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Adirondacks: Climate Change in the Champlain Basin

A ground-breaking report commissioned by the Vermont and Adirondack chapters of The Nature Conservancy brings global climate change down to the local scale in the Lake Champlain Basin and takes a pragmatic approach to lessening the impact.

For resource managers, whether the charge is protecting the fisheries of Lake Champlain or managing resources on town land, the potential effects of climate change are far-reaching and can seem overwhelming. This study, issued May 18, 2010, is the first to develop climate model projections of temperature and precipitation specific to the Champlain basin, thanks largely to the Conservancy’s new Web tool, Climate Wizard.

While Climate Change in the Champlain Basin is written with conservation managers in mind, it is also a resource for members of the general public who are concerned about the potential loss of Champlain’s world-class fishery, declining drinking water quality for 200,000 people in the basin, more toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in the lake, shoreline erosion, property damage and more. 

Understanding Climate Impacts in the Basin

There is no question the future in the Champlain Basin will be warmer and that aquatic ecosystems and species in the watershed will be affected. But J. Curt Stager, PhD., one of the study’s two authors, said the report “lays out practical and concrete steps that we can take today, and which for the large part build on expertise we already have” to address these changes.

Dealing with the environmental effects of future climatic changes in the basin does not require the development of dramatically new techniques or management systems, the report concludes. Rather, the best response will be to strengthen and broaden support for the approaches and systems already in place, such as:

  • Controlling soil erosion and nutrient pollution
  • Maintaining wetlands and vegetated zones along shorelines – instead of roads, buildings, seawalls
  • Retrofitting or replacing culverts to handle anticipated increased stream-flows and allow aquatic organisms to move freely and find cold water refuges
  • Preventing the invasion of more non-native species into the lake and its tributaries
Using Climate Wizard to Look Back and Ahead

Climate Wizard, a Web-based tool developed in partnership by the Conservancy, the University of Washington and the University of Southern Mississippi, gives conservation practitioners and the public access to climate models and data developed by top climate scientists worldwide. For the Lake Champlain assessment, this tool was used to create a custom view looking in detail at climate data for the basin, from both a historical and future perspective. Report authors Stager and Mary Thill used this information to develop a deeper understanding of how climate change will impact the basin, and what resource managers can do. You can link to Climate Wizard maps, graphs, and GIS data that show past and predicted future changes in temperature and precipitation for the Lake Champlain Basin. 

You may download images of the maps, GIS data and documentation about the emission scenarios available in the predicted data as well as other information about how Climate Wizard works. Information about the General Circulation Models is available.

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