Many parts of Canada are predicted to see massive ecological changes over the next century, according to NASA.
Researchers from the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology investigated how Earth's plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries to changes in climate brought about by rising levels of human-produced greenhouse gases.
"While warnings of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it's the ecological consequences that matter most," said the study's lead scientist, Jon Bergengren, in a news release.
One of the consequences, their computer model predicts, is that most of the land not covered by ice or desert will undergo at least a 30% change in plant cover — changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate.
Besides significantly altering plant life, the study predicts climate change will "disrupt the ecological balance between ... plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth's water, energy, carbon and other element cycles," NASA said.
They identified ecologically sensitive "hot spots" that will undergo the greatest degree of species turnover, including North America's Great Lakes and Great Plains areas. They also expect dramatic changes in "ecological community types" — such as forest, grassland or tundra — throughout the northern hemisphere, particularly along the boundaries of boreal forests.
While Earth's plants and animals have evolved in response to seasonal changes and even larger climatic events like the end of the last ice age, the study said they are "not equipped" to keep up with the current pace of climate change, accelerated by human activities like agriculture and urbanization.
Bergengren said the research highlights the "global imperative" to speed up the progress of preserving biodiversity by stabilizing Earth's climate.
The researchers' simulations were based on projections in a U.N. report on climate change, which assumes greenhouse gas levels will double by 2100, then level off.
Their findings were published Friday in the journal Climatic Change.
Massive ecological change predicted for Canada: NASA | Canada | News | London Free Press (external - login to view)