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Climate warming predicted for Utah

Average temperatures could jump 9 degrees this century, analysis says

Climate change over the next 100 years could raise Utah's average temperature by as much as 9.4 degrees, leading to widespread impacts on outdoor recreation, wildlife, tourism and agricultural industries, according to an analysis by The Nature Conservancy.

The report, released Thursday, put Utah in the top 10 for greatest temperature increases, with the spike threatening elevated risks of heat-related deaths, compromised water quality and the disappearance of wildlife.

"From the food we put on the table to plant and animal species that make our state unique, this study shows that none of us is immune if temperatures continue to rise as projected. We can now see that climate change will directly hit us here in Utah, in our own backyards," said Dave Livermore, director of the Utah chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

In its study, the organization said it analyzed the latest and most comprehensive scientific data available to calculate specific temperature projections for each of the 50 U.S. states over the next 100 years.

The study drew on global climate models compiled for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. With the University of Washington, The Nature Conservancy analyzed the data under three varying greenhouse-gas-emissions scenarios: global curbing over the next century, a mid-21st century leveling off, and a continual increase over the next century.

The conservancy said that even under the best-case scenario, which assumes the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere will decrease each year, Utah's temperatures will increase by up to 6.5 degrees by the end of the century.

Among the 50 states, Utah placed ninth-highest, above No. 10-ranked Colorado and behind Kansas, which topped the nation at a 10.4 degree increase in temperatures under the highest emissions scenario.

In Utah, the conservancy warned of the potential impacts of such temperature increases, pointing to soil erosion due to drought, dust-caused acceleration of snowpack melt, decrease in soil fertility and eroded air quality due to dust particles.

The conservancy also said a heated-up Utah could lead to agricultural losses because of depleted range for livestock and at the same time, create more susceptibility to wildfires because of an increase in invasive plant life.

Still, the dire predictions are not intended to make Utahns kneel in supplication, said a climate-change scientist with the Utah conservancy, but rather should be viewed as a planning guide.

"The important thing is that we are already seeing changes, so we need to prepare for a warmer and drier future," said Barry Baker. "What we are trying to do is help Utahns adapt to this."

To that end, the Nature Conservancy has partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey, Utah State University and others to form an initiative called the Canyonlands Research Center. Headquartered at the Conservancy's Dugout Ranch adjacent to Canyonlands National Park, the efforts are tapping existing climate data and using cattle as a research tool.

"This is not just research for research's sake," Baker said. "This is meant to help land managers adapt. It is being driven by land managers' questions."

Baker added that the national study's latest numbers show those questions need to be answered. "There's still time to develop land- and water-management strategies that will enable us to adapt and possibly delay the negative impacts of climate change and protect Utah's communities and natural resources."

For more information about the study, go to www.nature.org. Monthly climate projections can be found on www.climatewizard.org, a new Web tool developed by The Nature Conservancy, the University of Washington and the University of Southern Mississippi.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com