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What Does Climate Change look like ?


The average winter temperatures are rising in South Dakota pine beetles are multiplying and eating the trees at an alarming rate.

Pine Beetle Damage

Image from 1992 taken by Landsat 5. Image from 2018 taken by Landsat 8. Source: U.S. Geological Survey’s National Land Imaging Image Collections

The pictures above show a pine forest in South Dakota before and after the trees were killed by an epidemic of mountain pine beetles. Normally cold winters kill beetle eggs and keep the beetle population down. However, recent winters have been getting warmer and so the beetle population increased significantly. Another problem was that South Dakota had been experiencing a drought since the early 2000s that caused the trees to be weaker. Both the drought that weekend the trees, and the rise in temperature that increased the beetle population were caused by climate change. As you move the slider back and forth across pictures from 1992 to 2018 you can see that thousands of trees died. Dead trees appear reddish in the 2018 image. Trees are a very important in fighting climate change as they absorb carbon dioxide, and release clean oxygen for us to breath. Carbon dioxide is the gas that causes global warming that is emitted from driving cars and burning fuel and coal for electricity. 

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Photo: Rapid City Journal (Ryan Soderlin): Dead trees in the Black hills from the pine beetle.

The pine beetle is about the size of a grain of rice. It eats tunnels under the bark of the ponderosa and other pine trees eventually killing the tree. 

Normally, a few mountain pine beetles can help the forest by killing older and weak trees which makes the forest more productive. 



Mountain pine beetle. Pacific Northwest Research Station.

But, this recent large outbreak of beetles is doing more harm than good. It can affect water quality. It can affect the balance of the ecosystem. It can also convert the forest from a carbon sink to a carbon source.


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