Periodic droughts, even if non-fatal, will certainly not promote carbon uptake while trees are not actively growing. I wonder too if areas of relative dryness might become attractive to farmers and loggers, since the drier forests would be more easily accessed by heavy equipment for more days during the year. If these rainfall patterns persist long enough for people on the ground to take advantage, it could well direct human activity toward those areas and accelerate their demise via exploitation, just as if the rainfall had actually stopped and the trees had died in place for that reason. The overlap in climate and economic models might be more important than either acting alone.
Many thanks, Gavin, for finding this. I looked hard and didn’t find it by searching the web myself earlier.
A couple of questions (I also emailed these to the contact link at the research page, with a pointer to this discussion, hoping someone from there will contribute).
The panels at ground level “diverted 6′ of water.” What was the total rainfall in the area? With the visible gaps between panels, some would certainly get to the ground. Knowing total rainfall would tell us what portion was diverted.
Is there any way to estimate how much water the trees absorb from their leaves, since the leaves got full exposure to rainfall? (Maybe a radioactive tracer….)
The experiment and control plots are quite close together and the website for the study does report the trees drew from quite deep underground, so again groundwater levels would not be at 100 percent drought condition.
These may be trivial amounts — I can’t guess — but I question whether this can be called a simulation of a 100 percent deficit/complete drought. It may well be close enough, and certainly they demonstrate a dramatic difference.
This info is probably available, I just didn’t find it.
I realize it’s impossible to do a ‘perfect’ experiment — to tent the canopy and block all rainfall!
I’d point out that both the “good” and “not so good” articles that you linked to are reprints of articles that originally appeared together, in the same issue of The Independent.
With regard to comment #2, in which Jim Torson wonders “what the Woods Hole Research Center folks have to say about these articles discussing their research.”
The “good” article says that Dr. Dan Nepstead, the Woods Hole experimenter, “expects [emphasis added] ‘mega-fires’ rapidly to sweep across the drying jungle. With the trees gone, the soil will bake in the sun and the rainforest could become desert.”
It also quotes forest ecologist Dr Deborah Clark from the University of Missouri as saying “the research shows that ‘the lock has broken’ on the Amazon ecosystem” and that “the Amazon is ‘headed in a terrible direction'”.
And the “not so good” article notes:
So far about a fifth of the Amazonian rainforest has been razed completely. Another 22 per cent has been harmed by logging, allowing the sun to penetrate to the forest floor drying it out. And if you add these two figures together, the total is growing perilously close to 50 per cent, which computer models predict as the “tipping point” that marks the death of the Amazon.
The models did not expect this to happen until 2050. But, says Dr Nobre [of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research], “what was predicted for 2050, may have begun to happen in 2005.” Nobody knows when the crucial threshold will be passed, but growing numbers of scientists believe that it is coming ever closer.
I don’t really see any exaggeration or misrepresentation in either article. It appears to me that this situation is certainly a candidate for one of the most grave and imminent consequences of global warming (plus deforestation) that we can see actually happening today.
Your article warns of a possible shift in the ITCZ, which could, in future, dry up parts of the Amazon. A separate concern, highighted in the media and by some NGOs, is that both clear-cutting and selective logging could be responsible for the present drought, and threaten a breakdown of the rainfall system. One report I saw suggested that 40% of the rainfall over Brazil is ‘recycled’ via evapotranspiration from the Amazon forest. The fear is that progressive logging itself will lead to a tipping point beyond which the forest is no longer dense and large enough to recycle enough rain to survive. This sounds pretty persuasive to me. Obviously, it’s not an either or question, since ever faster deforestationa and global warming are happening at the same time.
Is there any indication that the last 1-1.5 years of extreme drought in part of Amazonia may already be linked to forest and canopy loss, and not just to the recent movement of the ITCZ?
Lately I have been thinking about forests, having lived and worked decades in one on our land in the sometimes fog belt of CA, though our place has seen in some locations both forest type conversion, and outright clearing for various purposes related to anthropogenic pursuits of livelihood by means of livestock rearing, crop production, and domicile construction.
Having resided and worked intrinsically in this environ many years I notice looking out the valley, as it becomes populated by an augmentation factor of doubling every decade, that forest cover along these slopes actually seems to have various qualities: old stands harbor deep shadow; younger stands when one walks beneath their canopies, seem to have drier surface temperature, as if logging has induced some distant relative of desertification.
I have been looking on the web for more information about how logging and vegetation type conversion under anthropogenic management routines actually might affect future plant environments; needless to say, much information is available, such as that concerning erosion. But, having visited RealClimate.org a lot in the past few years, I have begun searching for a more macro view; a way to interpret best practices of land stewardship with an eye to climate change. I wonder if some visitors here have found websites with monographs on these kinds of impacts. I am looking for the factually and statistically dense scientific studies.
After reviewing recent occurrences in the Congo rainforest, it was quite a coincidence to find RealClimate.org is pondering similarly forested land in Amazon.
I appreciate the links in your article.
I got interested in the drought last October and managed to put together a small collection of images which you can find on my blog if you want.
I am commenting here because of the hard time I had following the issue at the time armed only with Google. The best news source I found is http://www.amazonia.org.br but they tend not to carry photographs and it is almost entirely in Portuguese. If you are aware of any aggregated sites on the subject (in any language) I would appreciate hearing.
You probably know Island Press already but perhaps others don’t (one of their locations is Covelo). It’s the best I’ve found so far, looking for the same thing you are. I’d love to see a single forum somewhere, I don’t know of one.
“The overlap in climate and economic models might be more important than either acting alone.”
cat black has touched on a most fundamental principle. Climate change has and will have an inconceivable number of effects which extend outside the scope of purely climate models, but the effects of which are and will be real enough.
I think I’ve gleaned from this site that (without the professional hair splitting) climate is not “chaotic”, but is an immensely complicated system, difficult to model accurately.
Drop the worlds eco-system and humans (with everything that implies) into the mix and the system can only be quintessentially chaotic. This is what’s known as the real world. A nightmare for the computer modeller, but many normally functioning brains have managed to join up the dots and glimpse what the bottom line is….not a pretty sight!
The news about the drying effect in the Amazon has been in the news for about 7 years now. Basically, as the eastern third of the Amazon drys there is less and less precipitation over the rest of the forest, culminating in extreme negative feedback cycles. Now the research has proven what was well known a long time ago, namely that the Amazon is drying and dying. Of course the Republican Congress and the executive branch are again failing to address the problem. Just another sad chapter in Steuart Brand’s “clock of the long now”.
… the observed sensitivity of large canopy trees in the forest to drought is greater than expected … This sensitivity of large trees to drought means that a decline in rainfall will likely push this tall, green, lush rainforest towards a shorter, more stunted forest … As the forest becomes shorter and its leaf canopy more open, compromising its remarkable resistance to fire, it is clear that drought in tandem with fire can swiftly push the tall, dense rainforests of the region towards savanna scrub. The amount of carbon that could be released to the atmosphere by this savannization process is significant “equivalent to several years of worldwide carbon emissions” and could accelerate climate change processes already in place.
That’s pretty alarming, especially when considered in the context of other positive feedbacks including changes in albedo from melting icecaps and release of carbon and methane from thawing permafrost.
Over what time period might this savannization process release carbon “equivalent to several years of worldwide carbon emissions”, and how does that affect the assessment offered by Gore, Hansen and others that we have perhaps ten years in which to substantially reduce CO2 emissions to avoid irreversible catastrophic warming?
The vast Amazon rainforest is on the brink of being turned into desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world’s climate, alarming research suggests. And the process, which would be irreversible, could begin as early as next year.
Studies by the blue-chip Woods Hole Research Centre, carried out in Amazonia, have concluded that the forest cannot withstand more than two consecutive years of drought without breaking down.
Scientists say that this would spread drought into the northern hemisphere, including Britain, and could massively accelerate global warming with incalculable consequences, spinning out of control, a process that might end in the world becoming uninhabitable.
I call it ridiculous – and I would be less polite, but you’d censor me :-)
You may not have realised that the first story was also in the Independent, that bastion of reasonable reporting that also brought us “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable” Lovelock. The same Independent that was (rightly IMO) singled out as one of the worst “climate pron” offenders (mis-spelling to get round the spamblock!). There’s more discussion of that article here and subsequently.
BTW, I’d be interested to hear your view of the BBC “expert panel” (see here) that decided that Lovelock’s prediction of a 3-5C “likely” rise in temperature by 2100 was correct, and that a rise of 8C was merely “less likely”. When septics say equally silly stuff you are all over them like a rash.
[Response: Well I guess I meant better. The second article was definitely not-so-good and comparitively the first seemed reasonable, since it was actually reporting mostly what Nepstead actually said. However, I certainly agree with the paragraphs you highlighted are quite poor. I was aware that these were paired articles but the links to the paper are subscription only and so I used the mirror sites so that people could read them. You should however distinguish Lovelock’s op-ed piece from the reporting – there is a difference, even in the UK – gavin]
Combined with 1997 lack of hurricanes (coinciding with the most recent really big El-Nino). This drought may be a precursor to a major El-Nino, surely exacerbated by GW, since there was a drought last year without an El-Nino.
Re: 13 — “Are you referring to the American govt? Last time I checked, Brazil was an independent country. I don’t think the US Congress dictates to Brazil.”
The US accounts for a grossly disproportionate amount (per capita) of anthropogenic green house gas emisisons. Brazil has far less influence on a migration of the ITCZ than the US does. I think it is perfectly appropriate to chastize the US for its obstruction and obfuscation on AGW in a discussion of threats to the Amazon rainforest.
Re #3 “Is there any way to estimate how much water the trees absorb from their leaves, since the leaves got full exposure to rainfall? (Maybe a radioactive tracer….)”
I’d be surprised if any water is absorbed across the leaves. Rain forest trees are famous for their adaptations for shedding water (e.g., waxy surface and drip tips), which probably reduces fungal infections. Bromeliads and other “tank” plants that trap water (and insects) do seem to absorb nutrients from the trapped water, so perhaps they also absorb some of the water itself. But, trees leaves – I suspect this is insignificant, if it occurs at all.
“Some trees … even have feeder roots on their canopy branches … to tap the nutrients trapped in epiphytes–a sort of rental on real estate used by the epiphyte! Some trees have deep tap or sinker roots but these are probably only to stabilise the tree and not to absorb water or nutrients.”
Not much else though, and I did find the mention of waxy leaves and drip tips. Six feet of rain seems around the minimum for a rain forest, but it’s been dry there. So — dunno.
Re: #16, “I think it is perfectly appropriate to chastize the US for its obstruction and obfuscation on AGW in a discussion of threats to the Amazon rainforest.”
Agreed. If the US chemical companies (i.e. Monsanto) would stop trying to get American farmers to continue to grow GMO soybeans and grow organic, non-GMO soybeans, Brazil wouldn’t have the deforestation problems they have.
Europeans import non-GMO soybeans from Brazil in great quantities since they have a GMO ban in place. Perhaps this is a way American farmers could get ahead of the game, by growing organically and with non-GMO seeds. They’d have an open market and would maybe even deserve the subsidies they’re getting.
