Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Tag Archive: warming

  1. Changing climate could have devastating impacts on forest carbon storage

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    • mean loss of carbon from drought and fire impacted forests could equal losing 70% of CA’s 2010 total above ground biomass
    • strategies for reducing some fire risk include actively thinning forests to manage tree density and restoring surface fires
    • healthy ecosystems lead to cleaner, better regulated water flow to communities across the western United States
    May 25, 2017  University of New Mexico  full ScienceDaily article here
    Biologists have shown what could be a startling drop in the amount of carbon stored in the Sierra Nevada mountains due to projected climate change and wildfire events.

    ….roughly half of all human-emitted carbon is absorbed by vegetation and the ocean, and is stored through natural processes — something that helps limit our actual carbon impact on the atmosphere. The problem is, as forests begin to change, due to global warming and large scale fires, the amount of forest carbon uptake will decrease, accelerating the amount of human-made carbon making its way into the atmosphere.

    Our simulations in the Sierra Nevada show that the mean amount of carbon loss from the forests under these projections could be as large as 663 teragrams,” said Hurteau. “That’s equal to about 73 percent of the total above ground carbon stock estimated in California vegetation in 2010.”

    …The two factors that influence these findings are changes in climate and the likelihood of large scale forest fires. Because California is experiencing warmer and drier conditions due to global warming, certain tree species are not able to flourish across particular geographic regions like they once were. Less tree growth, means less carbon uptake in forests.

    The study also shows that wildfires will play a big role in the reduction of stored carbon. And while many of these incidents will occur naturally, Hurteau says we are, in part, to blame for their significance….

    …”We’ve been putting out fires for a hundred years, causing tree density to go way up. In the absence of fire that system has a lot more carbon stored in it,” explained Hurteau. “But, when you have these large fire events the amount of carbon stored in the system drops because it kills many of the trees. Whereas, in a forest that’s been maintained by regular forest fires, which is the natural ecological state, your total carbon at any given point in time can be lower but it stays more consistent.”

    …Hurteau says researchers have identified strategies for reducing some of the fire risk by actively thinning forests to manage tree density and restoring surface fires. It’s an idea that seems counterproductive until you consider how volatile these ecosystems are due to the risk of large scale fires that end up destroying hundreds of thousands of acres.

    …He says it’s not only for the benefit of nature but for all of us, since healthy ecosystems lead to cleaner, better regulated water flow to communities across the western United States.

    Shuang Liang, Matthew D. Hurteau, Anthony LeRoy Westerling. Potential decline in carbon carrying capacity under projected climate-wildfire interactions in the Sierra Nevada. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-02686-0

  2. Smoke from wildfires- “brown carbon”- can have lasting climate impact

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    • High-altitude brown carbon from biomass burning is an unappreciated component of climate forcing.

    May 23, 2017 Georgia Institute of Technology  full article here at ScienceDaily

    …Researchers have found that carbon particles released into the air from burning trees and other organic matter are much more likely than previously thought to travel to the upper levels of the atmosphere, where they can interfere with rays from the sun — sometimes cooling the air and at other times warming it.

    Most of the brown carbon released into the air stays in the lower atmosphere, but a fraction of it does get up into the upper atmosphere, where it has a disproportionately large effect on the planetary radiation balance — much stronger than if it was all at the surface,” said Rodney Weber, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences.

    …The climate is more sensitive to those particulates as their altitude increases. The researchers found that brown carbon appears much more likely than black carbon to travel through the air to the higher levels of the atmosphere where it can have a greater impact on climate….

    Yuzhong Zhang, Haviland Forrister, Jiumeng Liu, Jack Dibb, Bruce Anderson, Joshua P. Schwarz, Anne E. Perring, Jose L. Jimenez, Pedro Campuzano-Jost, Yuhang Wang, Athanasios Nenes, Rodney J. Weber. Top-of-atmosphere radiative forcing affected by brown carbon in the upper troposphere. Nature Geoscience, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2960

  3. Microscopic soil creatures could orchestrate massive tree ‘migrations

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    May 8, 2017 University of Tennessee at Knoxville  Full ScienceDaily Article Here

    Warming temperatures are prompting some tree species in the Rocky Mountains to ‘migrate’ to higher elevations in order to survive. Researchers have discovered that tiny below-ground organisms play a role in this phenomenon — and could be used to encourage tree migration in order to preserve heat-sensitive species. Their work shows how these invisible biotic communities create ‘soil highways’ for young trees, meaning they could determine how quickly species march uphill, if at all.

