The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Other reports in this collection Deserts and Desertification

Cold deserts and semi-deserts are widespread in west-central Temperate Asia. With projected shifts to warmer and drier conditions in Mongolia, the Gobi would change to warm temperate desert scrub, and the area of cool temperate desert scrub would expand to the Khangai mountains, supplanting forest areas (Ulziisaikhan, 1996). At the same time, low- and midland parts of central Asia are likely to change gradually into a more arid interior desert as the disappearance of mountain glaciers reduces the volume of summer runoff. Projection of potential changes in the total extent of cool semi-deserts varies among models: Whereas BIOME 1.1 suggests an almost 50% reduction in its extent, IMAGE 2.0 projects no change. However, desertification arises from adverse climatic conditions and from human abuse of the land; the latter can accelerate the desertification process (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 2.6).

Evapotranspiration rates over the grasslands in inner Mongolia of China are two to three times higher in midsummer than in spring or autumn, and the heat budget of the grassland under such a desertification process is close to that of a sand dune (Harazono et al., 1993). In northWestern China, the number of days each year when windstorms (greater than 17.2 m/sec) occur averages 20-40 days in arid regions and 10-25 days in semi-arid regions-but reaches more than 100 days in areas most affected (Xia, 1993; Zhao, 1996). These numbers are expected to increase under global warming because dryer and stronger-wind conditions are expected, resulting in accelerated soil degradation. Lakes, Streams, and Wetlands

Significant shortening of the duration of ice cover in lakes is expected. Enhanced evaporation, as well as ground thaw, would cause some arctic lakes to disappear. Lakes in northern latitudes may change from a vertically homogeneous state to a stratified state (vice versa for those in southerly areas). These changes in mixing regimes are likely to have very important effects on biota (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 7.4.4).

Lake water levels are very sensitive to climate. In many regions, lake levels are likely to decline or fluctuate more widely because of changes in precipitation or increases in evapotranspiration. In lakes experiencing declines or rapid changes in water level, vegetation and habitat characteristics of highly productive inshore littoral areas may change significantly-with profound but highly lake-specific effects on food webs and productivity. Water-level declines in lakes with extensive bordering wetlands are likely to reduce lake productivity and populations of fish and invertebrates dependent on these wetlands for spawning and nursery grounds (IPCC 1996, WG II, Sections 10.5.2 and 10.6.2).

Climate change would result in a wide range of changes in the hydrological regimes of streams, with associated impacts on their ecosystems. For snowmelt streams, for example, a shift toward more rainfall and less snowfall in winter would result in a shift of the seasonality of stream discharge regimes toward higher winter flows and lower spring and summer flows. These changes may alter the timing of biogeochemical fluxes that could produce very important, but highly uncertain, effects on the biota in streams, lakes, and estuaries (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 10.3.5).

Model results based on six different climate change scenarios (precipitation increasing or decreasing by 10% and temperature increasing 1C, 2C, and 3C) suggest that the areal extent of herbaceous wetlands in eastern China would decline as a result of reductions in total rainfall and increases in evapotranspiration (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 6.3.3).

Local extinctions and extirpations of cold-water and cool-water species of fish and invertebrates may be expected as a consequence of warming in the temperate zone. This effect will be most pronounced in shallow lakes, streams, and rivers in which appropriate thermal refugia (well-oxygenated deep waters, groundwater vents, access to higher elevations) are not available. Although biodiversity theoretically should increase with warming-particularly at mid- and high latitudes-initially there may be a loss in total diversity in cool temperate and boreal regions, if northward migration of warm-water species cannot keep pace with the rate of loss of cool-water and cold-water species due to limitations on dispersal (physiological limitations, lack of north-south corridors) and genetic adaptation (IPCC 1996, WG II, Sections 10.6.1 and 10.6.3).

Productivity and biodiversity in streams and rivers will likely be reduced in humid parts of Temperate Asia, which are expected to experience reductions in total rainfall and/or increases in evapotranspiration that produce longer, more severe droughts during the warm season. Declines in biodiversity would result from severe water quality deterioration (e.g., low dissolved oxygen levels, high concentrations of toxic substances, high temperatures) during extended low-flow periods in the summer, as well as from drying of previously perennial streams. These effects will be exacerbated in systems that are strongly affected by human activities (IPCC 1996, WG II, Sections 10.3.7, 10.4.2, 10.6.2, and 10.6.4).

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