I have also heard that some 3 billion people directly or indirectly rely on the Asian monsoons and that AGW could disrupt this to. Couple that with the potenital drying out of the Amazon by 2040 (as predicted by some climate models I believe), the melting of permafrost exposing siberian and other bogs to methane release on a large scale, asian rainforest and bogs drying out to and there is a potential for more warming that seems to be currently predicted by the climate models alone.
But of course I am probably being alarmist because there simply is not enough Science in these areas to know what will happen at the present time to these carbon sinks and sources and hence any speculation is simply that, pure speculation with no scientific basis.
Stephen, the Kyoto Protocol allowed GMO trees to mitigate climate change, although not without controversy. The climate effects of GMO undoubtedly deserve more study, but Europeans might want to reconsider their opposition in light of the problems in Brazil.
Peter, being an alarmist is a responsible role for any who see, experience, suffer from, research or educate themselves about the direct impacts of a warming world.
One would not be an alarmist if he shouted to skaters that the ice is cracking. He’d be a hero.
In this climate, the alarmist is a skunk at the party.
Add to your check list of reality the fact that Himalayan glaciers are melting at an alarming rate (see RC threads on tropical glacier melt); enough so that flash flooding, from overflowing glacier-melt lakes, is a serious and life-threatening concern of downstream populations. Then, add to that reality the fact that nearly 400 million people rely, to some degree, on Himalayan snowpack and glacier melt to feed the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers which provide irrigation and drinking water for the heavily populated lands surrounding northern India.
Eventually the scientific basis becomes as irrelevant as are Pat Michaels and Senator Inhofe.
Imagine India and Pakistan fighting over water resoures! Or, imagine the U.S. cutting its carbon emissions by 80 percent in the next 30 years.
Alarmism is fast becoming passe. Desparation will eventually dictate how we discuss the scientific basis for global warming. And, unless we are total fools, the developed nations will soon begin to shift some attention (also)towards measures to adapt (regardless of the mind-numbing refusal of environmental groups to utter the word) so that our children will have a fighting chance to survive the chaos we have brought to them.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 5 Aug 2006 @ 8:54 AM
Stephen, GM soybeans are grown in Brazil and other countries in SA. A part of the increase in converting forest to farmland in Brazil is the demand for soybeans in the production of biodiesel. The demand for soybeans for this application will only experience continued growth. It has long been known for certain that biomass-for-energy is not ‘Green’. For example, growing organically will certainly be very much less efficient than growing non-organically.
Simply do some Googles to find out all kinds of true facts about GM and non-GM soybeans, biodiesel, Brazil, South America, and the rain forest.
I have not been able to find any connection between what is happening in the Amazon rainforest and global warming. The RealClimate article you referenced says rainfall amounts are influenced by the sea surface temperature gradient between the north and south Atlantic ocean, rather than the absolute temperature. Is there a connection between greenhouse warming and these temperature gradients?
I do know that in the cooler climate of the ice age the tropical rainforests almost disappeared in both South America and Africa. In general, a warmer climate should mean larger rainforest area, although of course local conditions may vary. There may be a reason that the Amazon is an exception to that rule, but I do not know what it is.
FOREST FIRE, DEFORESTATION AND LANDCOVER CHANGE IN THE
Hope these are of some use. I’d add more but the solar panel here is flashing red. I will add that the rainy season was not very rainy to say the least. Anyway, hope to have a page up and running soon.
One more link i might ad is an extensive bibliography of publications that have come from this area.
Re 21 Where A. Wright (no pun intended) wrote “We read all these frightening things about the Amazon but how can we help.Is there an organisation we can join?”
There is nothing you can do until the scientist like Gavin and James Annan face up to the fact that they have failed to predict the disaster that is upon us, and order all national governments to take action. Even subscribing to Greenpeace is useless, as I have found.
Re 28 Where Blair wrote “I have not been able to find any connection between what is happening in the Amazon rainforest and global warming.”
The connection is the movement of the ITCZ, which determines the gradient. But it is easier to view the situation as a movement of the climate zones north due to the melting of the Arctic sea ice. (I looks as though in late August both the North West and North East Passages will be open for the first time in recorded history.)
Not only is the ITCZ moving north but so are the great desert regions, with the Sahara trying to jump the Mediterranean, the Kalahari bringing drought to Malawi, and the Australian Red Centre moving north into Queensland. A. Wright also wrote “I live in Africa and watch the same sort of thing going on here.”
Gavin and James are shooting the messengers. The Independent reporters are only repeating what the scientists on the ground are seeing – two years of drought, which if followed by two more could lead to the death of the Brazilian jungle. Do we act now, or wait till those scientists have been proved right?
[Response: No. This is just the point. The scientists are not saying that the jungle will die in two years: this is a conclusion that the journalists have jumped to from erroneously connecting two similar things. But I guarantee that if you asked the scientists involved they would not make the same leap. -gavin]
Re 25: A Wright asks whether there is an organisation to join. You might like to look at the Climateark website, to which Realclimate provide a link. This is part of Ecological Internet, with specific sites looking at climate change, rainforests, forests worldwide, etc, and contains both action alerts and information about all the different websites, including those by different campaigns groups worldwide.
Comment by Almuth Ernsting — 5 Aug 2006 @ 11:48 AM
Sometimes it is appropriate to raise an alarm. However, we should be very careful in doing so that we do not provide more propaganda fodder for the US Republican Party, and right-wing talk show hosts.
I think of the Northern Spotted Owl controvesy that raged a few years ago in the northwestern US. This concern was used as a reason to restrict logging activities in the old growth forests of Washington and Oregon – something which has benefitted the logging industry in neighboring British Columbia, I note. But worse were the revelations that the “Northern Spotted Owl” wasn’t really quite as unique as biologists wanted us to believe, and that some populations were doing just find in new growth forests. This goes to credibility: the public stops listening to alarmists when they find out that what they’ve been told isn’t quite true.
Spreading alarmist tales of forests in the Amazon dying off in a year or two does more to help head-in-the-sand pro-Corporate interest Republicans than it does to protect the environment of the Amazon. Someone should put a gag on these morons. Or maybe they work for the oil companies after all…
The press and press journalists who write books say much but maybe do not say much at all. The books I have read on climate change for the interested lay person are (to my mind at least) laden with alarmist and “we’re all doomed prohecy” based on far out notions of the new climate science ie the non linear type II climate change that seems to have become the norm in recent years.
Real climate and the IPCC are still fighting the skeptics and hence they will only error on the side of extreme caution regarding what will happen to the world by 2100. All they will say is that with a business as usual attitude of the world emissions will be around 2 ppm per annum now and 4 ppm by 2050 and hence around 550 ppm by the end of century. What that translates into in terms of disaster and doom is anyones guess but scientific bodies only speak of what they know.
Interestingly enough both Stephen Hawking and Martin Rees (astronomer royale here in the UK) have recently professed to being in fear of human kinds continued existance beyong the 21 st century. It would seem that alternatives to fossil fuels are the issue and nothing at the present time can replace them and be rolled out in time to stop climate change from being serious.
There is actually a very strong argument that the next 15 months could be ‘make or break’ for the Amazon, albeit one slightly different from what the Independent articles say:
It is clear that large-scale forest fires are
1) very rare in recent centuries until recently and now becoming much more frequent
2) linked to droughts
3) always in the vicinity of human activity, ie selective logging, roads, agriculture.
It also seems pretty clear that massive die-back of the Amazon can only be prevented by strong action against logging, as well as action against global warming. And, as far as logging goes, the next 15 months could indeed be decisive:
The Kyoto Agreement completely fails to tackle tropical deforestation, despite its signigicance for global carbon emissions. Indeed, some people argue that it may even make it worse, by including the carbon sinks of the rich nations (the Annex 1 states) only, and not allowing rainforests to benefit for carbon trading. This year, the Coalition of Rainforest Nations will be pushing for an amendment, called ‘compensated reduction in deforestation’. Couuntries like Brazil would voluntarily opt in, and by doing so agree to binding commitments under the Kyoto Agreement. Billions of dollars would be made available, through the carbon market, to effectively reduce deforestation rates, as monitored by satellites. For details, see here: http://www.rainforestcoalition.org/eng/ . Such an amendment would be quite possible and could go to a vote this November (a vote by the Kyoto ratifying nations, that is). Once the First Commitment Period starts in 2008, there is very little scope for improvement until it ends in 2012. And I have heard of no meaningful international proposal to reduce rainforest destruction otherwise. Without such action, deforestation rates could well accelerate for another six years – by which time it will certainly be too late for many millions of hectares of Amazon forest – and there will be considerably less rain evapotranspiration to sustain the rest.
In this sense, the ‘one year to save the Amazon’ may yet be true!
Posted on behalf of Daniel Nepstad, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center, and lead investigator on the forest drought experiment. (Via Elizabeth Braun, Director of Communications at the Center.) –
On July 23, The Independent report on the recent findings of our forest drought experiment in the Amazon, in which we reduced rainfall inputs to a hectare of forest over a five-year period. This alarmist article involved no interview, and it contains many statements that I do not support.
To clarify, our results do not show that the rainforest ‘could become a desert’. In the third paragraph, the piece implies that I support the position that drought in the Amazon will lead to drought that would spread to Britain, with the world spinning out of control, becoming uninhabitable. That is simply not true.
What our work does show is that the drought we imposed caused big trees to die more than small trees, which was a surprise. We also know that the amounts of carbon that may be going to the atmosphere following Amazon droughts are probably big enough to accelerate global warming. Currently trends suggest that a big chunk of the Amazon forest will probably be displaced by fire-prone scrub vegetation; global warming will probably exacerbate this trend.
The challenges we are confronting and those that we will be faced with in the future are significant. The world’s tropical rainforests will be changed in important ways by global warming. But public understanding of these processes is not served by evoking apocalyptic images. What is needed now is credible reporting and sound journalism so that the global community can act wisely.
[Response: Thank you very much for the clarification. – gavin]
But worse were the revelations that the “Northern Spotted Owl” wasn’t really quite as unique as biologists wanted us to believe, and that some populations were doing just find in new growth forests. This goes to credibility: the public stops listening to alarmists when they find out that what they’ve been told isn’t quite true.
Knowing a thing or two about the population ecology of the northern spotted owl, I’d like to offer a few facts.
Yes, NSO do reaonsably well in younger redwood forests. The timber industry has worked very hard to extrapolate this fact to the mixed-conifer old-growth forests to the north, in OR/CA/BC.
Sad thing here is we KNOW why NSO do well in younger redwood forests, and those reasons don’t apply to the mixed-conifer forests to the north. You never hear that from the timber industry, of course.
For starters, redwoods (unlike doug fir, spruce, etc found to the north) sprout from the stump after being logged. This causes regeneration to occur much more rapidly. Also the warmer and wetter climate (which is why the redwood stands are there in the first place) leads to rapid growth. Stumps that are a few years old tend to have a “crown”-like circle of sprouts encircling them, and wood rats (also known as packrats) find these ideal for their nests. In such forests, NSO are known to dine largely on wood rats. The more northern forests don’t provide good wood rat habitat, and NSO dine largely on red-backed vole, itself old-growth dependent to a large degree.