    The newfound role of the soil microbiome — the collection of microscopic bacteria, fungi and archaea that interact with plant roots — represents a turning point for research aimed at understanding and predicting where important tree species will reside in the future…

    …”we need to work with the trees near the bottom of the mountain, because they are the ones that will feel the most stress from warming temperatures,” Van Nuland said. “So we have to figure out a way to coax them to move up.” The research could help scientists design specific groups of bacteria and fungi to encourage the migration of trees threatened by warming climates….

  4. The Glaciers are Going

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    The Glaciers are Going by Renee Cho, State of the Planet, Earth Institute, Columbia University, May 5, 2017

    Waggonwaybreen glacier in Svalbard Norway

    The Waggonwaybreen glacier in Svalbard. Photo: Andreas Weith

    As can be seen above, the Waggonwaybreen glacier in Svalbard, Norway, has retreated substantially since 1900. Svalbard’s glaciers are not only retreating, they are also losing about two feet of their thickness each year. Glaciers around the world have retreated at unprecedented rates and some have disappeared altogether. The melting of glaciers will affect people around the world, their drinking water supplies, water needed to grow food and supply energy, as well as global sea levels.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that around the world glaciers (excluding the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets) will decrease in volume between 15 to 55 percent by 2100 even if we are able to limit global warming to under 2˚C; they could shrink up to 85 percent if warming increases much more.

    In Earth’s history, there have been at least five major ice ages, when long-term cooling of the planet resulted in the expansion of ice sheets and glaciers. Past ice ages have been naturally set off by a numerous factors, most importantly, changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun (Milankovitch cycles) and shifting tectonic plate movements that affect wind and ocean currents. The mixture of gases in the atmosphere (such as carbon dioxide and methane) as well as solar and volcanic activity are also contributing factors. Today we are in a warm interval—an interglacial—between ice ages….

    Reprinted from: https://skepticalscience.com/2017-SkS-Weekly-News-Roundup_18.html

  5. Global warming making oceans more toxic – toxic algae already increasing

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    April 24, 2017  Stony Brook University  full ScienceDaily article here

    Climate change is predicted to cause a series of maladies for world oceans including heating up, acidification, and the loss of oxygen. A newly published study demonstrates that one ocean consequence of climate change that has already occurred is the spread and intensification of toxic algae.
    Their study demonstrates that since 1982, broad stretches of these ocean basins have warmed and become significantly more hospitable to these algae and that new ‘blooms’ of these algae have become common in these same regions. Alexandrium and Dinophysis are serious health concerns as they make neurotoxins and gastrointestinal toxins that can cause paralytic and diarrhetic shellfish poisoning in humans.

    …”The distribution, frequency and intensity of these events have increased across the globe and this study links this expansion to ocean warming in some regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans,” Gobler said.

    A fundamental question has been whether we can directly link expansion of harmful algal blooms to a warming ocean; this paper provides critical, quantitative evidence for just that trend, confirming an expected, but difficult to test, direct link between toxic blooms to climate,” said Dr. Raphael Kudela, Professor of Ocean Sciences, University of California Santa Cruz, a national toxic algae expert who was not part of the study.

    …”This study demonstrates that the global warming that has already occurred is now impacting human health and our oceans,” said Gobler. “An important implication of the study is that carbon emission and climate change-related policy decisions made today are likely to have important consequences for the fate of our future oceans, including the spread and intensification of toxic algal blooms.”

    Christopher J. Gobler, Owen M. Doherty, Theresa K. Hattenrath-Lehmann, Andrew W. Griffith, Yoonja Kang, and R. Wayne Litaker. Ocean warming since 1982 has expanded the niche of toxic algal blooms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans. PNAS, April 2017 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1619575114

  6. TNC distributing $6m for climate-smart land trust efforts in West

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    Conservation group maps land protection strategy in West

    BOISE, Idaho (AP) — …The Nature Conservancy (TNC) says it has $6 million from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that it’s now distributing among land trusts that must come up with five times the amount in matching funds for approved easements or acquisition… “We’re protecting lands in the three states that are identified as being resilient,” said Ken Popper, senior conservation planner with The Nature Conservancy. “In the short term, we’re looking at wildlife movements and in the long term movements of habitats….”

    …the information is the result of dozens of data sets that include soil maps, vegetation maps, species distribution, moisture, elevation and the locations of roads, powerlines, cities and towns. He said the maps, available to the public, took four years to create at a cost of $350,000. The idea behind the project is for local land trusts to use the information to identify private lands that could be strongholds for species threatened by climate change. “Those refugia areas will allow plants and animals to adapt to climate change as it occurs,” Popper said….

    TNC maps and data available here

  7. Warming could slow upslope migration of trees

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    Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 15 Dec 2016 see full article here

    Scientists expect trees will advance upslope as global temperatures increase, shifting the tree line—the mountain zone where trees become smaller and eventually stop growing—to higher elevations. Subalpine forests will follow their climate up the mountain, in other words. But new research suggests this may not hold true for two subalpine tree species of western North America….

