4. Global Changes

Changes in the Global System

2014-01-29. Migration of Monarch Butterflies Shrinks Again Under Inhospitable Conditions.   Excerpt: Faltering under extreme weather and vanishing habitats, the yearly winter migration of monarch butterflies to a handful of forested Mexican mountains dwindled precipitously in December, continuing what scientists said was an increasingly alarming decline. ...Mexico is the southern terminus of an age-old journey in which monarchs shuttle back and forth between far-flung summertime havens in Canada and the United States and a single winter home in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. ...The latest drop is best explained by a two-year stretch of bad weather, said Chip Taylor, a biologist at the University of Kansas.... But while good weather may help the monarchs rebuild their numbers, their long-term problem — the steady shrinking of habitat along their migratory route — poses a far greater danger. The monarchs’ migratory freeway runs through the Great Plains. As they flew north from Mexico in early 2012, Dr. Taylor said, months of near-record heat sapped their endurance and skewed their migratory patterns in ways that limited their ability to reproduce. Last spring, he said, the opposite happened: Unusual springtime cold in Texas delayed the butterflies’ northward migration, causing them to arrive late in areas where they would normally have bred weeks earlier. ...Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed, and patches of the plant have rapidly disappeared from the Great Plains over the last decade. As corn prices have risen — spurred in part by a government mandate to add ethanol to gasoline — farmers have planted tens of millions of acres of idle land along the monarchs’ path that once provided both milkweed and nectar. ...The monarchs are but the most visible victims of the habitat loss, Dr. Oberhauser said. A wide variety of pollinators and other insects, including many that are beneficial to farmers, are also disappearing, she said, along with the predators that feed on them.... http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/us/monarch-butterflies-falter-under-extreme-weather.html. Michael Wines, The New York Times.

2013-06-03.  Jellyfish surge in Mediterranean threatens environment – and tourists. Excerpt: Scientists across the Mediterranean say a surge in the number of jellyfish this year threatens not just the biodiversity of one of the world's most overfished seas but also the health of tens of thousands of summer tourists. ...Professor Stefano Piraino of Salento University in southern Italy...is the head of a Mediterranean-wide project to track the rise in the number of jellyfish as global warming and overfishing clear the way for them to prosper. ..."There are now beaches on the island of Lampedusa, which receives 300,000 tourists a year, where people can only swim for a week in the summer," said Piraino. ...The institute has detected a surge this spring in one of the most poisonous species, the mauve stinger or Pelagia noctiluca, along the coast of Catalonia and Valencia. "We have seen banks several kilometres long and with a density of 30 to 40 jellyfish per square metre," the institute's Verónica Fuentes told Spain's ABC newspaper. ...Global warming, overfishing and human intervention – especially breakwaters that protect sandy beaches but provide a home for larvae – are all blamed. As predators disappear, population surges are happening with greater frequency. ..."The socio-economic impact on tourist areas is huge," said Piraino. "We are losing millions of euros." Beaches in Catalonia are rarely affected for more than 15 days each summer, but some Mediterranean resorts are now considering using two-metre-deep nets to fence off safe zones for bathers. The best protection against stings is suncream, which prevents the venom released by the tentacles from penetrating the skin. ...Not everyone is appalled ...The Chinese have been eating them for 5,000 years and export some $20m worth each year. ...Scientists also point to at least one species of Mediterranean jellyfish – the fried egg jellyfish or Cotylorhiza tuberculata – as a potential source of raw materials for cancer treatments and antioxidants.... http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/03/jellyfish-surge-mediterranean-environment-tourists. Giles Tremlett, The Guardian.

2013 March 10.  Amplified Greenhouse Effect Shifts North's Growing Seasons. By NASA Release 13-069. Excerpt: Vegetation growth at Earth's northern latitudes increasingly resembles lusher latitudes to the south, according to a NASA-funded study based on a 30-year record of land surface and newly improved satellite data sets....

