March 28, 2008

The red, red Koyapigaktoruk comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Arctic, Polar

One of the most well-known and beloved harbingers of spring is the appearance of our feathered friend, the red-breasted robin. And as is the case with virtually every other cute species, it is the subject of climate change speculation from time to time. But in the robin’s case, it doesn’t surround global warming pushing the robin to extinction. Quite the contrary, global warming is expanding the robin’s range into never-before-seen-territory.

How is this bad news, you may wonder? Well the creative minds behind the global-warming-makes-all-things-worse mantra must have been working overtime, but finally, they did manage to come with a good one—the appearance of robins in high northerly latitudes is a sign the global warming is impinging upon the Earth’s sacred Arctic regions, and robbing them of their uniqueness. Case and point, there is no Eskimo word for ‘robin.’

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February 14, 2008

Few French Fried in 2006

In the history of global warming scare stories, the 2003 European heat wave was a landmark event—it was the first time that a rash of human deaths were specifically linked to global warming. Many of you probably recall that a widespread exceptionally hot and dry spell hit Western Europe in August, 2003. Depending on how you count the bodies, up to 35,000 people suffered premature death during this heat wave with the lions-share occurring in France, which happened to be heat wave ground zero. Subsequent research demonstrated that this kind of extreme heat event must surely have been caused by increased greenhouse gas levels (Schår et al., 2004), despite the fact that, when examined from a global perspective, this heat wave was very Euro-centric (Chase et al., 2006), and the last time we checked a map, western Europe doesn’t cover much of the globe (which of course is the reason for centuries of European colonialism).

Well, we bet you didn’t know that there was a very comparable heat wave in France in summer, 2006. Why no headlines about global warming’s increasing death toll? In the category of “all the news that’s apparently not fit to print,” you guessed it, many fewer people died. The 2006 heat wave is the subject of a recent paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology by a group of French researchers led by A. Fouillet entitled, “Has the impact of heat waves on mortality changed in France since the European heat wave of summer 2003? A study of the 2006 heat wave.”

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December 12, 2007

More on Polar Bears

We’ve been talking ‘til we’re blue in the face about how the very existence of polar bears today is the strongest evidence possible that they should manage, as a species (although some individual populations may struggle), to hold their own in a warming climate. Why is this? Because their existence today is proof that they survived long periods of time (many thousands of years on end), when the climate of their Arctic habitat was warmer (and thus likely more ice-free) than conditions are now, and will be into the future.

But, in case you were withholding final judgment until you heard it from someone else, well, here you go:

Ancient polar bear jawbone found

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News, San Francisco
Monday, December 10, 2007

What may be the oldest known remains of a polar bear have been uncovered on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic.

The jawbone was pulled from sediments that suggest the specimen is perhaps 110,000 or 130,000 years old.

Professor Olafur Ingolfsson from the University of Iceland says tests show it was an adult, possibly a female.

The find is a surprise because polar bears are a relatively new species, with one study claiming they evolved less than 100,000 years ago.

If the Svalbard jawbone’s status is confirmed, and further discoveries can show the iconic Arctic beasts have a deeper evolutionary heritage, then the outlook for the animals may be more positive than some believe.

“We have this specimen that confirms the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago, and this basically means that the polar bear has already survived one interglacial period,” explained Professor Ingolfsson.

And what’s interesting about that is that the Eeemian - the last interglacial - was much warmer than the Holocene (the present).

“This is telling us that despite the ongoing warming in the Arctic today, maybe we don’t have to be quite so worried about the polar bear. That would be very encouraging.”

So there. We’re not the only ones who think that polar bears are quite adaptable, and stand more than a good chance of surviving a warming climate—a feat that they have demonstrated on previous occasions. Will this new finding by Professor Ingolfsson put folks’ minds at ease and quiet the talk of the bears’ imminent extinction? Hardly. After all, the ultimate goal of such talk is not the survival of the polar bear, but the restriction of mankind’s activites on earth. And such fervent desire is not easily doused.




October 1, 2007

Back When All News Wasn’t Bad

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Extinctions, Plants

In 1996, Camille Parmesan published a paper in Nature magazine that supposedly was the first documentation that animal species (in this case Edith’s Checkerspot Butterflies) were shifting there range because of presumably anthropogenic climate changes. Parmesan told the New York Times, “I cannot say that climate warming has caused the shift; what I can say is that it is exactly what is predicted by global warming scenarios…”

Parmesan went on to look at additional species and her work, and other studies like hers that document shifting species ranges as the climate warms, are treated as “blockbusters” when the appear, most often in the world’s most prestigious scientific journals such as Science and Nature. These are accompanied by press releases and widespread media coverage that undoubtedly reverberates with the (mock?) horror of environmentalists worldwide. In fact, some studies have even taken the shifting-range-is-bad concept a step further, projecting that a quarter to a third of all the world’s species will be extinct in 50 years. The lead author of one such study published in Nature magazine, British University of Leeds’ Chris Thomas, told the Washington Post, “We’re not talking about the occasional extinction—we’re talking about 1.25 million species. It’s a massive number.”

