Climate change could mean trouble for New England skiers, anglers

Spring skiing in Tuckerman Ravine, on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.
Spring skiing in Tuckerman Ravine, on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. –Eric Pedersen

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — In the coming decades, skiers and snowmobilers in New England may endure winters with only a handful of snow days, and the dog days of summer may be become the new normal.

Those are just a few of the findings from a study out this month in the journal Ecology and Society that examined the impacts of rising carbon emissions. Focusing their research in the Merrimack River watershed in south-central New Hampshire, a research team led by scientists at the University of New Hampshire found that snow days could decline by mid-century from 60 to 18, while there could be as many as 45 summer days when temperatures soar above 90 degrees — compared with 10 currently.

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The study also found that there would be increased risk of flooding at mid-century and a steep decline in stream habitat, resulting in 40 percent becoming uninhabitable for cold-water fish favored by fishermen, like trout.

“Starting in about 20 or 25 years from now, that is where we see a noticeable shift. … The implication is that things are really going to change at that point,” Wilfred Wollheim, a co-author on the study and an associate professor in the university’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment.

“How people in New Hampshire and visitors use the environment may have to change,” he said. “If people come for snow sports, it is going to be different compared to now— even though we already are seeing some of the effects of climate change. They will become more consistent and extreme starting mid-century.”

The researchers took the data collected from Merrimack River and then modeled it against scenarios in which the emissions would continue to rise from current levels of around 400 parts per million to 970 parts per million by 2100. They also ran the data in models where emissions rose slower, to 550 parts per million.

Wollheim said the lower-emissions scenarios “were much less severe” and “pretty minimal.” Snow days, he said, only declined from 60 to 47 days.

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“I would say people who really care about this issue need to make sure they are supporting policies that begin to limit our global greenhouse gas emission,” he said.

The study is the latest to demonstrate that rising emissions could take a toll on the region’s outdoor activities.

The state of New Hampshire, for example, has concluded that climate change could reduce the numbers of ski days in the state by as much as 20 percent and nearly wipe out rainbow, brook and brown trout fishing.

As a result, several ski resorts in the region are already making plans to adapt to the changing climate — including installing equipment that allows them to make better quality snow at higher temperatures.

“The importance and novelty of this research is the connecting of human impacts on the environment, including land use and greenhouse gas emissions, with changes in societal benefits from the environment through climate and ecosystem responses,” Jonathan Winter, an assistant professor of geography at Dartmouth College who wasn’t part of the study, said in an email interview

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