And, something that’s also overlooked by timber industry propagandists, even in redwood forests productivity is significantly higher for NSO nesting in old-growth than in yonger redwood forests.
Of course, to the north of the redwoods we do find NSO nesting in younger forests. Almost invariably, these are young pairs pushed to less-than-ideal habitat and almost invariably, the nesting attemps fail, and even when they don’t, the average level of productivity falls below the average level of mortality.
And people often find single juveniles in the oddest of places (something true of most bird species), and assume this means that they can thrive in such places.
In reality, in nearly all cases such lost little birdies just die.
Given that NSO populations continue to fall and that most western ornithologists are pessimistic about their continued survival, exactly what was “alarmist” about concerns raised by scientists in the 1980s?
The ONLY sigificant surprise here has been the rapid invasion of the related barred owl, an invasion which further threatens NSO and which is entirely due to logging and agricultural practices.
The USF&W recently commissioned a study of the status of the northern spotted owl, after the timber industry (believing their own propaganda) urged the Bush administration to do so. Since the timber industry is convinced that the USF&W and the academics it works with are lying about the population ecology of the species (sounds like Exxon v. climate science, eh?), it was farmed out to a private biological consultancy firm.
Rather than supporting the timber industry’s lies, they concluded that the status of the northern spotted owl is MUCH WORSE than stated by the USF&W.
Get your climate science from climatologists, not Exxon. Get your population ecology from scientists, not the timber industry. Gain understanding of the history of life on earth from evolutionary biologists, not bible-thumpers.
Just the day before, top scientists had been delivering much the same message â�¦ that global warming and deforestation were rapidly pushing the entire enormous area towards a “tipping point”, where it would irreversibly start to die.
This year, says Otavio Luz Castello [a young naturalist], the water is draining away even faster than the last one – and there are still more than three months of the dry season to go. He adds: “I am very concerned.”
Dr Antonio Nobre, of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research, told the floating symposium â�¦ of unpublished research which suggests that the felling is both drying up the entire forest and helping to cause the hurricanes that have been battering the United States and the Caribbean.
“We believe there is a vicious cycle” says Dr Nobre.
â�¦ And if you add these two figures together, the total is growing perilously close to 50 per cent, which computer models predict as the “tipping point” that marks the death of the Amazon. The models did not expect this to happen until 2050. But, says Dr Nobre, “what was predicted for 2050, may have begun to happen in 2005.
One of Dr Nobre’s colleagues, Dr Philip Fearnside, puts it this way: “With every tree that falls we increase the probability that the tipping point will arrive.”
“If we do not act now”, says Dr Fearnside, “we will lose the Amazon forest that helps sustain living conditions throughout the world.”
Dr Nepstead expects “mega-fires” rapidly to sweep across the drying jungle. With the trees gone, the soil will bake in the sun and the rainforest could become desert.
Dr Deborah Clark from the University of Missouri, one of the world’s top forest ecologists, says the research shows that “the lock has broken” on the Amazon ecosystem. She adds: the Amazon is “headed in a terrible direction”.
As I have already explained to James, if you cannot bring yourself to believe catastrophe could strike, then it is easy to dismiss these and other similar reports as being produced by Chicken Littles. If, however, you take the rational view that there is no logical reason why catastrophe should not strike, then you will quickly realise that it may in fact be imminent :-(
In other words, your computer models may say that this generation is safe ‘But, says Dr Nobre, “what was predicted for 2050, may have begun to happen in 2005.’
#33, To be quite blunt, the “world” has been mostly cold and uncaring about the the earths environment, most non-Brazilians will not jump off the nearest bridge hearing news about the potential demise of the Amazon forest. But the real issue is predicting the future accurately, many stake their reputations, including newspapers, that a certain future will happen. It becomes a gross mistake, when certain predictions don’t happen, and therefore poor projections feedback negatively to the source, which becomes less credible. It is survival of the fittest when it comes to predictions, and freedom of expression should be allowed fully, the one who is right might get the credit, but sadly predicting climate or ecological mega-events is so marred with failures that correct predictions, are forgotten amongst a sea of failures. I fault not the Independent on reporting dire predictions on the Amazon, but I fault most media on not encouraging those who have predicted the future accurately, one example: Hansen et al. at NASA with correct GT projection from the 80’s, it is rare that one reads this success story, in popular press Hansen’s voting preferences are better known. In the case of the Amazon, who is Hansen’s equivalent? Would like to hear his or her opinion,
and what’s missing, is Amazon forest aboriginal opinions, I haven’t heard them say anything yet, may be the media has forgotten that they are just as much in sync with the Amazon, as any top expert.
“Another surprise was that the observed sensitivity of large canopy trees to drought is greater than expected. Once the moisture that is stored in deep soil is depleted, the largest trees – towering 130 to 150 feet above the ground and basking in full sunlight – begin to falter and die. The death of such large trees that may take centuries to reach the top of the forest canopy, increased from about one percent per year to nine percent in the fourth year of the experiment, when soil water was depleted. This sensitivity of large trees to drought means that a decline in rainfall would likely cause a gradual transition from tall, green, lush rainforest towards a shorter, more stunted forest where a great deal more sunlight penetrates to the forest floor.
As the forest becomes shorter and its canopy more open, compromising its remarkable resistance to fire, it is clear that drought in tandem with fire could swiftly push the tall, dense rainforests of the region towards savanna scrub. The amount of carbon that could be released to the atmosphere by this savannization process is significantâ��equivalent to several years of worldwide carbon emissions â��and could accelerate climate change processes already in place.
In addition to these global effects, drought and fire, a tool of choice among the Amazonâ��s farmers and ranchers, pose a serious threat to a forest that is home to more plant and animal species, and more indigenous cultures, than any other forest in the world. ”
It seems to me that the Independent took two years of drought and the WHRC results and warned that the trees would start dying in the fourth year. In other words the took two plus two and got four. It is all very well Dr Nepstadt implying he never got to four. Is he denying that the drought has lasted two years?
Finally, Braun/Nepstadt conclude “What is needed now is credible reporting and sound journalism so that the global community can act wisely.” What they seem to be asking for is that the facts should be played down to avoid public panic. Let’s be quite clear – the global cummunity has not acted wisely. It has not acted at all! Fifteen years of quietly, quietly by the IPCC has produced nothing. It is time that the public were told the truth, and less of this sanitised rubbish in the name of scientific uncertainty.
Re #30: I am still trying to connect drying in the Amazon with global warming. I understand that a northward shift of the ITCZ will move the zone with the most rainfall to the north. If part of that zone moves from land to ocean, then the region that can support rainforest will be reduced.
The connection with global warming seems to be that the northern hemisphere warms faster than the southern hemisphere, because of the presence of Antarctica. However, I was unable to find any support for that in the RealClimate article previously cited or in any of its references. Instead, the location of the ITCZ depends on a complex set of other factors.
From my reading of paleoclimate data, the area of tropical rainforest was at a minimum during the ice age, and has been increasing as temperatures have risen. Is there any reason this process will stop or reverse itself as greenhouse warming starts to take effect?
I think that many of the problems with the Amazon rainforest are human caused, but most of it is due to logging and human settlement. In this case, I think global warming is a minor factor.
re: 41. I realize this is little consolation after your paper was rejected but the one bright spot is that the fact that it was rejected shows the skeptics/denialists here that there is no collusion in the climate research world as some claim there is.
In it “Dr Antonio Nobre, of Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research, told the floating symposium – whose delegates ranged from politicians and environmentalists, to Amazonian Indian shamans and Roman Catholic cardinals – of unpublished research which suggests that the felling is both drying up the entire forest and helping to cause the hurricanes that have been battering the United States and the Caribbean.
The hot, wet Amazon, he explained, normally evaporates vast amounts of water, which rise high into the air as if in an invisible chimney. This draws in the wet north-East trade winds, which have picked up moisture from the Atlantic. This in turn controls the temperature of the ocean; as the trade winds pick up the moisture, the warm water that is left gets saltier and sinks.
Deforestation disrupts the cycle by weakening the Amazonian evaporation which drives the whole process. One result is that the hot water in the Atlantic stays on the surface and fuels the hurricanes. Another is that less moisture arrives on the trade winds, intensifying drought in the forest. “We believe there is a vicious cycle” says Dr Nobre.”
There are a couple of points that are not explained and which I have worked out for myself. First, the jungle behaves like a lake providing a wet surface. The wetness is produced by transpiration from the top of the canopy. The water is taken there from the jungle floor by the trees using capiliary action. The evaporation from the tree tops creates clouds, and rain which replenishes the water on the jungle floor. Thus the jungle acts like a resevoir of water. Without the shade from the trees, the surface would dry out in the hot tropical sun.
The next point to realise is that the convection in the tropics is not caused by hot air rising, but by light air rising. It is light because it contains a lot of water vapour which as a lower molecular weight than air. The subropics (eg the Sahara) are hotter than the tropics, but it is in the tropics where the convection occurs because the air has gained water vapour travelling over the ocean from the sub tropics. If it had to travel over dry land it would not convect because it could not gain water vapour. The Amazon jungle, because it is a water resevoir, provides this water vapour, and so the covection, clouds and rain can happen. Remove the high trees and you lose the resevoir.
Controlled burns are the only way I know of to do this sort of study. Have you an alternative to suggest?
I’m working on post-fire restoration (everyone needs a hobby that will outlive them). The info from controlled burns is very helpful here.
When you know an area is, eventually, going to burn, you want to know (1) what was there, (2) exactly how it burned, and (3) what grew afterwards, among much else. Only (3) is available in studying accidental or agricultural fire sites.
There are a number of factors associated with rising temperatures and plant and vegetation responses. One example of this is the role of isoprenoids and other VOC’s which are released in greater quantities by plants during periods of intense heat and/or drought. These VOC’s (though not all), act as a positive feedback for nocturnal emissions, by their role in ozone formation and as cloud condensation nuclei, though they do aid plant survival during hot days. In all reality they are an uncertainty in calculating the effect of increased temperatures on the Amazon, because they are highly species dependent, and as such depend on local factors. Heres what the authors of the LBA experiment have to say
“Canopy emissions of VOCs amount to only a few percent of gross primary productivity (Guenther, 2002; Kesselmeier et al., 2002), but their effects on atmospheric chemical processes and physical climate processes far exceed their modest contribution to the C
cycle. Biogenic hydrocarbons are critically important in the regulation of ozone, hydroxyl radical, and other important trace gases and radicals in tropical atmospheric chemistry. Terpenes also make aerosol particles that affect the radiation budget and that also act as
cloud condensation nuclei in Amazonia. Hence, part of the precipitation formation mechanism could be controlled by the vegetation itself through terpene emission (Artaxo et al., 2001). Hence, links between the biosphere and the atmosphere may be extremely
complex, with climate affecting VOC emissions and vice versa. Moreover, the new results published in this issue beg the question of how species composition and their strategies to produce VOCs in response to physiological stresses might be related to variation in
climate, soil fertility, and C allocation”
further they speak about the role of wetlands in CH4 emissions.