    …Counter to expectations, they found that warming reduced seedling survival for both species at all three elevations during the first year of life. The scientists expected survival rates to dip at the lower elevation site, where temperatures rose above the trees’ normal climate, but not higher up, where warming was expected to help seedlings. They attribute this lower survival rate to drier conditions caused by warming, which negatively affected seedling survival….

    “Overall, our findings indicate that seedlings are highly vulnerable to climate variation, which should be taken into account as we predict what will happen to subalpine forests in a warming climate,” says Kueppers.

    Jeff Mitton et al. Warming and provenance limit tree recruitment across and beyond the elevation range of subalpine forest. Global Change Biology, December 2016 DOI: 10.1111/gcb.13561

  8. Climate change already causing widespread local extinction in plant and animal species

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    December 8, 2016 PLOS – and summary from ScienceDaily

    Extinctions related to climate change have already happened in hundreds of plant and animal species around the world. New research, publishing on December 8th in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, shows that local extinctions have already occurred in 47% of the 976 plant and animal species studied.

    Climate change is predicted to threaten many species with extinction, but determining how species will respond in the future is difficult. Dozens of studies have already demonstrated that species are shifting their geographic ranges over time as the climate warms, towards cooler habitats at higher elevations and latitudes. The new study, by Professor John J. Wiens from the University of Arizona, used these range-shift studies to show that local extinctions have already happened in the warmest parts of the ranges of more than 450 plant and animal species. This result is particularly striking because global warming has increased mean temperatures by less than 1 degree Celsius so far.

    These extinctions will almost certainly become much more widespread over time, because temperatures are predicted to increase by an additional 1 to 5 degrees in the next several decades. These local extinctions could also extend to species that humans depend on for food and resources….

    John J. Wiens. Climate-Related Local Extinctions Are Already Widespread among Plant and Animal Species. PLOS Biology, 2016; 14 (12): e2001104 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2001104

  9. We did it again! November is hottest on record

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    Joe Romm, PhD ClimateProgress  December 6 2016  see full article here

    Last month was easily the hottest November on record globally, according to satellite data sets.

    …In fact, satellite data, ground-based weather stations, sea-based buoys, and even weather balloons all reveal a steady long-term warming trend. These satellites have documented a steady warming of the troposphere (the lower atmosphere). It always bears repeating that the satellites indirectly measure the temperature where we don’t live (the troposphere), so the data need a whole bunch of (easily screwed up) adjustments before it is useful to anyone. If you want a direct measure of the temperature at the surface where we actually live and grow food, you need NASA’s land and ocean temperature index (LOTI) from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS):

    NASA’s land and ocean temperature index (LOTI). Via GISS director Gavin Schmidt.

    So, no matter how we look at it, we are warming rapidly. And carbon pollution is the primary cause. In fact, as I’ve written, the best estimate by climate scientists is that humans are responsible for all of the warming we have suffered since 1950…

    Despite this, the denier-led House Science Committee tweeted out an erroneous Breitbart story last week about some satellites showing cooling. The story was quickly debunked by actual scientists here and everywhere.

  10. A warm climate is more sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide– global temps will rise 5.9°C (~10.5°F) by 2100 with BAU

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    A warm climate is more sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide

    Posted: 10 Nov 2016 12:33 PM PST

    It is well-established in the scientific community that increases in atmospheric CO2 levels result in global warming, but the magnitude of the effect may vary depending on average global temperature. A new study, published this week in Science Advances …concludes that warm climates are more sensitive to changes in CO2 levels than cold climates….

    Our results imply that Earth’s sensitivity to variations in atmospheric CO2 increases as the climate warms,” explained Friedrich. “Currently, our planet is in a warm phase — an interglacial period — and the associated increased climate sensitivity needs to be taken into account for future projections of warming induced by human activities.”

    Using these estimates based on Earth’s paleoclimate sensitivity, the authors computed the warming over the next 85 years that could result from a human-induced, business-as-usual greenhouse gas emission scenario. The researchers project that by the year 2100, global temperatures will rise 5.9°C (~10.5°F) above pre-industrial values. This magnitude of warming overlaps with the upper range of estimates presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)….

    The results of the study demonstrate that unabated human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are likely to push Earth’s climate out of the envelope of temperature conditions that have prevailed for the last 784,000 years. “The only way out is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible,” concluded Friedrich.

    Friedrich et al, Nonlinear climate sensitivity and its implications for future greenhouse warming. Science Advances  09 Nov 2016:Vol. 2, no. 11, e1501923 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501923

    http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/11/e1501923