2012 December 04.  Climate Models Project Increase in U.S. Wildfire Risk. By NASA RELEASE: 12-419. Excerpt:  WASHINGTON -- Scientists using NASA satellite data and climate models have projected drier conditions likely will cause increased fire activity across the United States in coming decades. Other findings about U.S. wildfires, including their amount of carbon emissions and how the length and strength of fire seasons are expected to change under future climate conditions, were also presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Doug Morton of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., [said] "Climate models project an increase in fire risk across the U.S. by 2050, based on a trend toward drier conditions that favor fire activity and an increase in the frequency of extreme events"…. The analysis by Morton and colleagues used climate projections, prepared for the Fifth Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to examine how dryness, and therefore fire activity, is expected to change. …in the next 30-50 years… high fire years like 2012 would likely occur two to four times per decade by mid-century, instead of once per decade under current climate conditions. Through August of this year, the U.S. burned area topped 2.5 million hectares (6.17 million acres), …short of the record 3.2 million hectares (7.90 million acres) burned in 2011, but exceeds the area burned during 12 of the 15 years since record keeping began in 1997…. For images and additional information on this research, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/climate-fire.html  …. Read the full article: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/dec/HQ_12-419_Fire_and_Climate.html. See also U.S. official: Wildfires to get more destructive, by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman

2012 Nov 27. Beetles Warm BC Forests. By Sabrina Richards, TheScientist.  Excerpt:  Pine beetle infestation increases the summertime temperatures of some Canadian forests by 1 degree Celsius—about the same impact as a forest fire—according to new findings published Sunday (November 25) in Nature Geoscience. The beetle populations, spurred into profusion by global warming, appear to be contributing to a temperature feedback loop, …. The results reinforce the conclusion that ecological disturbances like beetle infestations can have significant ecological impacts, said Allan Carroll, an insect ecologist at the University of British Columbia…. ”We have until very recently considered biotic disturbances a bit player [in climate change],” …. The current study confirms that pine beetles can have massive effects that set up “an uncomfortable feedback” wherein warming temperatures encourage more beetle damage, which in turn influences warming… Pine beetles lay their eggs under pine tree bark, introducing a fungus that inhibits nutrient flow in the trees. Usually pine beetles are killed off by freezing winter temperatures, limiting their spread. But a recent spate of warm winters, combined with forests dominated by mature pine trees, enabled a beetle population boom in North America, including parts of Alberta, Wyoming, and Colorado.  About 170,000 square kilometers of British Columbia’s forest—almost 20 percent of the province’s area—have been affected by pine beetle infestations, costing thousands of timber industry jobs. Many studies have focused on the role of global warming on pine beetle outbreaks, but fewer have looked at how the beetles themselves may be contributing to climate change…. Read the full article: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/33447/title/Beetles-Warm-BC-Forests/

2012 May 30. Where Have All the Hummingbirds Gone?. By Cheryl Dybas, the National Science Foundation. Excerpt: The [glacier] lily, a plant that grows best on subalpine slopes, is fast becoming a hothouse flower. In Earth's warming temperatures, its first blooms appear some 17 days earlier than they did in the 1970s, scientists David Inouye and Amy McKinney of the University of Maryland and colleagues have found. The problem, say the biologists, with the earlier timing of these first blooms is that the glacier lily is no longer synchronized with the arrival of broad-tailed hummingbirds, which depend on glacier lilies for nectar. By the time the hummingbirds fly in, many of the flowers have withered away, their nectar-laden blooms going with them…The biologists calculate that if current trends continue, in two decades the hummingbirds will miss the first flowers entirely….

2012 Feb 19. Yosemite’s alpine chipmunks take genetic hit from climate change. By Sarah Yang, Media Relations UC Berkeley News Center. Excerpt: BERKELEY — Global warming has forced alpine chipmunks in Yosemite to higher ground, prompting a startling decline in the species’ genetic diversity, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

2011 March 9. Heat Damages Colombia Coffee, Raising Prices. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt: Average temperatures in Colombia’s coffee regions have risen nearly one degree in 30 years, and in some mountain areas the increase has been double that, says Cenicafé, the national coffee research center. Rain in this area was more than 25 percent above average in the last few years. At the new, higher temperatures, the plants’ buds abort or their fruit ripens too quickly for optimum quality. Heat also brings pests like coffee rust, a devastating fungus that could not survive the previously cool mountain weather. The heavy rains damage the fragile Arabica blossoms, and the two-week dry spells that prompt the plant to flower and produce beans occur less often, farmers say....

