March 23, 2011

Global Greening Continues: Did We Cause It?

You know the story. Humans are burning fossil fuels and because of their actions, the world is now warming at an unprecedented pace. This warming is stressing ecosystems throughout the world with devastating consequences to vegetation from one end of the earth to the other. If we do not act fast, we will destroy the planet and have a tough time facing our grandchildren. We can all hear it now—why didn’t you do something when there was still time to save the Earth?

Two articles have appeared recently in the scientific literature with results that may make us reconsider this entire affair. The first appears in the Journal of Geographical Sciences dealing with worldwide trends in the vigor of vegetation since the early 1980s—the results may surprise you, but they did not surprise us given all that has been written on this subject and certainly covered at World Climate Report.

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February 18, 2011

Coral Reefs Expand As the Oceans Warm

Filed under: Adaptation, Animals, Plants

Hold onto your hats, this will come as quite a shock.

Well, not really—unless you count yourself among that pessimistic bunch who sport blinders that only allow you to see bad things from global warming. And if you are one of those poor souls, you better stop reading now, because we wouldn’t want reality to impinge on your guarded (and distorted) view of the world.

But for the rest of us, the following news will fit nicely into the world view that the earth’s ecosystems and are robust, adaptable and opportunistic, as opposed to being fragile, readily broken, and soon to face extinction at the hand of anthropogenic climate change.

A hot-off-the-presses paper in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters by a team of Japanese scientists finds that warming oceans expand the range of tropical corals northward along the coast of Japan. At the same time, the corals are remaining stable at the southern end of their ranges.

That’s right. Corals are adapting to climate change and expanding, not contracting.

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January 17, 2011

Fight the Flu with More CO2

Filed under: Adaptation, Plants

Like it or not, winter is here and with it comes the dreaded cold/flu season. We have heard it since we were kids—wash your hands, get plenty of rest, avoid folks who are already sick, and drink lots of orange juice to maintain higher levels of vitamin C. We are skeptical of just about everything, and if one seriously addresses the issue of vitamin C reducing the misery of having the flu, be advised that some studies in adults have shown that taking high doses of vitamin C daily may significantly reduce cold and flu symptoms. Other studies have seen a modest benefit in reducing the duration of a cold or flu symptoms, and a few studies in adults and children have shown that taking vitamin C might help prevent colds or flu, although the research is inconsistent.

It ultimately does not matter whether vitamin C can or cannot prevent or ease cold and flu symptoms, because it offers numerous health benefits when consumed through eating enough fruits and vegetables (3 or more cups per day). Plus, vitamin C acts as a cell-protecting antioxidant and an immune booster, which means it will help keep you healthy anyway—even if it is not a magic elixir for colds and flu specifically. Just remember to sidestep the supplements and stick to whole foods—especially vitamin C-rich foods such as strawberries, oranges, sweet red peppers, and broccoli—when you want to make sure you or your child gets enough of this powerful nutrient.

Given all the biological benefits of elevated atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), we wondered if we could be so lucky to have CO2 increase the vitamin C of various fruits. Our search for an answer ended quickly when we discovered an article in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment entitled “The effect of elevated atmospheric CO2 on the vitamin C concentration of (sour) orange juice.”

And while this study may be a bit of an oldie (published in 2002), the results are such a goodie, that we couldn’t resist dusting them off and shining them up!

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January 6, 2011

Pumpin’ Up Pineapples!

Filed under: Adaptation, Agriculture, Plants

Winter is here for most Americans and doesn’t a trip to Hawaii sound perfect over the upcoming months? Sun, beaches, tropical drinks garnished with pineapple, pineapple at breakfast, pineapple on pizza, pineapple on hamburgers… pineapple here, there, and everywhere. Somehow a trip to Hawaii without pineapple just wouldn’t be a trip to Hawaii, would it?

Turns out a little extra carbon dioxide in the air will add to your experience as the extra CO2 boosts productivity of those perfect-with-anything pineapples from our Pacific paradise.

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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 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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November 30, 2010

CO2 is Sustenance for Seaweed

Filed under: Adaptation, Plants

Americans continue to fall in love with sushi—even the smallest towns far away from metropolitan areas somehow are providing tasty bits of sushi to local customers. Sushi has gone from upscale and trendy to a popular and substantial component of American’s food intake. From fast food sushi to high-end restaurants to sushi at the ballpark, sushi is now everywhere!

Many of the items at a sushi restaurant contain any number of varieties of seaweed, and several days ago, someone asked us if seaweed benefits from elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2). We promised to look into the question and found several articles in leading journals that bring us all good news about the future of seaweed plants we love to eat.

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November 24, 2010

Let’s Give Thanks for CO2

Filed under: Adaptation, Agriculture, Plants

As Americans sit down on Thursday and give thanks for the food on their table, hopefully many will say a good word for enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as much of the foodstuff filling their plates will have benefited from the anthropogenically-elevated CO2 levels in the air.

And even if we don’t produce the food ourselves, we contribute to the growth of crops around the world through emissions of CO2 whenever we use energy derived from fossil fuels—a large component of the energy that we use to power our daily lives.

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November 1, 2010

Quaking Aspen Rejoice

Filed under: Adaptation, Plants

The fall is here again, and deciduous trees across America are putting on their annual display of fall colors. Americans are particularly fond of Quaking Aspen trees that really know how to put on a show in the fall with leaves turning spectacular tints of red and yellow in the autumn. The range of Quaking Aspen is extensive in North America including many picturesque locations in the Rockies (makes us think about John Denver). The tree appear to quake (shake, quiver) due to the unusual architecture of the leaves that makes them move a bit even in the lightest of winds. Aside from putting on a great show in the fall, Aspen wood is white and soft, but fairly strong, and has low flammability. Accordingly, it is used to make matches, packing and stuffing materials, animal bedding, and even serves as a popular material for the interior of saunas.

Two articles have appeared recently in major journals showing us that Quaking Aspen cannot wait for higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations.

Figure 1. Range of the Quaking Aspen.

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September 30, 2010

Sweet News for Maple Syrup

Filed under: Adaptation, Agriculture, Plants

We conducted a web search for “Global Warming and Maple Syrup” and found over 150,000 sites – almost all proclaim that the maple syrup industry is in deep peril given the threat of global warming. This must surely be seen as bad news for all those who enjoy maple syrup on waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, crumpets, and French toast (and in any number of desserts as well). Before you think this threat is less than serious, be aware that maple syrup is big business in New England and in Canada.

But, as with most things you read about on the majority of websites, the fate of maple syrup turns out to be not nearly as bad as portrayed. In fact, the future may be even better for maple syrup production than the past.

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