The California Chaparalla

Op-Ed: With climate change, we may witness sequoia forests convert to chaparral

If you’ve never heard of the California chaparral, you’re not alone. Many people associate the plant with being a kind of exotic bush that only existed in this state for a few decades, and then died out.

But in its heyday, this plant made up a large portion of the state’s landscape and supported a healthy commercial economy. And it’s not like climate change is going to take those plants away tomorrow, which is why one of today’s big issues is the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. (See also “The California climate, and how the state is hurting in the new era of global warming.”)

Which is why I’m so very happy to have been able to speak with Peter Smith, the head scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

During his nearly four years at the helm of the state’s biggest scientific hub, Smith has made one big discovery after another, including that California is having a really hard time adapting to new technology and that we may be witnessing the evolution of a new kind of forest.

What has happened is that the tree-line has become more erratic over the last century, and so our forests could become much more variable as a result. The tree-line is the last part of California that’s fully able to keep up with the new environment. That puts us at a big problem.

Our forests are very important, because they’re a real, native ecosystem — the last stand, in a sense.

So Smith and a team of researchers, including Professor Peter Haas, are developing a new way of describing that state of affairs, which he calls a “forest-atmosphere” model.

They’re looking at a tree in a way that’s completely different from how we normally picture it. He explains:

“We’re not interested

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