Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


The cli­mate change hoax tested

pub­lished 18 Decem­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 18 Decem­ber 2016

Trig­gered by recent events, such as the pres­i­dency elec­tion in the USA and the Mar­rakech Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence, I just needed to see if con­vinc­ing evi­dence is avail­able on this cli­mate change issue or that it is indeed a Chi­nese hoax. The open let­ter pub­lished by 375 con­cerned sci­en­tists and the over­whelm­ing sci­en­tific evi­dence about the ongo­ing cli­mate change they bring for­ward should be con­vinc­ing enough of course. But I wanted to see how easy the accu­mu­lat­ing evi­dence can be found in pub­licly avail­able resources and pub­lished within the last 30 day period – just because I don’t like to be overwhelmed.

First of all I focussed on the seri­ous news sources, because every­body knows by now that face­book should be avoided when you engage in an effort such as mine. Although face­book con­ve­niently blocks dis­sent­ing views, which is always good when you want to con­vince your­self that your view is cor­rect, it also pro­vides fake news.

Well, it turned out that my sim­ple quest deliv­ered five arti­cles in just a few min­utes, and all of them under­pin the con­cept of ongo­ing cli­mate change.

On 16 Novem­ber the New Sci­en­tist brings the story of tens of thou­sands of rein­deer in Arc­tic Rus­sia starved to death in 2006 and 2013 because of unusual weather linked to global warm­ing. Both in 2006 and 2013 sea ice retreated and unsea­son­ally warm tem­per­a­tures con­tributed to heavy rain­fall. The rains led to a layer of ice of sev­eral tens of cen­time­tres thick, in con­trast to the spo­radic ice cover the rein­deer expe­ri­ence in ‘nor­mal’ cir­cum­stances. The thick ice couldn’t be smashed by the rein­deer, so they couldn’t reach the usual food sup­ply of lichen and other veg­e­ta­tion. About 20,000 and 61,000 rein­deer starved to death in 2006 and 2013 respec­tively. This year researchers are afraid of another one of those famines, because Sep­tem­ber saw the second-​lowest level of sea-​ice cover on record in the Arctic.

Greenland decline ice massThe Green­land ice sheet con­tin­ued to lose mass in 2016, as it has since 2002 when satellite-​based mea­sure­ment began. Melt­ing began the sec­ond ear­li­est in the 37-​year record of obser­va­tions, close to the record set in 2012. Graphic shows Green­land ice sheet mass each month since April 2002.
(Cli​mate​.gov; data pro­vided by Marco Tedesco/​Lamont-​Doherty)

Per­haps not that con­vinc­ing yet, but it shows not only polar bears are suf­fer­ing as Arc­tic sea ice retreats. Polar bears made the head­lines a few times by the way within my search win­dow. Research find­ings pub­lished on 7 Decem­ber in the jour­nal Biol­ogy Let­ters unfor­tu­nately sup­port the poten­tial for large declines in polar bear num­bers caused by cli­mate change due to sea-​ice loss. This effect of cli­mate change on polar bear pop­u­la­tion fea­tures in the NASA pub­li­ca­tion of 12 Decem­ber which high­lights how detailed satel­lite remote sens­ing have facil­i­tated eco­log­i­cal stud­ies of change over time. When land­scape con­di­tion reflect the impact it has on species such as deer, moun­tain lion and polar bear, the map­ping of the land­scape by satel­lite images is much more afford­able and there­fore sen­si­ble to give or fore­cast the pop­u­la­tion size of the mam­mals at stake. Mea­sur­ing deer, for instance, is logis­ti­cally dif­fi­cult, haz­ardous and very expen­sive, let alone moun­tain lions or polar bears.

If you are still in doubt about the Arc­tic sea ice retreat and the long-​term Arc­tic warm­ing trends the fol­low­ing short video from NOAA’s Arc­tic Pro­gram is dis­ap­point­ingly sober­ing. Obser­va­tions reported in the 2016 update of the Arc­tic Report Card show a con­tin­u­a­tion of the warm­ing trends and that loss of sea ice are trig­ger­ing exten­sive Arc­tic changes.

But it is not only the Arc­tic region that is under threat. Extinc­tions related to cli­mate change have already hap­pened in hun­dreds of plant and ani­mal species around the world, accord­ing to an arti­cle pub­lished on 8 Decem­ber in the open-​access jour­nal PLOS Biol­ogy. It shows that local extinc­tions have already occurred in 47% of the 976 plant and ani­mal species stud­ied. These extinc­tions will almost cer­tainly become much more wide­spread over time, because tem­per­a­tures are pre­dicted to increase by an addi­tional 1 to 5 degrees in the next sev­eral decades. These world­wide local extinc­tions could also extend to species that humans depend on for food and resources. Per­haps more fright­en­ing is that the results showed that local extinc­tions var­ied by region and were almost twice as com­mon among trop­i­cal species as among tem­per­ate species. This is impor­tant as the major­ity of plant and ani­mal species live in the trop­ics, and when bio­di­ver­sity is threat­ened on such a large scale the ecosys­tems and the ser­vices they sup­ply are threatened.

When you want to see this cli­mate change in action the Time­lapse fea­ture on Google Earth Engine is worth the expe­ri­ence. I added below the changes over time (19842016) of the Colum­bia glac­ier in Alaska, but you can explore the tool your­self or check out the YouTube time­lapse tour that Google has made available.

Any­way, evi­dence of the ongo­ing cli­mate change is read­ily avail­able in renown and respected resources, includ­ing U.S. gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions, for every­body – even for the President-​elect of the USA biggrin.

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.


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