“Emissions from Amazonian wetlands alone appear to contribute about 4% of the global annual emissions of CH4 from all natural and anthropogenic sources. As shown later in
this paper, the global warming potential of the annual emissions of CH4 from Amazonian wetlands is equivalent to about 30â40% of the estimated annual accumulation of C in woody biomass of mature Amazonian forests.”
Whilst this may not answer your point about the ITCZ, not something i feel competent to talk about, it shows the extent to which the climate has an impact on the forest and visa versa. The forest doesn’t necessarily have to die back to scrubland for it to become a net contributor to the GHG problem.
By the way, last year we had spontaneous fires in palm swamps at the end of oxbow lakes. The leaf litter normally falling into stagnant water was so dry it just went up like a light.
“From my reading of paleoclimate data, the area of tropical rainforest was at a minimum during the ice age, and has been increasing as temperatures have risen. Is there any reason this process will stop or reverse itself as greenhouse warming starts to take effect?”
If you look only at temperature, the answer is no. If you’re studying ancient climate trends then you should be aware of the many intricacies of our planets ecosystem, making this question narrow in scope.
Lastly, global warming has already started and its effects can be seen and measured today.
Never in the history of our planet has any animal mechanically altered the chemical composition of our atmosphere. Except for humans in the last 300 years.
Thanks for the link. If current science shows the Amazon is in fact at risk of extinction, then a controlled burn may produce data that ultimately helps save it. Given the role the rainforest plays in our ecosystem, I believe the risk is justified.
I found some discerning statements in the WHRC bio at the end of this article. Here’s the bio:
“The Woods Hole Research Center is dedicated to science, education and public policy for a habitable Earth, seeking to conserve and sustain forests, soils, water, and energy by demonstrating their value to human health and economic prosperity. The Center sponsors initiatives in the Amazon, the Arctic, Africa, Russia, Boreal North America, the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Cape Cod. Center programs focus on the global carbon cycle, forest function, landcover/land use, water cycles and chemicals in the environment, science in public affairs, and education, providing primary data and enabling better appraisals of the trends in forests that influence their role in the global carbon budget.”
There are two things I don’t like.
1. From a business perspective, there is no ‘economic’ prosperity in conservation.
2. The phrase ‘global carbon budget’ bugs me. So we have a CO2 budget, do we? I tend to think nature already created the atmospheric rulebook and we humans haven’t finished deciphering it. Knowing only some of the rules we’ve decided we can indiscriminately spend CO2. I’m not certain it’s been determined we can spend CO2 at all.
Never in the history of our planet has any animal mechanically altered the chemical composition of our atmosphere. Except for humans in the last 300 years.
In all honesty arguing about controlled burns in the Amazon is ridiculous. In less than a months time there are going to be 100,000’s of controlled burns, some of which will get out of control.
Re 50: “From a business perspective, there is no ‘economic’ prosperity in conservation”
Come on, there is no way even from a business perspective that you can argue there is prosperity in environmental destruction. In fact there is a gain from a business perspective of conservation.
Here’s a business perspective.
1) Productivity enhancement does not mean wringing ever more work out of a man hour, inspite of what millions of businessmen and economists say. It means wringing ever more profit for less and less cost. One of those costs, and a significant one as we have to keep relearning is energy costs. The more efficient a company becomes the more money it makes, the less environmental cost. Look at Du Pont, reduced CO2 emissions by over 70%, and is the market leader, that’s not an accident.
2) The costs, born by taxpayers and thus government services of cleaning up industrial waste, not to mention human waste, is a drag on prosperity. Force companies to deal with their own waste and you’ll see increased efficiency, productivity, and new ways of doing things.
From a purely economic perspective look at the difference between EU and US prosperity. It is routinely argued that the EU is one third less prosperous than the US. Fair enough in purely monetary terms, but when you factor in quality public transport, more compact cities and therefore less travel time and costs, you find that EU citizens need less money to have the same level of prosperity. They have to spend less on oil. There are of course other factors associated with the prosperity gap, but that is a fairly robust example of the muddled thinking associated with the notion of prosperity.
Also there is a valid argument for putting valuations on things, for though we cannot truly value living systems and their services, to not place a value is to many peoples minds an indication of no cost.
Interestingly Hawken, Lovins and Lovins in their book Natural Capitalism, make the point that global warming need not necessarily be a problem, but is instead a result of a design flaw in our economic system and mentality.
Please note, I am not saying they refute the reality of global warming. They categorically do not, however they make very persuasive arguments about how it is that with current technologies and even yesterdays technologies we could have increased prosperity and no GHG’s. I recommend it to everyone.
Disclaimer. I’m not a believer in capitalism, but i do see how it could work much better than it does.
Another point. Lots of the probs associated with the Amazon are directly related to international trade. Soybean production is a large component of the Brazilian economy, and its mostly going to feed cattle for northern consumers (i.e. prosperity equalling 1kg of steak). Further, the idea that ethanol derived from plants is going to help, is to forget where it comes from. Do we really want to create more pressure on the Amazon and other tropical forests to feed the 250 million plus cars out there. We already have enough problems trying to feed people, (as i’ve mentioned with soybeans and cattle) without adding another level of land pressure.
This notion of what it means to be prosperous is part of the whole problem. We don’t need to eat a cow for dinner, to drive 30 miles to work, to produce 30 tons of waste (or whatever the figure is), to be prosperous. Its foolish to think that we do, and it clogs up the pathways and prevents obvious solutions from coming forward and taking their rightful place.
Thomas, did you read the original article on which this thread is based? They say it took considerable effort to find their experimental and control area — because the Amazon plant life is so variable.
That’s why the results aren’t obvious — because if you don’t _know_(1) what was there before a fire, and (2) exactly how the fire behaved, then you have no idea what changed.
On the site I work at in N. California, I spent a decade preparing ‘for the next fire’ on a site burned twenty years ago. A lightning fire recently burned through areas I’d already mapped and I knew within a few feet what was growing (40 meter squares surveyed, marked with iron corner posts that didn’t burn).
Biggest payoff, for my site, this time, was
(1) Dead wood three feet from new trees burned in a low intensity fire without killing the new trees. Dead wood two feet or closer to the new tree radiates enough heat to kill the new tree. On slopes, wherever leaf litter and sticks piled up on the uphill side, it burned and trees got badly scorched.
Lesson learned: it’s worth a lot of effort to drag dead wood even three feet away from living trees, and — always — to remove old killed trunks that are standing in the middle of new trees.
(2) After a fire new growth for oaks comes sprouting up from the roots, where the fire heat-killed the cambium above ground but the roots survived. Lesson learned — it was worth a lot of effort to go to those circles of new shoots coming up around the diameter of the old tree, and cut back all but one good new trunk so the old root (big enough for the old big tree) feeds the new growth, instead of having it feed a bunch of crowded new growth all clustered together. The crowded circles burned again and died back; the single trunks had grown hardier in the same time and mostly survived.
(3) Knowing what had been growing there before on a very fine grained basis, I was able to go in and try ideas — soak a few square yards with concentrated sugar water after the fire to feed the soil microbiota, and leave another few similar — _previously known_comparable –alone, using two areas that both had concentrations of invasive annual grasses. A recent restoration notion (possibly by now it’s a theory) is that by feeding the soil microbiota the first winter after a fire they prosper, and take up all the mineral nutrients left by the fire so the next spring the invasive annuals are starved (they love fire and favor it). Lesson learned — I can see the effect. Try more next time.
Oh, and (4) the areas around my work hadn’t been cleared of brush at all, since the fire 20 years ago and were thick with new growth close in around dead wood killed back then. They’d grown up pretty well in oak and conifer but too much fuel too close, and they’re pretty much toasted.
So I could know what difference some preparation made. The fire got to where I had cleared limbs and brush and settled down, as it’s known to do with decent preparation, and burned gracefully enough that my work paid off.
If it’s just doing burns at all that worries you, it worries the people doing it too — there’s no other tool and waiting makes things much worse when natural fires happen. In simple forestry planned burns, they do the burn just to make that happen — with big crews andg care, using fire where I used hand tools and sweat.
I’ve talked about what I know — hobby amateur stuff, anyone can do this kind of thing (I recommend it). I grew up in N. Carolina and back then, every fall around Thanksgiving the neighbors would burn between the pine trees, to protect the forest, in very much the same way. So I’m doing what I know has worked for people.
The serious research makes what I’m doing on a little area look like playing in the dirt. There’s real work being done with planned burns.
By planning, they don’t have to wait for a lucky fire like I got. My site could have gone another couple decades without a fire, by which time I’d be too old to do much with it. That’s why natural experimentation with long time spans is limited.
I had no idea what had been there before the earlier fire, twenty years ago — so there was no way to vary the restoration attempts knowledgeably.
A controlled research burn is a tiny few acres of _known_ and managed fire. All around us there’s agricultural and slash burning going on with nothing learned from it.
Fire scares people. Fire research is scary too. It’s vital in areas that do burn naturally, like my area — or will be expected to burn with climate change and human impact, like much of the Amazon.
Study this. Fire is a tool — used as one. Why throw away knowledge when we can use it?
Re 34: “The Kyoto Agreement completely fails to tackle tropical deforestation, despite its signigicance for global carbon emissions. Indeed, some people argue that it may even make it worse, by including the carbon sinks of the rich nations (the Annex 1 states) only, and not allowing rainforests to benefit for carbon trading.”
This is misleading and not entirely accurate. First, only newly planted forests gain carbon credits. This was one of the central differences that the EU had with the US and one of their reasons for opting out.
There is a valid reasons for this, in that it would make the treaty meaningless. The US and Canada etc, have vast forest reserves and it would have been a license to pollute. And this is important, Kyoto was designed so that Industrialized nations would face up to their responsibilities, for it is their responsibility.
From what i understand the reason that developing tropical nations are excluded from this Annex are to prevent them from deforesting virgin forests so that they could grow plantation forests and claim credits. Where the Kyoto protocol is relavent to developing nations is in disseminating clean technologies that don’t get employed in industrial countries due to the inertia of capital already invested. The idea is that developing countries are best placed to employ these technologies, (something like Trotsky’s ‘privilege of historic backwardness’), thus creating a market for these products and driving their price down.
Something else to consider when speaking about deforestation is that is primarily driven by government targetted credit. Roads per se don’t cause deforestation (excepting of course the road structure itself, neither does migration along those roads, it is the credit that flows towards the migrants that causes deforestation. Bulldozers and chainsaws are not cheap.
In all honesty I can’t see how paying a ‘compensated reduction in deforestation’ would work. It is disengenuous. For example, the go ahead to drain the Pantanal has to my knowledge been granted, so that soybean production can take place. Do we pay them not to do that too. This is got to do with Brazils macro economics, global trade and western diets.
There is only one way i see a way out from whole scale deforestation. That we understand what is driving deforestation (western diets) and target credit towards alternative activities. This would involve heavy government regulation and credit. Create limited areas within which people are allowed to work, the rest they are not. Create a sustainable high quality wood product industry for example in these areas. The fact that they can only use wood from these areas, and that it will be certain species, means they would have to replant. There is precedence for this in the system the British created in Burma for teak (until China came along it was a highly stable system). Also target credit towards enforcement, because the best meaning system will fail where there is no enforcement.
