MILLBROOK — While most people cringe when snow is forecast, scientists at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies embrace the prospect of snow.
For those still skeptical, institute microbial ecologist Peter Groffman will prove snow is a healthy process that protects soil productivity, plant growth and freshwater resources at the “Snow is Good” program at 7 p.m. Friday at the center’s auditorium on Route 44.
Climate change is often noted during the summer with heat waves, hurricanes and severe thunderstorms.
In the Northeast, climate warming is more obvious in winter.
“The climate has been changing quite a bit more in the winter than it has in the summer,” Groffman said. “With temperatures rising, there is less snow cover and less ice on the lakes. … Some of the effects are good, and others are problematic.”
Groffman said that in recent winters, the region has experienced infrequent frigid temperatures when compared to the past.
“It used to get down to minus 25 degrees every five years or so,” he said. “I don’t think it’s been that low since 1994 in this region.”
The lack of extreme cold allows destructive species to thrive.
“The hemlock woolly adelgid is killing all the hemlock trees,” Groffman said. “One night of temperatures falling to minus 25 degrees will kill the bug but in absence of colder temperatures, the species thrives.”
Groffman will use the institute’s website to review data showing the region’s climate and weather are changing. It has data since 1983 that shows a significant shift.
Snow in particular provides protection for tree roots and soil. Without adequate snow cover, forests suffer.
“Snow, from an ecosystem point of view, is really good because it protects the soil by acting like a blanket and keeps it from freezing,” Groffman said. “It also protects the roots of plants. If we have less snow, the soil … tends to freeze more and can be damaging to the roots and organisms that live in the soil.”
When studying snow and its effect on trees, institute scientists focus on local forests.
“The forests in this area used to have quite a bit more snow cover,” Groffman said. “Now, the blanket is gone.”
“Snow is Good” is part of the institute’s Friday night lecture series. William Schles-inger introduced the series after being named institute president in 2007.
“We want people in Dutchess County and the mid-Hudson region to have a better understanding of what we do here,” Schlesinger said.
He hopes Friday’s lecture will shed light on the negative side effects of too little snow.
Climate change and the effect it has on our surroundings are complex issues, and Groffman said most people are baffled by it.
“There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and confusion,” Groffman said. “It’s been difficult for people to understand the science of it and difficult for them to come to some type of conclusions on whether the climate is really changing and whether we should do anything about it.”