December 21, 2010

Happier Holidays From CO2

Filed under: Adaptation, Plants

Our Thanksgiving edition of World Climate Report—in which we searched through our archives and highlighted the articles that illustrated the benefits that elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have on your Thanksgiving feast—turned out to be quite a hit, coming in as one of our more popular issues this year. So for Christmas, we thought we’d reprise the Thanksgiving story with a twist—this time, we’ll review how CO2 helps to make your Christmas holiday just a bit merrier!

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December 13, 2010

A Frog Revival

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals

About 15 to 20 years ago, folks began to notice problems in amphibian communities around the world. At first, physical deformities were being noticed and then large population declines were being documented.

The finger was initially pointed at the coal industry, with an idea that perhaps mercury was leading to the deformities. But this didn’t pan out. Next, farm practices came under fire, as excess fertilizer running off into farm ponds became the leading suspect. But that theory didn’t hold water either. Then, attention turned to the ozone hole, with the idea that increased ultraviolet radiation was killing the frogs. No luck there either.

Then came the Eureka moment—aha, it must be global warming!

This played to widespread audiences, received beaucoup media attention and, of course, found its way into Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

But, alas, this theory, too, wilted under the harsh glare of science, as new research has now pretty definitively linked an infection of the chytrid fungus to declines, and even local extinctions, of frog and toad species around the world.

Perhaps the biggest irony in all of this, is that while researchers fell all over themselves to link anthropogenic environmental impacts to the frog declines, turns out that as they traipsed through the woods and rainforests to study the frogs, the researchers themselves quite possibly helped spread the chytrid fungus to locations and populations where it had previously been absent.

Now a bit good—although hardly unexpected—news is coming out of the frog research studies. Some frog populations in various parts of the world are not only recovering, but also showing signs of increased resistance—gained through adaptation and/or evolution—to the chytrid fungus.

Thus opens a new chapter in the ongoing Disappearing Frog saga, and one that likely foretells of a hoppy ending.

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December 8, 2010

CO2-induced Vegetation Growth Slows Global Warming

Filed under: Adaptation, Climate Models, Plants

We are continually deluged with talk about positive feedbacks leading to even higher levels of global warming, but aside from the great water vapor debate, we rarely hear much about negative feedbacks which could act to slow the rate of temperature rise.

Well that is about to change.

A new study has identified a negative feedback between carbon dioxide-enhanced vegetative growth and global warming—the denser that vegetation becomes, the greater the cooling influence it has on any global temperature rise. The enhanced vegetation doesn’t offset all of the projected warming, but a sizeable chunk of it—13% globally, 20% over land areas, and more than 50% over the eastern United States. And this negative feedback is not included in current climate models.

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December 7, 2010

Another Reason to Love Global Warming: Great Tits Out Earlier in the Year

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals

You read the title right, the great tit watching season is lengthening because of global warming.

This has been documented in a new scientific study which finds that rising temperatures are causing tits, both great and blue, to come out earlier and earlier in the year.

Now, before our InBox gets flooded with emails asking how to sign up for this kind of research, the tits that are being studied are of the feathered variety—the bird species Parus major (the great tit) and Cyanistes caeruleus (the blue tit).

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