2011 February 22. Owls change colour as climate warms. By Emma Brennand, BBC Earth News. Excerpt: Tawny owls turn brown to survive in warmer climates, according to scientists in Finland.
Feather colour is hereditary, with grey plumage dominant over brown. But the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the number of brown owls was increasing....
...The results also suggest that a changing climate could, in some species, reduce the number and variety of characteristics that can be inherited....

2010 August 19. Damaged Ecosystems Magnify Asia's Killer Floods. By Karl Malakunas. Excerpt: Climate change may be playing a part in record rains ravaging Asia but environment experts say the destruction of ecosystems is more directly to blame for the severity of killer floods.
Widespread deforestation, the conversion of wetlands to farms or urban sprawl and the clogging up of natural drainage systems with garbage are just some of the factors exacerbating the impacts of the floods, they say.
"You can't just blame nature... humans have encroached on the natural flood plains," ...
..."When there is any big flooding it's become commonplace for climate change to be blamed when in fact many of the problems are fixable at the local level," said Constantino. Millions of people who built homes along flood plains in recent decades, the destruction of upstream forests and a proliferation of garbage that clogged up waterways all magnified the disaster...
...Constantino Pangare, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, echoed this theme, saying investment in "natural infrastructure" was the only way to protect people from the impacts of potential climate change-induced floods. "Building concrete and walls to stop the floods is not the answer," he said. "You have to invest in natural infrastructure -- forests, river basins, lakes, wetlands."

2010 August 19. Drought Drives Decade-long Decline in Plant Growth. By Steve Cole, NASA. Excerpt: Global plant productivity that once was on the rise with warming temperatures and a lengthened growing season is now on the decline because of regional drought according to a new study of NASA satellite data. Plant productivity is a measure of the rate of the photosynthesis process that green plants use to convert solar energy, carbon dioxide and water to sugar, oxygen and eventually plant tissue... ...The shift, however, could impact food security, biofuels and the global carbon cycle...
..."This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth," Running said...
..."This past decade’s net decline in terrestrial productivity illustrates that a complex interplay between temperature, rainfall, cloudiness, and carbon dioxide, probably in combination with other factors such as nutrients and land management, will determine future patterns and trends in productivity,"...
...Researchers want to continue monitoring these trends in the future because plant productivity is linked to shifting levels of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and stresses on plant growth that could challenge food production...
..."Even if the declining trend of the past decade does not continue, managing forests and crop lands for multiple benefits to include food production, biofuel harvest, and carbon storage may become exceedingly challenging in light of the possible impacts of such decadal-scale changes,"...

2010 July 22. Listing Endangered Species as a Tool to Combat Warming. By Todd Woody, Yale Environment 360. Excerpt:…A pocket-sized member of the rabbit family... the American pika lives on rocky slopes high in alpine mountain ranges from the Sierra Nevada to the Rockies. Sporting a thick gray-brown coat, the pika does not hibernate and so maintains a high internal temperature to survive frigid winters. Because it can’t turn off its heater, the animal can die in the summer if its body temperature increases by as little as 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 F)
…The pika has become an indicator species in more ways than one. It is in the vanguard of a growing number of animals and plants that U.S. environmental groups have petitioned to protect as the Endangered Species Act becomes the latest battleground over global warming.
…The regulations governing the Endangered Species Act are complicated, but at heart the law requires the government to determine if a plant or animal’s existence is threatened or endangered and then to protect the species and its habitat and formulate a plan for its recovery. With limited exceptions, no one may harm a listed species or modify its habitat. 
…Stopping the logging of an ancient redwood forest can save birds that nest in treetops and shutting down a water pump can prevent thousands of fish from being mutilated by machinery. But how to keep Arctic ice from melting, or temperatures from rising on Sierra Nevada mountaintops, when greenhouse gas emissions from millions of sources worldwide contribute to a species’ decline?
…The most important thing, [Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie] says, is to get plants and animals at risk of climate-change extinction listed so the government can begin to take action to ameliorate those effects. Those steps include reducing impacts not related to climate change, identifying where animals may need to migrate as the world warms, and establishing wildlife corridors and other protected areas.
…Notes Loarie: “There are certain areas where the pika is likely to go extinct. But the bottom line is that anything we can do to protect the pika now will pay a dividend for other species.”

