WASHINGTON, April 22, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA is partnering with other federal agencies to fund new research and applications efforts that will bring the global view of climate from space down to Earth to benefit wildlife and key ecosystems.
NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Smithsonian Institution will provide $18 million for 15 new research projects during the next four years. Organizations across the United States in academia, government and the private sector will study the response of different species and ecosystems to climate changes and develop tools to better manage wildlife and natural resources. The projects were selected from 151 proposals.
NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate has funded several ecosystem and biodiversity research projects during recent years. This is the first time the agency has targeted research investigating the intersection of climate and biological studies.
The wildlife species that will be studied include polar bears in Greenland, bowhead whales in the Arctic Ocean, and migratory birds and waterfowl in the United States. Other studies will focus on species of commercial interest such as clams, oysters and other bivalves in U.S. coastal waters, and Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico.
To learn more about climatic effects on plants, researchers will focus on the loss of cordgrass marshes in coastal wetlands of the southeastern states. They also will examine the stresses to native tree species, many of commercial value, across the western states and Canada.
"We know very little about how the majority of species and ecosystems will respond to environmental changes related to changing climates," said Woody Turner, manager of NASA's Ecological Forecasting program in Washington. "These projects bring together NASA's global satellite data of the physical environment with ground-based data on specific species and ecosystems and computer modeling to detect and understand biological responses to climate. As a result, we will improve our management and mitigation of the impact of changing climate."
The studies will use long-term observations of Earth from space, including data on sea surface temperature, vegetation cover, rainfall, snow cover, sea ice and the variability in the microscopic marine green plants that form the base of ocean food chains.
One study seeks to determine how waterfowl and forest bird populations respond to extreme events such as long-term droughts, heat waves and cold snaps. Wildlife biologists like Patricia Heglund of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in La Crosse, Wis., the leader of the study, have several hypotheses, including lower reproduction rates and adult mortality. Satellite data will be used to map the habitats and identify extreme events in the continental United States.
Another study will seek to explain why the distribution of native tree species across the western states and Canada is changing and why some species are dying as the climate becomes progressively warmer and drier. Scientists have used computer models to explain how environmental stresses have affected tree species in the Pacific Northwest. The new study, led by Richard Waring of Oregon State University in Corvallis, will extend that research to the entire Rocky Mountain west and 25 native tree species, including aspen and lodgepole pine.
A project led by Mitchell Roffer of Roffer's Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service in West Melbourne, Fla., aims to improve existing models to predict spawning habitat of Atlantic bluefin and other migratory tunas in the Gulf of Mexico. The model will assess possible effects of future climate change scenarios on fish populations.
According to Turner, the most ambitious project in terms of scale will use a global inventory of data from about 1,000 species, merged with satellite and ground-based observations of the environment and climate. These data will be used to assess climate's impact on biodiversity during the past 40 years in two 20-year increments. The study, led by Walter Jetz of Yale University, will focus on land-based mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.