Minnesota's boreal forest is a climate change hot spot

In this aerial view of forests, trees stretch to the horizon.
Forest near the Kawishiwi River in Ely, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

As climate change unfolds, we’re learning that warming is uneven. Temperature records show distinct hot spots, and northern Minnesota is among the fastest warming areas on the planet.

Minnesota’s Iron Range and Canadian border counties have warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — since 1895. That’s twice as fast as the Twin Cities and the global average of about 1 degree Celsius.

What might seem like a small change to some is already having a noticeable difference on the state’s boreal forest, said Lee Frelich, director The University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology.

“If you drive the highway from Virginia, [Minn.], to Ely in mid-September, you will see a lot more red there, because red maple has expanded quite dramatically there,” he said.

Tree species that would normally live in central or southern Minnesota are creeping into the boreal forest as they find the climate there becoming more favorable for survival. That could eventually impact animal species there and even the region’s lakes.

Frelich spoke with MPR News chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. Click play on the audio player above to hear their conversation.

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