2010 May 11. China drought highlights future climate threats. By Jane Qiu, Nature News. Excerpt: Born into a farming family in south Yunnan province, China, Zhu Youyong's life has always been tied to the soil. At the age of 54, however, Zhu — now president of Yunnan Agricultural University in Kunming — says he "has never seen such severe drought in Yunnan".
Since last September, the province has had 60% less rainfall than normal. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, 8.1 million people — 18% of Yunnan's population — are short of drinking water, and US$2.5-billion worth of crops are expected to fail.
Scientists in China say that the crisis marks one of the strongest case studies so far of how climate change and poor environmental practice can combine to create a disaster. They are now scrambling to pin down exactly what caused the drought, and whether similar events are likely to hit the region more often in the future....
...Climate change is not the only factor affecting the drought. Deforestation in mountainous Yunnan is also being blamed. "Natural forests are a key regulator of climate and hydrological processes," says Xu, who is also China's representative at the World Agroforestry Centre, an international think tank headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.
...Many scientists are now worried that severe droughts, such as Yunnan's, will become more common across southeast Asia. In addition to the effect on humans, "the impact on biodiversity could be huge," says Jennifer Baltzer, an ecologist at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada....

2009 November 2. Deep-sea ecosystems affected by climate change. MBARI News Release. Excerpt: The vast muddy expanses of the abyssal plains occupy about 60 percent of the Earth's surface and are important in global carbon cycling. Based on long-term studies of two such areas, a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that animal communities on the abyssal seafloor are affected in a variety of ways by climate change.
Historically, many people, including marine scientists, have considered the abyssal plains, more than 2,000 meters below the sea surface, to be relatively isolated and stable ecosystems. However, according to Ken Smith, a marine ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)..., changes in the Earth's climate can cause unexpectedly large changes in deep-sea ecosystems....
...In this cold, dark environment, very little food is available. What food there is takes the form of bits of organic debris drifting down from the sunlit surface waters, thousands of meters above. During its long descent, this organic matter may be eaten, excreted, and decomposed, drastically reducing its nutritive value. It is estimated that less than five percent of the organic matter produced at the surface reaches the abyssal plains.
...The authors point out that global climate change could affect the food supply to the deep sea in many ways. Some relevant ocean processes that may be affected by climate change include wind-driven upwelling, the depth of mixing of the surface waters, and the delivery of nutrients to surface waters via dust storms. Climate-driven changes in these processes are likely to lead to altered year-to-year variation in the amount of organic material reaching the seafloor.
...Based on their observations, the authors conclude that long-term climate change is likely to influence both deep-sea communities and the chemistry of their environment. According to Smith, "Essentially, deep-sea communities are coupled to surface production. Global change could alter the functioning of these ecosystems and the way carbon is cycled in the ocean."...

2008 May. The Carbon Hoofprint. Lauren Wilcox, The WorldArk. Excerpt: A recent report from the United Nations contained a stunning statistic: One industry is responsible for nearly 20% of the greenhouse gases released int the atmosphere worldwide. It isn't long-haul trucking, or air travel, or stell-smelting vactories, or any of the other exhaust-belching suspects ususally associated wtih environmental woes.
It is the livestock industry.
In "Livestock's Long Shadow," released in 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations freported that raising and processing cattle, hogs, poultry and other animals produces 18% of the greenhouse gases; just 13% comes from trucks, cars and other transportation. ...The livestock industry's transgressions include the deforestation of grazing land, the pollution of air and grondwater from animal waste, the excessive use of water to raise grain for feed and its threat on biodiversity....

