be higher than whether or not a ski bum can roll out of bed onto the Silver Queen Gondola in 2100, a look at the effects on skiing helps put global warming into terms Aspenites can better grasp, said Katzenberger.
“Climate change is likely to be progressively more problematic to the ski industry as the century progresses,” the study said.Temperatures would be warmer and more precipitation would fall as rain rather than snow. So ski seasons would likely have to start later and end earlier. Snowmaking wouldn’t bail the industry out because of warm conditions and competition for water. Peak snowpack could occur in early February rather than March.”By 2100, there will be no consistent winter snowpack at the base of the ski areas except possibly under the lowest greenhouse gas concentrations scenario,” the study said.Warmer springs would bring earlier peak runoff, shortening the rafting season and creating the best conditions at times when tourists traditionally don’t visit, according to the study.Earlier runoff could benefit fishing in June, but long-term implications are bleak. Lower streamflows in summer and fall along with higher water temperatures would likely harm fish and the bugs they eat.
‘Lab work’Despite the dire forecast, Katzenberger expressed hope that identifying problems will help Aspen and other resorts find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The city conducted an earlier study to identify its major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Now, Aspen global warming project manager Dan Richardson is working on an “action plan” to reduce those emissions.”Then the proof will be in the pudding,” Katzenberger said. Five years from now, it will be evident if Aspen can successfully reduce its emissions, he said.Susan Hassol, a highly respected environmental writer and researcher from Basalt, said efforts like Aspen’s will be key to making any progress on slowing global warming. Federally mandated action is key to making a dent in the issue. However, local programs like Aspen’s are like “lab work” that will show what works and what doesn’t, Hassol said.