The earliest atmosphere of H2 and He was lost to space, and was replaced by a reductive atmosphere with a composition probably similar to outgassing of modern volcanoes â�� H2O, CO2, SO2, S2, Cl2, N2, NH3, and CH4.
Oxygen levels began to rise after the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis by the Cyanobacteria, which evolved at least at least 3450 million years ago (3.45 Ga) and formed the earliest microfossils, yada yada.
Then of course, in modern times, we depend on green things to make oxygen to keep us alive. Higher levels of CO2 make green things grow faster, which I suppose is good.
Re #55 “Higher levels of CO2 make green things grow faster, which I suppose is good.”
Or perhaps not: While many terrestrial and aquatic plants show increased growth in response to elevated CO2, some (e.g., marine algae) do not. And the stimulation of photosynthetic carbon fixation by CO2 in terrestrial plants often peaks at or below 800-1000 ppm CO2, a level that could be reached in the atmosphere within a century at current rates of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (refer to IPCC 2001 report and the Royal Society’s 2005 report on ocean acidification)
In addition, the stimulation of plant growth at more moderate levels of CO2 may not be all that desirable. For example, among the plants that seem to to respond by rapid growth are nuisance species, such as poison ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, and kudzu.
Some other other not-so-great consequences (as reported by Laura Tangley in a news article in Science, 6 April 2001:Vol. 292. no. 5514, pp. 36 â?? 37):
* â??Early reproduction [due to elevated CO2] could also cause the trees to grow old and die sooner, reducing the amount of carbon they sequesterâ?¦
* Scientists have hypothesized that faster growing species such as pine will respond more to elevated CO2 levels than will slower growing hardwoods. If this turns out to be true, “we would expect to see dramatic changes in forest community composition,”
* models predicting the effects of elevated CO2 levels 150 years from now do show a trend of decreasing species diversity over time.
*in a still-unpublished meta-analysis of 170 studies of reproduction in herbaceous plants, mostly crops, Curtis found that fast-growing, high-yielding species–equivalent to loblolly pines–profited more from high CO2 levels than did slow-growing plants. “My suspicion is that forest communities will become less diverse as aggressive, fast-growing trees become more abundant,” he says. Such shifts in tree composition would have cascading effects throughout the ecosystem. Some pollinating insects and birds, for instance, may end up with more food and others with less, changing the abundance and distribution of these animals as well as other species that rely on them.
Given a choice, I say, let’s stick with current CO2 levels.
The quality of discussion, in this thread, during the past 24 hours is one small example of why RealClimate has earned its reputation and deserves international promotion to increase its readership.
Re: 52: Liam, you said:
[We don’t need to eat a cow for dinner, to drive 30 miles to work, to produce 30 tons of waste (or whatever the figure is), to be prosperous. Its foolish to think that we do, and it clogs up the pathways and prevents obvious solutions from coming forward and taking their rightful place.]
My spirit agrees with you but my cognitive parts struggle with the…how do we get from here to there?
I am looking closely at the California proposal to cut back GHG by 80 percent by 2050. The Governor and Prime Minister Blair made headlines last week by agreeing to cooperate and share ideas and technology. That is all a separate discussion and diverts from the main point which is:
a) the 9th largest economy, somewhere between the GDP Canada and Italy, is on the path to achieving (on paper, at least) what the industrial world must accomplish by mid-century to sustain civilization in the remainder of this century.
b) California population is about 36 million and has 26 million registered cars that burn 18 billion gallons of gasoline per year and emit about 180 million tons of CO2 which is one-third of the total 550 million tons of CO2 the State contributes to the global atmosphere.
California drivers pay some of the highest prices for gasoline and mass transit is a Bay area option…not a state-wide option. Driving 30 miles to their jobs is how they pay morgages, phone bill, etc. Selling their house to move closer to a job with no long term employment security is not an option either. What to do?
If tackling mobility is a sociological challenge of the first order, electric and natural gas demand reduction, in a warming part of NA dependent, in part, on snowpack for hydro, present the other two-thirds of the California pledge to the 80 percent GHG reduction in the next 43 years.
How California wakes up to its challenge will likely tell the rest of the world how, or if, it can survive.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 7 Aug 2006 @ 3:18 AM
“Then of course, in modern times, we depend on green things to make oxygen to keep us alive. Higher levels of CO2 make green things grow faster, which I suppose is good.”
The end of the Paleocene (55.5/54.8 Ma) was marked by one of the most significant periods of global change during the Cenozoic, a sudden global climate change, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which upset oceanic and atmospheric circulation and led to the extinction of numerous deep-sea benthic foraminifera and on land, a major turnover in mammals. […]
In an event marking the start of the Eocene, the planet heated up in one of the most rapid and extreme global warming events recorded in geologic history, currently being identified as the ‘Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum’ or the ‘Initial Eocene Thermal Maximum’ (PETM or IETM). Sea surface temperatures rose between 5 and 8Â°C over a period of a few thousand years, but in the high Arctic, sea surface temperatures rose to a sub-tropical ~23Â°C/73Â°F. […]
Geologist Jim Zachos of the University of California, Santa Cruz has connected the Eocene heat wave to drastic changes in ocean chemistry that caused the massive worldwide die-off. More recently a synchronous drop in carbon isotope ratios has been identified in many terrestrial environments.
What unleashed the PETM is unclear. Most evidence points to volcanic eruptions that disgorged gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, or coastal reservoirs of methane gas, sealed by icy soil, that were breached by warmer temperatures or receding seas.
Tracking the ratio of carbon isotopes in marine calcium carbonate sediments, Kennett and Stott found a sharp decrease in the amount of heavy carbon in 55-million-year-old marine fossils…
Certainly other significant changes in the global environment took place because of life forms. But these changes usually took considerable time, and they were poisonous to some other life forms which largely disappeared. The Earth and the biosphere , changed somewhat, will survive for quite a while, whatever we do. Even our species may survive. But our civilization may not.
It would be more accurate to say that this is the first time in the history of our planet that a species made such changes knowing what it was doing.
The Independent reporters are only repeating what the scientists on the ground are seeing – two years of drought, which if followed by two more could lead to the death of the Brazilian jungle.
The scientists are not saying that the jungle will die in two years: this is a conclusion that the journalists have jumped to from erroneously connecting two similar things.
The writers for The Independent (and Alastair) are not saying “that the jungle will die in two years” either. They are saying that the Woods Hole experimental results imply that another year or two of drought could so damage the forest that it would result in an irreversible process that “could lead to” the death (savannization or desertification) of the forest, which is not going much beyond what the Woods Hole researchers are saying themselves.
It seems to me that Gavin’s response paints The Independent as more “alarmist” than it really is, and the Woods Hole results as less “alarming” than they really are.
Re #55 “Higher levels of CO2 make green things grow faster, which I suppose is good.”
I’d like to second no.57 and add a bit. There are a number of plants that are adapted for more arid and hotter environments. These plants are distinct in the photosynthetic pathway they use, called C4 as opposed to C3 used by the majority of plants (mostly true of the tropics but weedy plants in the north also). This enables them to assimilate carbon in the second phase of photosynthesis at night time, thus reducing or even eliminating respiration costs. It is thus a highly efficient form of photosynthesis from the point of view of water. Corn is an example of one such plant and as anyone who has seen corn grow can attest it is a very fast growing plant. However these plants are rarely woody as the cost of photosynthesis is high in terms of metabolic energy. They have more cellulose content, making them less palatable to herbivores, and less nitrogen making them less nutritious.
However, it is mostly grasses and weedy type plants which have adapted this mechanism. Within the forest it is the liana’s, bromeliads and epiphytes, which sit on top of C3 species, and in the case of lianas become serious competitors for light, and add an additional weight to the trees structure. As these plants thrive, trees get pulled down.
In short, overtime C3 plants get out competed ending up with a net loss of diversity, less carbon assimilation and a much lower carrying capacity than what existed before.
That wise phrase was spoken to me by my manager when I worked as a used telecommunications equipment trader during the late 1990s. I’d bought a bunch of stuff that promptly became outdated, I didn’t want to take the hit that would come from selling at a loss, but he was right – the damage was already done and pretending otherwise did us no good.
If you look at the Vostok ice core data you can see that CO2 concentrations have varied from 180ppm to 280ppm over the last 400k years. I think the current number from Mauna Loa is something like 378ppm. The loss has already occurred.
I see several people on here who have a problem with the current administration in the U.S., but no matter how bozorific they may be, they and their comical oil industry funded stance about GW are just that; comical and so not relevant. A 100ppm increase in CO2 is like a run away freight train coming down out of Rollins Pass; the diameter and density of sticks thrown under its wheels at this point just aren’t going to make that much of a difference.
Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge posit a technological singualirty which will result in sweeping change for our species, while Bruce Sterling and Octavia Butler see a dystopian nightmare; my money is on human nature and the Sterling/Butler “hell on earth” angle.
Re 54: Liam, I agree that deforestation can only be stopped if we remove the financial incentives for destroying rainforests, and offer funding for alternative activities. Small schemes doing just that have been tried for decades, yet the situation is now desperate and global success has been elusive. Surely we now need an international policy, providing both large amounts of funding and enforcement to ensure that deforestation really is drastically reduced or stopped. If you read the main report I quoted under comment 34, you might well find that the Compensated Reduction proposal is much closer to what you seem to advocate than you might think. It is completely different from the divisive and far more dubious carbon sinks proposals discussed some years ago. Rainforest nations would only get money if there was evidence (corroborated by satellite monitoring, in all likelihood) that deforestation had been significantly reduced. The rainforest nations would need to draw up a convincing plan of action in order to be eligible for credit until they qualify for the final payments, and they would have to repay the money if they defaulted (ie just felled the forest anyway). The challenge, of course, is to ensure that the funding outweighs the financial incentives from clear-cutting and conversion to agriculture. Of course, other policies in the West should complement such an agreement (ban illegal timber, have mandatory certification schemes for agricultural products and timber, stop biofuels promotion as long as rainforest protection is not guaranteed). Amending the Kyoto Protocol to allow for compensated reduction would acknowledge that tropical deforestation is a major source of carbon emissions (second after fossil fuel emissions), that those emissions must be curbed, and that there must be a global funding mechanism for doing so, which does not put the financial burden on developing nations.
> 65 What’s committed now is “sunk costs” — but what we do in the next decade http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/features/altscenario/
can greatly change both how fast CO2 goes up, so how fast temperature goes up, and also how high the highest temperature is before Earth gets back into equilibrium.
It’s like someone chucking gravel off a roof, and we’re chained below them — and it’s falling at us now, no way to dodge — the first piece will hurt, but if we can stop them before they dump the whole wheelbarrow full, the total damage will be less.
We have not yet (I hope) put enough CO2 in the atmosphere to trigger some of the more potentially catastrophic tipping points, such as the release of methane clathrates from the ocean floor. I believe we could trigger those events, if we keep working at it. It would be beneficial for the species (lots of species) to stop working at it.