2008 December 22. Bigger Sea Creatures, Like Squid, May Feel Effects of Higher CO2. By Henry Fountain. Excerpt: Increased emissions of carbon dioxide affect more than the atmosphere. Much of the CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, causing them to become more acidic.Recent research has looked at the impact of the acidification on corals and other small calcifying organisms. But increasing CO2, coupled with gradual warming of the oceans, may have other effects, and may affect bigger creatures, because there will be less oxygen at the surface and deep oxygen-poor zones will expand vertically...The researchers found that under conditions of elevated CO2 similar to those forecast for surface waters for the end of the century, the squids’ metabolic and activity rates slowed significantly. So it is a good bet that these squid will become more lethargic, less adept at hunting prey and less able to avoid predators like seals, sharks, swordfish and marlin, and sperm whales...

2008 October 28. Stanford researchers: Global warming is killing frogs and salamanders in Yellowstone Park. EurekAlert. Excerpt: Frogs and salamanders, those amphibious bellwethers of environmental danger, are being killed in Yellowstone National Park. The predator, Stanford researchers say, is global warming.
Biology graduate student Sarah McMenamin spent three summers in a remote area of the park searching for frogs and salamanders in ponds that had been surveyed 15 years ago. Almost everywhere she looked, she found a catastrophic decrease in the population.
The amphibians need the ponds for their young to hatch, but high temperatures and drought are drying up the water. The frogs and salamanders lay eggs that have a gelatinous outer layer—basically "jelly eggs," McMenamin says—that leaves them completely unsuitable for gestation on land. If the ponds dry up, so do the eggs. "If there isn't any water, then the animals simply don't breed," she said.
..."Everybody can identify with the loss of glaciers, but in Yellowstone the decrease in lakes and ponds and wetlands has been astounding," John Varley, the former chief scientist for Yellowstone, told New West. "What were considered permanent bodies of water, meaning reference was given to them in the 1850s, '60s and '70s, and bestowed with a name as a lake, are now gone. Some wetlands that were considered permanent ponds are no longer there. Some lakes have become ephemeral."...

2008 July 15. Study: Future snowmelt in West twice as early as expected; threatens ecosystems and water reserves. By Elizabeth K. Gardner, Perdue University News. Excerpt: WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - According to a new study, global warming could lead to larger changes in snowmelt in the western United States than was previously thought, possibly increasing wildfire risk and creating new water management challenges for agriculture, ecosystems and urban populations.
Researchers, including a Purdue University professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, discovered that a critical surface temperature feedback is twice as strong as what had been projected by earlier studies.
...Sara A. Rauscher, visiting scientist at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, and lead author on the paper, said the melting snow contributes to a feedback loop that accelerates warming.
"Because snow is more reflective than the ground or vegetation beneath it, it keeps the surface temperatures lower by reflecting energy from the sun," Rauscher said. "When snow melts or does not accumulate in the first place, more solar energy is absorbed by the ground, warming the surface. A feedback loop is created because the warmer ground then makes it more difficult for snow to accumulate and perpetuates the effect."...

