Climate change velocity underestimates climate change exposure in mountainous regions

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Dobrowski, Solomon Z., and Sean A. Parks
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Climate change velocity is a vector depiction of the rate of climate displacement used for assessing climate change impacts. Interpreting velocity requires an assumption that climate trajectory length is proportional to climate change exposure; longer paths suggest greater exposure. However, distance is an imperfect measure of exposure because it does not quantify the extent to which trajectories traverse areas of dissimilar climate. Here we calculate velocity and minimum cumulative exposure (MCE) in degrees Celsius along climate trajectories for North America. We find that velocity is weakly related to MCE; each metric identifies contrasting areas of vulnerability to climate change. Notably, velocity underestimates exposure in mountainous regions where climate trajectories traverse dissimilar climates, resulting in high MCE. In contrast, in flat regions velocity is high where MCE is low, as these areas have negligible climatic resistance to movement. Our results suggest that mountainous regions are more climatically isolated than previously reported.


Dobrowski, Solomon Z., and Sean A. Parks. 2016. “Climate Change Velocity Underestimates Climate Change Exposure in Mountainous Regions.” Nature Communications 7 (August): 12349. doi:10.1038/ncomms12349.