Re.66. Almuth Ernsting. I understand your point and its a convincing argument, I suppose they could do it through an Annex specific to the tropics. It would be a very tricky thing though as there is mounting pressure in Canada and NZ for a withdrawal from Kyoto, and the credits for existing forest reserves issue has never gone away.
Another possibility is to create a variable credit system using CDM’s with a bias towards countries that engage in more meaningful ecosystem protection. ie. you deforested, therefore CDM investment goes to someone else who hasn’t. Create a competition over who has the most environmentally sound policies. Kinda carrot and stick approach.
I’ve only had a chance to have a cursory glance at the webpage link you provided. Thanks for that. I look forward to reading it.
We have no way of predicting, but 50% more CO2 than at any time in the last many hundred thousand years is going to have dramatic effects all over the place. One of those dramatic effects is likely to be a world that won’t support so many humans. Somalia and Afghanistan are much the worse for long running drought and parts of Pakistan are starting to get that way. Multiply this by a factor of five, stir in some *real* weapons of mass destruction, and its quite a receipe for, uhh, social change. I’m middle aged and I’m going to live to see these things.
I recommend you read Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins & L Hunter Lovins (1999).
I have to say prior to reading this book i found myself being uncharacteristically pesimistic about the future. Afterwards i got some hope. It will give you a different perspective on what can well be done and in record time.
The simple trust of their argument is that the “productivity improvements” that have occured in the past decade are miniscule in comparison to what awaits in terms of dealing with natural capital, i.e. the environment. And what they are spelling out is that we have the technology and know how, and that any company that fails to implement those technologies and reconsider how it is they sell products will ultimately fall short of competitors.
They make the very persuasive argument that our economy is structured with a big design flaw, and that we know how to fix it. The question that arises from it is whether there is the will to fix it. And i believe there is.
Carbon Trading Schemes are critical in this regard, for the first time it places a cost on emitting, whilst the genius is that it is up to the market to set that price. It begins the process of weighting companies competitiveness against each other on the basis of emissions. There is already talk of including car manufacturers into the european system, not to mention airlines, and a very prominent British MP suggested a personal carbon allowance in the UK for some future date.
We know how to do it, and those that don’t will pay the price in competitiveness, its that simple.
Liam, your belief that we know how to fix the big design flaw in our economy is based largely, in my opinion, on your familiarity with the inventory of technical options we know are availabe and have sound economic rationale and attractive pay-back schedules. They also carry some capital cost and here is the weakness in the technologic approach.
Americans carry $2.2 trillion, (Trillion) in private debt and that does not include mortgage payments. Add the federal debt and soon to be exploding debt owed to retirees. Then, throw in higher energy, education, health and food costs. Total the average family outlay and ask yourself how the masses of homeowners, apartment and commercial business owners and car owners will find the credit to go deeper into debt to retrofit their house or trade in the gas guzzler for a Prius. And, avoid pushing hydrogen fuel cells and solar roofs faster than their actual mass-production deployment can actually achieve.
Since Californians are paying highest gasoline prices in the nation, they should be eager to trade in their 26 million vehicles for an economy car. Where do those 26 million cars with their 130 million tires go when owners abandons them? They show up on CARMAX or JOEs really good car lot where a flooded market of used cars drives down the price enough that lower income families abandon their junker and pick up something with style and good brakes.
Amory Lovins is correct but all of his common sense will not replace bad credit with good credit.
I would appreciate hearing some not pessimistic, comprehensive thinking behind the technical fix of our flawed economy. It will take more than replacing the bad with the good. It will also require an acceptance of the reality there is a real world of consumers who live paycheck to paycheck (the Federal Minimum Wage is currently $5.15 an hour for covered, non-exempt employees)and hold two jobs to feed and house their family.
Comment by John L. McCormick — 7 Aug 2006 @ 8:55 PM
>I would appreciate hearing some not pessimistic, comprehensive thinking behind the technical fix of our flawed economy. It will take more than replacing the bad with the good. It will also require an acceptance of the reality there is a real world of consumers who live paycheck to paycheck (the Federal Minimum Wage is currently $5.15 an hour for covered, non-exempt employees)and hold two jobs to feed and house their family.
The brief answer to this is that pure market solutions run into exactly the problems you mention (among others). Which is why any conversion to renewables has to include massive public works, and strict regulations. And there is plenty of money available for both carbon reducing public works and enforcement of regulations, if we can develop the political will – money being spent currrently on insane military ventures, money spent on subsidies for fossil fuels, money spent on tax breaks for the wealthy. As a bonus you generate a demand for labor that might help bring wages up, and provide income to pay off some of those debts. But you have to overcome current prejudice that public spending is inherently more wasteful and inefficient than private.
Re #68 and [[RE: “Never in the history of our planet has any animal mechanically altered the chemical composition of our atmosphere. Except for humans in the last 300 years.”
Oh, but them pesky plants and plankton. Where’d all the oxygen come from? ]]
Read the quote you’re responding to more carefully. He used the word ANIMAL. Plants are not animals. Plankton, for that matter, do not much affect the atmosphere, though blue-green algae do (which, again, are not animals).
Perhaps the tide is turning — in terms of news media exposure. MSN this morning links to two stories which mention global warming:
– Swiss cliff crumbles as glacier retreats
– Taller mountains a result of global warming
Both stories treat global warming as though it’s established, not under debate. These stories link to other environmental news, including three more that mention global warming:
– ‘Dead zone’ killing sea life, tied to climate?
– Hotter nights tied to global warming
– Heat convinces Robertson of warming
Interesting from a public-opinion perspective is the second one; it mentions that greater nighttime warming is one of the “fingerprints” of global warming. Also quite fascinating is the last story, at this URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14171691/
Heat convinces Robertson of global warming
Conservative Christian who once promoted oil exploration changes his mind
Updated: 5:41 p.m. ET Aug 3, 2006
NEW YORK – Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said Thursday the wave of scorching temperatures across the United States has converted him into a believer in global warming.
“We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels,” Robertson said on his “700 Club” broadcast. “It is getting hotter, and the icecaps are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air.”
This week the heat index, the perceived temperature based on both air temperatures and humidity, reached 115 Fahrenheit in some regions of the East Coast. The 76-year-old Robertson told viewers that was “the most convincing evidence I’ve seen on global warming in a long time.”
I cringe when I read Magical Capitalist remedies. “Capitalism” is a negative presence — the fewer restrictions on contract there are the more capitalist the economy is. A person with no restrictions on his economic activity can hire himself out for a mess of a pottage or sell his own eye balls, but he can’t make himself be anything other than a limited human being.
Article talks about how large amounts of forest is being cut down to be replaced by palm-oil plantations – for biodiesel. So in the name of AGW, we’re cutting down more forest than before. Great.
Compares the “well-to-wheel efficiency” of Toyota Prius (and others) to the Tesla Roadster. Feel free to take it with a pinch of salt, but these kinds of calculations in general are useful I feel.
“This week the heat index, the perceived temperature based on both air temperatures and humidity, reached 115 Fahrenheit in some regions of the East Coast. The 76-year-old Robertson told viewers that was ‘the most convincing evidence I’ve seen on global warming in a long time.'”
I don’t suppose Pat Robertson has any evidence that the recent heat wave can be attributed to AGW? I always worry when someone adopts a position on a scientific issue based on little or no knowledge of the subject.
Re #75 As the ICTZ moves north, the tropical jungle would move north too, but farmers and their herds will prevent that happening.
The areas into which the trees would spread is being ploughed annually, or it is being used to intensively herd animals who eat any young seedlings. There is no prospect of that area being covered with 100 year old trees. 5000 years ago, when the planet was warmer, the Sahara was inhabited, but it is unlikely to return to those conditions until the global human population is reduced below the level that caused its desertification :-(
Please. When posting something you believe to be true as though it were a fact, please give some science citation. Why do you believe this?
I’m not an authority on any of this, so I’m always looking for sources. Scholar will almost always get you at least a few reputable, refereed journals.
And there are so many septic/denialist/lobbyist/PR firm assertions being pasted into conversation, as though they were true. It’s tiresome trying to catch all the bs. If you give a cite, it’s easier to rely on.
[Response: ‘plankton’ just means free floating – and thus includes simple animals (such as zooplankton – foraminifera, radiolario, diatoms etc.) as well as phytoplankton (blue-green algae and the like). Only the plant plankton is giving off oxygen…. – gavin]
My apologies if i seemed over enthusiastic. The one major critique i had of Natural Capitalism was the ideological stance of the work. I am Irish, and European in my outlook. I have a much stronger affiliation for the social markets of northern europe than for the religion of free markets that entralls the US. They are more humane, with all that that implies. However i will take ideas from wherever they come, and the authors truly have some startlingly refreshing ideas. Their book is not solely about technologies, but how we organise ourselves.
1) ESCO’s, energy service companies that make money by reducing the bills of consumers. What they do is pay the capital costs and thus maintain ownership of such things as energy efficient fridges, solar panels, solar water heaters, super windows (which act in much the same way as semiconductors), insulation, etc. Essentially they lease the technology and gain a cut of the savings of the household. As the technology improves they replace it with no capital cost to the household, which in fact gains from a lower energy bill, whilst the company gains from receiving a bigger cut. This is much the same as the hire purchase strategy through which 90% of American new cars are bought and sold.
2) Traditional product companies, reorientate themselves towards selling services. So for example, if the desired effect of a consumer is a warm house in winter and cool house in summer, then this company sells them this through retrofitting. The consumer doesn’t have to pay for an air conditioner/heating system as a result. This type of company is widespread in Paris as a traditional way of doing business.
3) Simple things. Like the provision with state aid for the replacement of all traditional light bulbs with the Philips flourescent lights. The state wins because it saves the energy of a power station, and therefore the capital cost of building a new one. The consumer wins through reduced electricity bills.
The book got me because it was first and foremost practical. However, that said, I think that a truly bright state, such as Sweden for example (which is aiming to be carbon neutral in by 2020 i believe), will see the benefits of state aid for retrofitting, solar panel deployment, and so on.
Interestingly, Curry’s a major UK retail chain is selling solar panels for half the cost of normal service providers. They want to see what the take up will be before making mass orders, which will only drive down their cost.
Further. In my home country, there is massive state aid being directed towards farmers that grow traditional coppice and biomass for wood pellet boilers. A pilot program was established to enable conversion for a limited number of homes and businesses. It was a resounding success and it plans are underfoot to heavily expand. The added benefits of this and a complete decoupling of beef production from grants will be a massive reduction in land going to cattle, with a more than significant reduction in methane emissions resulting from this. This is actually a large part of the first phase of Irelands climate change strategy.
Wave technology. We have gargantuan waves off the west coast of Ireland, and reasonably sized waves off the west of France, and portugal. There are trials being conducted by marine institutes for a number of these devices all developed with grants and state support.
the addition of new fleets of buses in London along with a congestion charge. They’re also proposing to add a variable tax of upwards of 1,800 pounds or abouut US$3,500 on cars depending on the size of their engines and fuel efficiency.
I could keep going, but i won’t, the point is to not stick your head in the sand and say, ‘there’s nothing we can do about it, but to find the small practical things that all together, and combined with the larger efforts, that we should demand from our governments, do make a difference.