2008 Spring. 3 Terrain Magazine articles. Berkeley Ecology Center. Inside Out: Behind the Scenes at the Bird Wash. by Nicole Edmison. Excerpt: The spill will affect wildlife for years-and the impact extends far beyond the bay. ...I blearily opened the newspaper in a Corvallis, Oregon coffeeshop and stared at a photo of an oil-drenched western grebe. The caption said that oil had spilled into San Francisco Bay after the Cosco Busan had knocked into a pillar of the Bay Bridge. This disaster in the making warranted no more than a photo, but as a wildlife biologist with a special affinity for birds, I felt as if my liver had been ripped out. When I returned to Berkeley, I realized the true scope of what had happened. ... After the "oil on beach" signs have disappeared and volunteers have gone back to their daily lives, oil is still traveling in our open ocean, up and down our coast, lurking in the substrates of our bays, and polluting the environment for all of its inhabitants. Bringing the Outside In. by Lisa Owens Viani.Interview with Eddie Bartley... a San Francisco-based naturalist ...When the Cosco Busan spill hit, Bartley surveyed for oiled birds and worked with San Francisco Animal Care and Control to rescue injured birds. Dismayed by bureaucratic confusion and inaction, Bartley is working on a Web site and an action map that should help alleviate agency dysfunction if-or more likely, when-there is another spill. Outside In: Renegades to the Rescue. by Lisa Owens Viani. Birders got busy as officials fluttered...

2008 Mar 18. In a Warmer Yellowstone Park, a Shifting Environmental Balance By Jim Robbins, NY Times. Excerpt: The grassy sweep of the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of the Yellowstone National Park is famous for its wildlife.  But while walking across the Lamar last fall, Robert L. Crabtree  pointed out a cascade of ecological changes under way…  The number of grizzly bears and gophers in the valley has increased, Dr. Crabtree said, an increase supported by the spread of an invasive plant from the Mediterranean that a warming climate benefits.  The plant, Canada thistle, provides food for grizzlies in more than one way but may also be squeezing out native plants that cannot compete…  Areas along the Lamar River that were once marshy have dried out because of a drought that began around 2000. As the ground becomes drier, the thistle invades.  Enter the pocket gopher, a half-pound dynamo that tunnels into the ground near the surface. The gophers love the abundant, starchy roots of the plant and burrow beneath it to harvest the tubers. What they do not eat they stockpile under plants or rocks.  The expansion of pocket gophers and thistle is not gradual, Dr. Crabtree said, but a rapid positive-feedback loop…  For their part, grizzly bears have discovered the gophers’ caches and raid them. As a result, the Lamar Valley is pockmarked with holes where grizzlies have clawed up bundles of roots. Bears also devour gophers and their pups.  As climate change alters ecosystems, Dr. Crabtree said, “the winners are going to be the adaptive foragers, like grizzlies that eat everything from ants to moose, and the losers are going to be specialized species that can’t adapt.”  As budgets for controlling invasive species shrink, he suggested a triage. “If you are going to give up on a species,” he said, “it’s best to give up on one that has ecological value.”

2007 February 23. After 200 Years, a Beaver Is Back in New York City. Wildlife Conservation Society. By ANAHAD O'CONNOR.Excerpt: A crudely fashioned lodge perched along the snow-covered banks of the Bronx River - no more than a mound of twigs and mud strewn together in the shadow of the sits steps away from an empty parking lot and a busy intersection. Scientists say that the discovery of this cone-shaped dwelling signifies something remarkable: For the first time in two centuries, the North American beaver, forced out of town by agricultural development and overeager fur traders, has returned to New York City. The discovery of a beaver setting up camp in the Bronx is a testament to both the animal's versatility and to an increasingly healthy Bronx River. A few years ago the river was a dumping ground for abandoned cars and rubber tires, but it has been brought back to life recently through a big cleanup effort. The biologists who discovered the beaver say they have nicknamed it José, after United States Representative José E. Serrano of the Bronx, who has directed $15 million in federal funds toward the river's rebirth….. A beaver sighting was reported last month in East Hampton on Long Island. Environmental officials said that if it was a beaver, it may have come across the Long Island Sound from Connecticut or from Gardiners Island, a tract of private land between Long Island's forks…..The North American beaver vanished from New York City in the early 1800s as a result of trapping, fur trading, and deforestation. Beavers helped speed Manhattan's development by attracting fur traders who were eager to feed huge demands for their pelts in Europe. To this day, beavers remain tightly linked to New York's identity……



  Losing Biodiversity

-Chapter 5: Soil, the Living Skin of the Earth

-Chapter 7: One Global Ocean

-Chapter 8:Champions of a Sustainable World
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