Climate risk analysis for ecosystems

Risk analysis is particularly difficult in the context of environmental hazards – scientists have come up with a new, simplified risk model that might help.

Any risk analysis involves an assessment of a system’s vulnerabilities, and how probable it is that a hazard will occur. Researchers have put together a simple probabilistic risk analysis tool particularly useful for predictions of climate change effects on vegetation. It has been used to examine the risk of drought in European forests, recently (1971 to 2000) and in the future (2071  to 2100).

Risk is a product of vulnerability – drought versus non-drought productivity of vegetation, in this case – and probability – of a drought, which is increasing in Southern Europe but decreasing farther north. The model looks at the uncertain effects of certain environmental variables on any given ecosystem variable. The model can be adjusted to different levels or thresholds of environmental variable hazard. Implementing the model in the case of European forests and drought, the researchers found that there is increased risk of drought in the Mediterranean. The model has not yet been tested in other contexts, but may be a useful tool for improved environmental risk analyses.