Monthly Archives: April 2012

More Range Shifts – European Alps

More and more, research is being published that leaves very little doubt at all that anthropogenic global warming and more generally, climate change is affecting the range distributions of many species of plants, animals and fungi. This in turn alters ecosystems in terms of species composition and diversity. In many instances, effects within species can include declines in genetic diversity which has a potentially devastating effect on species fitness.

Studies into the effects of global warming on range distributions have been undertaken in all sorts of habitats from every continent, looking at species from every Kingdom in the phylogenetic tree.  As could be expected, a large number of these studies are undertaken in areas where global warming is known to be most observable. This is in mountainous habitats where species, should they need to move, can only move vertically to remain within their evolved thermal tolerances. A very recent pan-European study published in Science, reports on the observed effect of global warming on species richness and diversity across 66 mountain summits from northern, central and southern Europe.

The researchers from the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments programme (GLORIA) headed by Harald Pauli report that increasing species numbers were only found on summits of northern and central Europe. In the Mediterranean alpine region, species numbers were stagnating or declining at nearly all sites. Pauli stated, “Our results showing a decline at the Mediterranean sites is worrying because these are the mountains with a very unique flora and a large proportion of their species occur only there and nowhere else on Earth.”

As mentioned, on the summits further north in Europe, more plant species are prospering.  While ignorant deniers will no doubt jump on this sort of thing as evidence to support their stance, as it could be taken to indicate that alpine flowers are performing well there, this would be far too simplistic. Michael Gottfried also from GLORIA’s coordination team said, “I’m afraid that this is not necessarily the case because the newly appearing plants are predominantly more widespread species from lower elevations and will pose increasing competition pressure on the rarer cold-loving alpine flowers.” In other words, more is not necessarily better.

The different results from one end of the study to the other can be attributed to a combination of altered rainfall patterns and topography with some alpine areas essentially series of snowy islands amongst a sea of warmer valleys where altered rainfall patterns are causing added stress. Pauli sums it up thus, “The observed species losses were most pronounced on the lower summits, where plants are expected to suffer earlier from water deficiency than on the snowier high peaks. Climate warming and decreasing precipitation in the Mediterranean during the past decades fit well to the pattern of shrinking species occurrences. Additionally, much of the Mediterranean region is projected to become even drier during the upcoming decades.”

No doubt, future studies will reveal the extent to which this ongoing process becomes catastrophic for many of those species under threat.

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CO2 – not as weak as the deniers suggest

We are all familiar with this scene from the ridiculously loony “Great Global Warming Swindle” movie so favoured by wilfully ignorant and scientifically illiterate denialists. The suggestion is, and it is one their favourite catchcries, that “CO2 lags temperature!” To put it perhaps a little more scientifically, they are suggesting that because the Vostok ice core data from the last deglaciation shows a lag between temperature rise and CO2 concentration increase, this is evidence that CO2 does not drive climate. This is of course wrong because it is built on a false premise. The simplest explanation given by climate scientists is that Milankovitch cycles initiated the warming, and as things warmed up, CO2 previously locked away in permafrost and from vegetation being inundated by rising sea levels slowly increased to a level where it took over.

The problem as I see it is that the story has never been complete. Using a single data point such as the Vostok ice core is really only good for telling the story of what happened in that particular area. A new study published in Nature today goes along way to filling in the gaps. Here is its abstract…

Global warming preceded by increasing carbon dioxide concentrations during the last deglaciation

Jeremy D Shakun, Peter U Clark, Feng He, Shaun A Marcott, Alan C Mix, Zhengyu Liu, Bette Otto-Bliesner, Andreas Schmittner & Edouard Bard

The covariation of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and temperature in Antarctic ice-core records suggests a close link between CO2 and climate during the Pleistocene ice ages. The role and relative importance of CO2 in producing these climate changes remains unclear, however, in part because the ice-core deuterium record reflects local rather than global temperature. Here we construct a record of global surface temperature from 80 proxy records and show that temperature is correlated with and generally lags CO2 during the last (that is, the most recent) deglaciation. Differences between the respective temperature changes of the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere parallel variations in the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation recorded in marine sediments. These observations, together with transient global climate model simulations, support the conclusion that an antiphased hemispheric temperature response to ocean circulation changes superimposed on globally in-phase warming driven by increasing CO2 concentrations is an explanation for much of the temperature change at the end of the most recent ice age.