When discussing GW I find that there is a progression in those who aren’t up on the matter, much like the phases a person experiences when dying:
Phase one – denial: “So it’ll be warmer and I can wear my bikini another two months of the year. Cool!” And there is always the gesture of extending one’s hand to check wind and air temperature, followed by a “Feels fine to me”.
Phase two – bargaining: “I could trade my Expedition for an Explorer … or an Escape?” Whack ‘em over the head with the nine grams of fuel per each gram of food statistic if you want this phase to pass quickly.
Phase three – anger: “I hate those #*($&%$# arabs. We just need to kick ass and gas prices will go back down to $1.29/gallon where they should be.” These days you’ll see this attitude extended to the rapidly modernizing Chinese economy, or India, or some other tangent. This stage is a good time to bring up our exciting, expanded hurricane season, which may yield rage against the vengeful sky fairy – “Why is god punishing us? Must be our tolerance of homosexuals!”
Phase four – depression: “Gas might really be $10/gallon soon? $500 electric bills for a small home?” The more perceptive see deeper at this point – we have this implicit, seldom discussed model of the Great Depression our grandparents experienced being “As Bad As It Can Get”. That delusion will be smashed.
Phase five – acceptance: I’m there. Business is going just great, so much so that I’m planning on buying enough acres in Northwest Iowa to subsistence farm. Earth home construction, a creek on the property a must, maybe build a pond, and wind generation. I put my nine year old son behind the trigger of an AR-15 the other day – for you hoplophobes thats the civilian version of the same rifle the U.S. military uses. I’m crossing my fingers the remoteness, the land quality, and the social cohesion equal a stable fiefdom where my kids can live after our oil addicted economy starts getting the shakes from withdrawl.
Re:86 acceptance: I’m there?
In case you find you aren’t able to make your own ammunition and gunpowder you may be able to barter for it. I’m sure the marauding horsemen swooping down from Minnesota will be willing to trade some in exchange for a few of the nice fat carp in your pond. Then again if they have more fire power than you they may just decide to bypass the trade option… heck, who knows you may be able to reinvent diplomatic relations!
Re #86: That was interesting. But the final stage won’t work. In a world where everything changes, you won’t be able to guess in advance what to horde or cling to now in antipication of imagined shortages later. It may turn out that being tied to the land may be a liability (if for example that land becomes desertified, or overrun with refugees, or the government collectivises everything) or that being tied to atoms of any kind (home, city, car, gold coins, etc) is more of a liability than being a mobile information navigator with no ties to any thing, place, profession or economic system. I think, in general, that being tied to past ways of thinking is the greatest liability going forward and that being ready to adapt “whatever it takes” — starting right now — and the mental flexibility that comes with that will be both the solution to our growing problem as well as a way of running our individual and shared ships into the storm winds of change. We are no longer the masters of the world, we need to become stewards of the world and that shift needs to happen over the next 50 years or less, and that is a lot of change for a single generation to manage.
#16 (re US involvement), not to mention the destruction of Amazon rainforests to appease America’s voracious appetite for aluminum (bauxite from rainforests), oil, beef, & chicken, etc. Farming/ranching to feed livestock destroys RF pretty fast, bec RF soil is too poor for European-style agri (the nutrients are in the trees/brush), so they have to keep moving on, cutting down more RF, leaving moonscape behind after a few crops (at least that’s the way I heard about it).
So I guess it’s a matter of how the RFs finally get destroyed — directly or indirectly by human activities.
Comment by Lynn Vincentnathan — 8 Aug 2006 @ 2:27 PM
I think it’s important to differentiate between scientific analysis of the AGW problem and socioeconomic approaches to solving the problem.
The biological component of AGW is the most difficult to predict; biological systems have diverse responses that can’t be modelled the same way the atmospheric and oceanic circulation can. We know that all the glaciers in low lattitudes are going to be gone – I don’t think anyone disputes that. The fate of the Amazon is more difficult to predict, but let’s review that quote from the Woods Hole post again:
“What our work does show is that the drought we imposed caused big trees to die more than small trees, which was a surprise. We also know that the amounts of carbon that may be going to the atmosphere following Amazon droughts are probably big enough to accelerate global warming. Currently trends suggest that a big chunk of the Amazon forest will probably be displaced by fire-prone scrub vegetation; global warming will probably exacerbate this trend.”
If we combine the changes in the high Andes with the changes in the Amazon, it sure looks like there is a regional catastrophe in the works, which will also affect the global picture. To monitor this, getting the data is the most important thing – and satellite data covers vast regions of the planet, but new satellites for these purposes have been defunded by the political decision-making process, which is obviously heavily influenced by the fossil fuel lobby and associated PR firms.
So, it is clear that AGW is a very serious problem. What is the best response? In this case, look at posts like #70 by gar lipow, who points out the need for a focussed government program to switch to renewable energy systems. This means getting rid of all the tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel production and transferring them to renewable energy production; it means creating government fund pools for research and development of renewables for both the public academic and private sector; it means creating or supporting low-interest loan programs (like car loans) by banks to allow individuals to purchase solar systems for their homes – who would buy a new car if loans weren’t available? I’m in favor of an outright ban on burning coal, since it is the worst of the fossil fuels in terms of energy output vs. CO2 emissions – such a ban could phased in following the Montreal Protocol for ozone-destroying CFCs.
In the Amazon, stopping deforestation is the big issue, and as an above post points out (#20 by stephen berg), international trade agreements play a big role; Cargill and ADM have been widely censured for their soy-export programs in the Amazon, even though they are very interested in turning a profit from biofuels – which is exactly why strong government regulation is needed to create a level playing field that points companies towards the correct goals – away from coal-fired ethanol distilleries, for example. In addition, it’s high time the government applied “Truth in Advertising” laws to the fossil fuel disinformation campaign that is so prevalent in US media.
Now, if we have good data collection systems in place we can start to see how well steps taken to combat AGW work out over longer time periods. The central need is for a long-term perspective and for long term-planning, and by and large the ‘private sector’ isn’t capable of this; that’s the role goverment and the public should play.
My reading also indicates that there is no predicably safe place to survive the effects of climate change (not counting US government bunkers, of course, which will preserve the best and brightest of US society for future archeological discovery – hey, look! I found a tomb for the nobles of an ancient civilization!). Even if you avoid the social consequences and still have a climate capable of producing sufficient food, species with shorter life cycles will evolve more quickly than you and I, and those species include bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.
Chuckle. That’s why we ask for citations, Steve, when people post their beliefs and opinions.
That’s why I ask you for yours. Often. And try to do so politely, though persistently.
In 89 I almost-agreed with Gavin’s comment — the photosynthesizers (avoiding saying ‘plants’) are indeed the oxygen producers.
But the organisms creating calcite and aragonite shells — from CO2 — also affect the atmosphere, and will again when acidification prevents that process, late in this century.
Note my typo, my 89 should have pointed back to 83 not 88.
Aside — I do like the “Five Kingdoms” myself – but the count may be up to Six. I’ll have to look it up (grin).
Vol. 93, Issue 3, 1071-1076, February 6, 1996
Archaeal-eubacterial mergers in the origin of Eukarya: Phylogenetic classification of life
Lynn Margulis, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003-5810
September 15, 1995
“A symbiosis-based phylogeny leads to a consistent, useful classification system for all life. “Kingdoms” and “Domains” are replaced by biological names for the most inclusive taxa: Prokarya (bacteria) and Eukarya (symbiosis-derived nucleated organisms). …
…. Molecular biology, life-history, and fossil record evidence support the reunification of bacteria as Prokarya while subdividing Eukarya into uniquely defined subtaxa: Protoctista, Animalia, Fungi, and Plantae.”
Margulis leads us back to Lovelock and to global feedback mediated by life, and we’re back on topic.
Re 75, 82:
Currently, the northern portion of the Amazon basin (Northern Brazil, southern Venezuela, Guyana) is savannah, not rainforest. Is this area in danger of becoming forested if the ITCZ moves North? Will savannah-specific species like Anaconda be impacted?
[So, it is clear that AGW is a very serious problem. What is the best response?]
Ike Solem, there is no best response to a global warming world. Reacting to its next impact: extensive heat waves, crop failure in North America, Cat 5 hurricanes in succession; no comfort, no guidance here.
Real world though: The California legislature is putting final touches to an extremely aggressive multi decadal effort to reduce California GHG emissions by 80 percent below 1990 level by 2050. The 1990 level of CO2 equivalent emissions was 439 million tons. 2005 level was about 550 million tons.
If you want to follow this show stopper try linking to:
the California Climate Center Report on Managing Californias Greenhouse Gas Emissions written by a team at Berkeley.
Then, search for AB 32, recently voted out of the California Senate. Finally, search for the Governors press release and 2005 Executive Order creating a State bureaucracy to plan and implement this blueprint for the industrial world to duplicate…..if there is time remaining and the will to salvage some level of future for our children.
Today, the State has 36 million citizens driving 26 million cars burning 18 billion gallons of gasoline emitting about 180 million tons of CO2. With annual increase of about 1 percent, projected population by 2050 is about 55 million.
Electric peak demand end of July exceeded projection determined for 2010. Aging nukes and high natural gas costs make more difficult the process of planning and constructing new generating capacity. Diminished snowpack, warmer, earlier spring makes hydro a gamble.
It will take all the government California citizens can support and tolerate to even begin this incredible march towards the 80 percent goal.
In the 1960s, LA smog deaths and economic loss created the state clean air law which became justification for Congress to nationalize that state law and sort out the automobile manufacturer problems caused by that unilateral action in Sacramento.
This 80 reduction campaign is the precursor to federal legislation of the same magnitude. When that comes about, the US Congress will be unrecognizable because its members will be dedicated to our best interests. Sounds too good to be true?
Comment by John L. McCormick — 8 Aug 2006 @ 9:51 PM
[So, it is clear that AGW is a very serious problem. What is the best response?]
Ike Solem, there is no best response to a global warming world. Reacting to its next impact, extensive heat wave, crop failure in North America, Cat 5 hurricanes in succession; no comfort, no guidance here.
Real world though: The California legislature is putting the final touches to an extremely aggressive multi decadal effort to reduce California GHG emissions by 80 percent below 1990 level by 2050. If you want to follow this show stopper try linking to:
the California Climate Center Report on Managing Californias Greenhouse Gas Emissions written by a team at Berkeley. Then, search for AB 32, recently voted out of the California Senate. Finally, search for the Governors press release and Executive Order creating a State bureaucracy to plan and implement this blueprint for the industrial world to duplicate…..if there is time remaining and the will to salvage some level of future for our children.
Today, the State has 36 million citizens driving 26 million cars burning 18 billion gallons of gasoline emitting about 180 million tons of CO2. With annual increase of about 1 percent, projected population by 2050 is about 55 million.
Electric peak demand end of July exceeded projection determined for 2010. Aging nukes and high natural gas costs make more difficult the process of planning and constructing new generating capacity. Diminished snowpack, warmer, earlier spring makes hydro a gamble.
It will take all the government California citizens can support and tollerate to even begin this incredible march towards the 80 percent goal.
