In the Northern Great Plains, the timing and
quantity of both precipitation and runoff have
important consequences for water supplies,
agricultural activities, and energy production.
Overall, climate projections suggest that the
number of heavy precipitation events (events with greater than 1 inch per day of rainfall) is projected to increase. Moving forward, the magnitude of year-to-year variability overshadows the small projected average decrease in streamflow. Changes in extreme events are likely to overwhelm average changes in both the eastern and western regions of the Northern Great Plains. Major flooding across the basin in 2011 was followed by severe drought in 2012, representing new and
unprecedented variability that is likely to become more common in a warmer world.
The Northern Great Plains region plays a
critical role in national food security. Among
other anticipated changes, projected warmer
and generally wetter conditions with elevated
atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are
expected to increase the abundance and competitive ability of weeds and invasive species, increase livestock production and efficiency of production, and result in longer growing seasons at mid- and high latitudes. Net primary productivity, including crop yields and forage production, is also likely to increase, although an increasing number of extreme temperature events during critical pollination and grain fill periods is likely to reduce crop yields.
Ecosystems across the Northern Great Plains
provide recreational opportunities and other
valuable goods and services that are ingrained
in the region’s cultures. Higher temperatures,
reduced snow cover, and more variable precipitation will make it increasingly challenging to manage the region’s valuable wetlands, rivers, and snow-dependent ecosystems. In the mountains of western Wyoming and western Montana, the fraction of total water in precipitation that falls as snow is expected to decline by 25% to 40% by 2100 under a higher scenario (RCP8.5), which would negatively affect the region’s winter recreation industry. At lower-elevation areas of the Northern Great Plains, climate-induced land-use changes in agriculture can have cascading effects on closely entwined natural ecosystems, such as wetlands, and the diverse species and recreational opportunities they support.
Energy resources in the Northern Great Plains
include abundant crude oil, natural gas, coal,
wind, and stored water, and to a lesser extent,
corn-based ethanol, solar energy, and uranium.
The infrastructure associated with the extraction, distribution, and energy produced from these resources is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Railroads and pipelines are vulnerable to damage or disruption from increasing heavy precipitation events and associated flooding and erosion. Declining water availability in the summer would likely increase costs for oil production
operations, which require freshwater resources.
These cost increases will either lead to lower
production or be passed on to consumers. Finally, higher maximum temperatures, longer and more severe heat waves, and higher overnight lows are expected to increase electricity demand for cooling in the summer, further stressing the power grid.
Indigenous peoples in the region are observing
changes to climate, many of which are
impacting livelihoods as well as traditional subsistence and wild foods, wildlife, plants and water for ceremonies, medicines, and health and well-being. Because some tribes and Indigenous peoples are among those in the region with the highest rates of poverty and unemployment, and because many are still
directly reliant on natural resources, they are
among the most at risk to climate change (e.g.,
Gamble et al. 2016, Cozzetto et al. 2013, Espey
et al. 2014, Wong et al. 2014, Kornfeld 2016,
Paul and Caplins 2016, Maynard 2014, USGCRP