For the scientifically challenged, what this paper reports is the result of analysis of 80 proxy temperature records from around the globe from a variety of latitudes. The seven proxies used included oxygen isotopes from ice cores, pollen from lake mud sediment and marine microfossils. The results paint a global picture of temperature change and when related back to the CO2 record indicate very strongly that the Vostok result was in fact a localised condition and that globally, temperature generally lagged CO2, the opposite of what the deniers would have the gullible believe.

One by one, the denialists’ simplistic, deceitful and woefully unscientific arguments are being demonstrably savaged by actual evidence. How long before they pull their heads out of their collective arses and start seeing reason? Only time, an ice free arctic, continued loss of species and rising sealevels will tell.

 

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Opinion v evidence

Occasionally one will stumble on a picture, a video or a piece of writing that is put together so well, it speaks immediately to you and resonates. The following piece is one such thing. It was written a couple of years ago but its message is likely to be relevant for some time yet…unfortunately. On reading it, I wondered if it could be improved in any way or if it was missing any vital components and for me, it isn’t. It beautifully sums up one of the biggest problems that those of us who need to communicate the issue of AGW and human induced climate change. It appeared on ABC’s The Drum Opinion and here it is.

Climate debate: opinion vs evidence

Stephan Lewandowsky

What exactly is “balance”? Our society rightly strives for balance, and many issues are deservedly considered by presenting a balanced set of opinions.

There are however clear cases in which the only balance that matters is the balance of evidence rather than of opinion: Serial killer Ivan Milat’s protestations of innocence should not — and did not — balance the evidence arrayed against him. The desire to cure AIDS with garlic and beetroot does not balance the medical consensus that the disease is caused by HIV and can only be beaten by retroviral drugs. And the current wave of sensationalism and distortion cannot balance the scientific consensus that climate change is real and is caused by human emissions.

The current descent of the climate debate into a cauldron of misrepresentations that are at odds with scientific reality must therefore be of concern.

It must be of concern that climate scientists can be publicly accused of having vested financial interests in their research, when in fact Australian research grants cannot be used to top up a researcher’s salary.

It must be of concern when segments of the national media frequently distort and misrepresent scientific articles and scientists’ statements in complete departure from accepted standards of journalistic honesty and decency.

It must be of concern when segments of the media echo the meme that “global warming stopped in 1998″ when in fact all years since 2000 — that is 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 — are among the 10 hottest years ever recorded since 1880. The probability of this happening by chance is small.

It must be of concern that the current Leader of the Opposition has publicly dismissed climate science and instead cosily chats with a visiting British aristocrat who is a serial fabricator — an individual who has publicly misrepresented himself as a member of the House of Lords when he is not; who claims to have cured influenza as well as AIDS; who claims to have won the Falkland War by means of biological weapons; who accuses NASA of blowing up their own research satellites; and whose latest pseudo-mathematical pronouncements about climate change are at odds with past ice age cycles.

It must be of grave concern when the opinions of the same conspiracy theorists who believe that Prince Phillip runs the world’s drug trade are given credence by the media when it comes to climate change.

No, balance in media coverage does not arise from adding a falsehood to the truth and dividing by two. Balanced media coverage of science requires recognition of the balance of evidence.

What then is the true balance of evidence on climate change?

Fact is that the most recent survey of thousands of Earth scientists around the world revealed a 97 per cent agreement with the proposition that human activity is a contributor to climate change. This peer-reviewed study clarifies that the present “debate” about climate change is not actually a debate within the relevant scientific community.

Fact is that a recent analysis of nearly 1,000 peer reviewed publications by a prominent historian of science revealed no disagreement with the view that climate change is happening and is caused by human CO2 emissions. If each of those publications were presented on a poster, as is common at scientific conferences, the line of posters would stretch across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and back again. Yes, there are a few dissenting papers that have appeared in refereed journals — but to date none have withstood subsequent scrutiny.

Fact is that there is a strong scientific consensus on climate change and its human-made causes that is exhaustively summarised in the nearly 3,000 pages of the most recent IPCC report that draws on more than 18,000 sources. Tellingly, the lone error about Himalayan glaciers on page 493 of the contribution from Working Group 2 was brought to the public’s attention by … an IPCC lead author!

Anyone can experience this scientific consensus hands-on in a few seconds: Google “climate change” and you get nearly 60 million hits. Now go to the menu labelled “more” at the top, pull it down and choose the “scholar” option. 58 million hits disappear. The remaining scientific information will get you in touch with the reality on this planet, in the same way that applying the “scholar” filter after googling “sex” eliminates 500 million porn sites and leaves you with civilised discourse about sexuality.