Time and time again we at World Climate Report counter that the earth’s climate is normally quite variable, and if the earth’s plants and animals were not able to shift their behaviors and viable ranges there would be quite a few less of them on the world today (a category that probably includes the species homo sapiens as well). So plants and animals responding to climate change is hardly unexpected or catastrophic—what would be potentially catastrophic would be the exact opposite situation, that is, if plants and animals were not shifting as the climate varied.

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July 24, 2007

Polar Bears: Times is on their side

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Arctic, Polar

The New York Times sets the stage for a new movie, scheduled to open in the coming weeks, called “Arctic Tale” – a fictitious account of the struggle of polar bears and walruses against a changing climate. In his July 23, 2007 article “Cooking Up a Fable on Melting Ice” Andy Revkin describes how, using footage filmed over the course of several years, filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson, assembled a story “exploring challenges facing polar bears and walruses, two familiar denizens of the icy, but warming, seas at the top of the world.”

The idea is to create a “new genre of wildlife adventure movies” composed of scenes of wild animals coping with trials and tribulations of the real world and its constantly changing conditions. The movie is apparently geared towards the same folks who lined up to see the likes of pseudo-documentaries like “An Inconvenient Truth” and “March of the Penguins” – the former being all about climate change, while the latter went light on the subject. “Arctic Tale” sounds like it will be somewhere in between.

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May 2, 2007

Arctic Ice and Polar Bears

A new study looking at observed and projected rates of Arctic sea ice loss concludes that the Arctic oceans are losing ice faster than expected considering anthropogenic greenhouse effect changes alone (or, alternatively, our expectations are in error). But before anyone goes off and starts pointing to the imminent demise to polar bears… oops, too late…

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December 20, 2006

Some Good News for Christmas–Reptile and Butterflies Flourishing

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals

How many times have you seen articles in newspapers about global warming causing the extinction of some frog, toad, lizard, butterfly, or you name it, specie? If today’s newspaper doesn’t contain such an article, Google “Global Warming and Extinction” and enjoy over two million sites. Repeatedly, if you see “Global Warming” and any specie in the title of an article, heaven help members of that specie, right?

What is odd is that literally thousands of professional journal articles show that virtually all plants benefit from elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels with or without any increase in temperature. With all the goodness in the world of flora, why do the fauna of the planetary ecosystem seem so vulnerable? The dirty secret is that the literature is full of articles showing the animal kingdom benefiting from changes that are underway.

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December 19, 2006

A Christmas Caribou Story

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals

Santa has his sleigh pulled and magically flown each year by Rudolph and his reindeer buddies, but Santa could just as easily select the local caribou for the same job. Given that global warming is expected to impact high latitude locations of the Northern Hemisphere more than the rest of the world, one might fairly asked how the herds of animals of Santa’s world are coping with the elevated carbon dioxide levels.

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December 12, 2006

Global Warming Good for Mediterranean Tits?

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals

When some people think of a trip to the Mediterranean, they think there is a good chance to see a wide variety of tits, and for those of you interested in global warming, you might fairly wonder how climate change in the Mediterranean might change this situation. Well, you are in luck given an article in the most recent issue of Global Change Biology that specifically addresses potential climate impacts on Mediterranean tits. There are certainly many tits to study in that region, and there is no doubt that any change in climate could have an impact on their characteristics. To us at World Climate Report, this sounds like an important issue and we applaud any effort to explore climate change and tits throughout the planet.

An international team of tit experts from France, Belgium, and Canada note that “Climate change over the past century has had important ecological consequences, but predictions concerning the impact of future climate change on biodiversity remain subject to large uncertainties.” As tits are hardly confined to the Mediterranean, this work could provide insights into tit response in many other regions. World Climate Report has focused on tits in the past (see our story “Great tit watching in the British Isles” for more details), and we eagerly awaited the publication of this important manuscript.

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September 11, 2006

Climate Science Abuzz over Fly Genetics

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals

(alternative title: Bad News for Future Bananas)

So what do you think? Is it good news that a species adapts to climate change or not? Given that evolution is a fact, should it even be news at all? Or should some nice, cuddly species adapt (e.g., koala bears, owls, baby seals) but not others (e.g., Colorado potato beetles, hissing cockroaches)?

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