Friday, December 11, 2009

Climate Change in MesoAmerica

I am attending a talk by Ron Carroll, UGA Ecology professor and co-director of the River Basin Center (where I am currently housed).  Ron is working in the Rio Tempisque project in Costa Rica, which is a research and outreach site for understanding the consequences of land use and climate change on biodiversity and economic development in Pacific MesoAmerica.  His focus is on mitigation of climate change.  I love attending Ron's talks because he understands almost everything there is to understand about natural systems, and he has a knack for interpreting that information for a wide audience. Today he's talking to an audience of graduate students, lawyers, and other faculty members.

According to Ron and based on data from the IPCC, regional climate models for Central America suggest a drying trend that will reduce precipitation and cause die-off of many species of flora and fauna in the tropical rain forest.   The lack of water will also affect economic development and agriculture.  The human cost in very poor countries such as Nicaragua and Costa Rica will be very high.  In the part of Costa Rica where Ron works, in 10 years it is likely there will no longer be a wet season. That's pretty intense! Other impacts include increases in vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue.  Coffee plantation yield will also be strongly affected.  Nicaragua may lose all of its coffee growing lands, and yields in Costa Rica will be impacted by pests that are currently being kept out by relatively lower temperatures.  However, coffee demand is unlikely to abate, so there will be pressure to open up more high altitude rain forest for coffee cultivation.  Another good reason to buy shade grown coffee - no need to cut down the rain forest to fulfill our caffeine jones!

In the Rio Tempisque basin Ron hopes to create a model showing the environmental services and values of existing land uses and how they can be maintained and improved.  He is partnering with universities in Costa Rica who have centers in the basin, and also the University of Pennsylvania.  He hopes to get funding from US AID, and to share the results of these studies with the other countries of Central America.

Jamie Baker Roskie

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