Does this indubitable scientific consensus guarantee that the evidence concerning climate change is necessarily irrefutable?

No.

As with any other scientific fact, new evidence may come to light that can overturn established theories. Two core principles of science are scepticism and falsifiability — that is, scientific facts must be subject to sceptical examination and they must be refutable in principle. New evidence may overturn the current view that HIV causes AIDS, and new evidence may revise our expectation that gravity will have adverse consequences for those who jump off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Likewise, new evidence may force a revision of our understanding of climate change.

It is however utterly inconceivable that the current scientific consensus about climate change will be overturned by conspiracy theories that are inversions of reality.

It is utterly inconceivable that the consensus on climate change will be weakened by mendacious misrepresentations in the media that fail to accurately represent the strength of scientific evidence.

It is utterly inconceivable that all the arguments against climate change that have been falsified multiple times will rise from the dead and overturn scientific knowledge.

Instead, the very fact that many of the roughly 100 falsified “sceptic” talking points are continually reiterated in public draws a clear dividing line between healthy scepticism and arrogant denialism.

Sceptics seek answers and scrutinise arguments before accepting the current state of scientific knowledge as fact. Denialists dismiss sound arguments, solid data, and experimental evidence in favour of propositions that have long been shown to be flawed.

The world’s pre-eminent scientific journal, Nature, therefore refers to those who cling to long-debunked pseudo-scientific conspiracy theories while dismissing the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed studies by their true label — denialists.

The potentially devastating consequences of denialism are brought into sharp focus by the sad history of South Africa’s AIDS policies. Despite having one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infections, the government of President Thabo Mbeki went against consensus scientific opinion 10 years ago and declined anti-retroviral drugs, preferring instead to treat AIDS with garlic and beetroot. Politicians even accused a leading South African immunologist of defending Western science and its “racist ideas” for his insistence on scientific treatment methods. According to a recent peer-reviewed Harvard study, this denialism cost the lives of more than 330,000 South Africans.

For that, President Mbeki and his associates are now held in richly deserved contempt around the world.

Precisely the same fate awaits denialists of climate change.

The laws of physics will relentlessly assert themselves, unswayed by public opinion, political shenanigans, or elections. Ultimately, the laws of physics will speak so loudly that no amount of wishful thinking can prevent them from being heard; but because any delay in taking action against climate change will increase the human and financial burden on future generations, it is our responsibility now to cease tolerating lies, misrepresentations, puerile accusations, and conspiracy theories that are unworthy of public discourse in a mature democracy.

Many spirited conversations about climate change can be had that examine the likely consequences for Australia and evaluate the best course of action — but those conversations must be firmly rooted in the core scientific principles of scepticism and falsifiability and they must not be contaminated by ignorance and denialism.

Stephan Lewandowsky is a Winthrop Professor and an Australian Professorial Fellow at the University of Western Australia.

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Where deniers fear to tread.

I usually don’t visit climate denier blogs because quite frankly, the vast majority of them are just cut and paste jobs of the same old garbage. They keep posting non-science from the same old credibility-free clowns like his royal highness “Lord” Monkton, Anthony Watts, Bob Carter, Pat Michaels, James Delingpole and various others. The overwhelming thing I notice is the over reliance of these various denier blogs on propaganda to try and support their argument. Very rarely do they actually report anything that actually counters the AGW hypothesis on a scientific basis. Don’t get me wrong, they show plenty of graphs of cherrypicked data and plenty of mined quotes taken out of context but thats about it.

One area of research that you will never see mentioned in denier blogs, is that of range shifts in various species caused directly by human induced climate change and global warming. On this blogsite I have highlighted a number of randomly picked studies plus provided a list of peer reviewed papers on this topic. This list is just a mere drop in the ocean of course.

In 2008, there was a seminal paper published in the the highly esteemed journal Nature. This massive study by Rosenzweig et al has found unequivocably that human induced climate change and global warming is responsible for the vast majority of range shifts in so many species. The species included plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, insects, fungi and bacteria. But how many species are we talking about here? Well after excluding data sets where land use change or other factors could have played a part, the researchers report that of the 29500 data series they analysed, more than 90% had shifted their range as a direct response to climate change. Each data series were for periods exceeding 20 years and patterns were analysed using multiple statistical techniques.

My challenge to any deniers that might be reading this is to go to the paper, obtain a full text copy and try and debunk it. Try and be scientific. Good luck.

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