In the 1960s, LA smog deaths and economic loss created the state clean air law which because justification for the Congress to nationalize that state law and sort out the automobile manufacturer problems with that unilateral action in Sacramento.
This 80 percent reduction campaign is the precursor to federal legislation of the same magnitude. When that comes about, the US Congress will be unrecognizable because its members will be dedicated to our best interests. Sounds too good to be true?
Comment by John L. McCormick — 8 Aug 2006 @ 10:31 PM
The link in # 98 (and # 97)) is broken. Just delete the sem-colon at the end and the link works.
I hope the plan that it points to works, too. It’s verbose, but all steps toward more efficiency and less carbon, are good.
The impression I get is that thhe northern hemisphere is subject to widespread drought that is expected to continue.
Here in Australia the news is the same.
However as I understand it the dynamic water cycle is in equilibrium.
So where has all the water not now falling as rain gone?
Is the drought a short term effect of the warmer atmosphere taking up water and equilibrium will be established. If so in what time frame?
Re #85 and ” I have a much stronger affiliation for the social markets of northern europe than for the religion of free markets that entralls the US.”
Good for you. I myself remain a free-market freak. Europe’s three big attempts to remove the evils of the free market have included two huge failures (Naziism and Communism) and one semi-failure (modern mixed economies with sky-high unemployment).
The alternative to private ownership of resources is public ownership — either the community owns stuff and decides what to do with it, or, more realistically, the state does. You’d think after Hitler and Stalin more Europeans would be wary of giving the state too much power, but they don’t seem to learn very well.
[Response:I think that this caricature of Europe is very wrong. By the way, modern mixed economies such as those in the Nordic countries (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland & Norway, the latter which admittedly has an abundance of natural resources) rank at the top of the lists of countries with the best standard of living. Neither is the unembloyment high either (Finland had high unemployment for a brief in the 1990s though). -rasmus]
As a product of three cultures; European, North and South American, I currently tend to think that a form of non ideological anarchism, the kind that limits the influence of centralized systems of power may be the new paradigm to pursue. A concrete and simple example of this would be individuals becoming self suficient by generating their own energy and being free of the electric utility monopolies. The same concept could be applied to most centralized concentrations of power.
Donella Meadows has written this paper: Leverage Points – Places To Intervene In A System
“Thus there is a fear that too much drought or disturbance could flip parts of the forest into a more savannah-like state. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty in where these thresholds may lie and how likely they are to be crossed, and the rate at which change will occur”
I had a relook at the Maslin and Burns (2000), and it made me wonder about just how uncertain we are…
they suggest that at the time of the younger dryas, there was a 60% decrease in river flow. They attribute this reduced precipitation to a more zonal formation of the ITCZ.
I’d like to get my hands on current up to date temperature records for the area, for one of the characteristics of the time was the reduction in temperature, which would have reduced plant water requirements, even as the athmosphere grew dryer. Weather here is extremely variable, and we routinely have 3 to 5 day “friaje” events (cold fronts) that reduce ambient temperature by 50%. I imagine these friajes occurring in the dry season have a significant limiting effect on drought. Though it must be noted that these fronts are more local effecting mostly the southwest as far as the Ucayali.
Further adding to the variability is the metabolic gradient that runs from west to east with the eastern forests, slower growing and longer living, therefore with a much slower turnover rate.
Gavin, I don’t know if you’ve seen the paper, but if you have, does it say if this dieback of larger trees was across all species, or species specific?
Plus i’m having difficulty figuring out how a transformation to savannah would occur away from the margins. What sort of dispersal mechanisms would be applied, etc.
In their press release they make reference to plants in the understory halting woody growth due to drought. However this is a common mechanism for plants here which have adopted a kind of ‘gambler’ strategy of sitting and waiting for a tree to fall and a gap to form in more mature stable forests. A number of tree species employ this strategy here with growth rates highly variable depending on habitat, and therefore light variability. Reproductive strategies are similarly effected. A good example of this Bertholletia excelsa which will begin flowering and fruiting at less than 10 years old in open conditions, but can take up to 100 years in mature forest according to matrix models.
The World is geared up for Fossil Fuel. 100+ years of providing infrastructures, prospecting, drilling and harnesing Oil Gas and Coal has made it cheap and easy to move around great distances. Humankind has almost cheated nature in many ways by the discovery and use of these fuels. These reasons also tell us why no true easy to turn on alternatives have ever been discovered. Climate Scientists speak of tipping points whereby the climate cannnot be reversed for many years after the point has been reached. The same goes for economies and civilisations, fossil fuels will require at least 50 years to replace in their entirity even if we have a real alternative available within the next 5 years (which I doubt) at full production level.
Their is a massive latency (time) in something being discovered and it being all pervasive like fossil fuels are. 50 years at least I would suggest.
The US does not have a free market or capitalism. You have something new, perhaps called corporatism; consumers or individuals are not making the primary decisions, though they think they are (and could, if they woke up). Your forebears were very right to fear slick-talking Washington lawyers.
Not sure what this has to do with climate change science…except, I suppose that these things are preventing the truth about same, and about practical solutions, from coming to light.
After finding out this week that Tony Blair is only now planning on having eco bulbs put in 10 Downing Street I don’t have much faith in any major policy changes by the UK government re. the Amazon. Politicians just don’t seem willing to grasp the nettle.
This past week I read that China has plans for a huge scheme to bring water from the Qinghai/Tibet plateau to more arid regions to provide supplies that will “last a 1000 years” , building to begin 2010.
If the glaciers there are melting at the rate of 7% a year there’s not going to be much water there at all in a few decades. Is this right or have I got my facts wrong?
If it is right then there isn’t much communication or sensible thought going on in the Chinese government.
>fossil fuels will require at least 50 years to replace in their entirity even if we have a real alternative available within the next 5 years (which I doubt) at full production level
1) We have alternatives now – efficiency means, wind. Many of them are at full production levels. Others could be brought to that level very quickly.
2) In the U.S. at least most of our energy consuming infrastructure is projected to last less than 30 years. For example the average lifespan of a U.S. car (from assembly line to car-crusher) is aroud 12 years. Commercial buildings generally need a full rehab every 25 years. So there is no reason we cannot replace our energy consuming infrastructure AS IT WEARS OUT over the course of 30 years to reduce energy consumption, and also phase in renewable sources, and thus completely phase out fossil fuels if we wish.
Re #107: As I understand it, the concern about Tibetan region glacier melt is that without the glaciers there will be a major interruption in water supply each year since the glaciers serve to “even out” water flow off the plateau. We have something similar with the Sierra snowpack here in California. If warming causes winter precipitation to fall as rain rather than snow, it will run off immediately rather than be stored as snow that will melt and supply water well into the summer dry season. The key point is that warming can create serious water supply problems in such areas even with no change in precipitation.
Re #109. You have no alternatives to replace then more lip service to fossil fuels. Nothing at the present time can, look into it seriously, Wind and othe renewables without massive investment and uptake can do what fossil fuels can do at the present time.
I would imagine that if the western world embraced all methods of fuel conservation, inclusing smaller cars, micro wind and massive wind and decided to cover huge swathes of land and sea in solar panels then yer we may have a chance of mitigating climate change but not eliminate it utterly. Fridges need more efficient technology as do all electrical equipment but it all takes time and lots of money to achieve.
Unfortunately Aircraft have no alternative fuel that they can use, cars might have a chance with Ethenol but unless new techniques are brought in to produce it then there is not chance of it mitigating GAS/Petrol for many years to come, around 50 probably.
Then there is the politics, free market capatalism will prevail and hence we await a natural solution rather than a state induced one
Re #111: In America, we already have “huge swathes” of land set aside that could be used for solar energy. I’m referring to the millions of acres of highway right-of-ways, airports, country roads, railroad easements, parking lots, urban and suburban roads, rooftops and so forth. Use of this land will require only refinements of existing technologies rather than technological beakthroughs. And the electronics industry has a superb trackrecord of refining manufacturing processes and bringing down costs in response to market opportunities. Remember the good old days when a calculator cost what an entire computer costs today?
Re #112 I do not doubt it that the USA could if it wanted to (which is seemingly does not at the present time) could make add to the mix of current energy needs solar, pv, wind, geothermal, tidal and wave etc, however at the present time its fossil fuels all the way due to the politics of energy a well as the enourmous costs involved in switching infrastructures.
I know you have for good reason ruled out posts on politics, though posts about the role of the media do come close. However given that there seems to be a huge amount of interest in finding a viable solution, which tends to bring out some argumentative comments, some very valid i might ad, would you consider doing a post that looks at the possible solutions, from either an economic, technological or societal point of view? An example is an evaluation of the Kyoto Protocol and its different aspects.
Ultimately it doesn’t have to be political or promote any one system over another, but just a space where people can trash out these ideas. It might help to keep such conversations from filtering into every thread. It appears also that there is huge interest, judging from the amount of posts this thread received.
By the way, it’s not just the Amazon and tropical forests that are changing under the influence of AGW; Northern Boreal Forest could also start releasing CO2 at a greater rate. There is a good Woods Hole site on this as well:
There is more carbon in the soils of boreal forests then in tropical forests, and warming at the poles is expected to be higher then the global average warming. Release of CO2 from northern forests and permafrost is an additional concern.
There have been other papers on anthropogenic effects on forests and tipping points. Both of these are about cloud forests and how man-made changes reduce forests which in turn reduces cloud formation, therefore there are less cloud forests.
Comment by Joseph O'Sullivan — 10 Aug 2006 @ 7:30 PM
>Wind and othe renewables without massive investment and uptake can [not?] do what fossil fuels can do at the present time.
Without massive investment – no. But our infrastruture requires massive investment anyway. Put 300 billion a year into efficiency and renewables, and you could completely phase out fossil fuels over thirty years. Further, by picking “low hanging fruit” first, you could front load the phaseout. What we are lacking is not techical capability or resources to implement the capability, but political will.
“Evaluation of global wind power” by Cristina L. Archer & Mark Z. Jacobson. Their conclusion was 72 terawatts, many times total world power consumption. Now of course even there really is this much wind power available,without some sort of storage or backup you can’t rely totally on variable pwoer such as wind. But still it is important if true. However I’ve heard some criticism of this study on grounds they are using point source extrapolation. Basically the criticism says, that there isn’t really 72 terawatts available in 100% of the wind passing over land (as opposed to water) at the height they checked wind speed at. That if you started tapping a significant portion of the winds power, there would be less available elsewhere – that in short they are simply measuring the same power many times. And I don’t know if that critique is crackpot or if the authors of the paper made a really basic mistake. I’m not qualified to judge. But it really is a scientific question; how correct is this study, and also even if it is correct, what are the full implications? Without storage the variable nature of wind limits how much of our grid we can safely supply from it at a reasonable cost – no matter how much is available. Anyway I think this might be an interesting scientific issue to do a post on. And, you know, based on a scientific paper published in (I believe) a peer reviewed journal.
If you like this one, I can probably come up with others.
Field Ecological research like Woods Hole Research Center are trying to do is very difficult, and so results must be treated with caution.
They are only performing the experiment at one site, Amazonia is vast with great diversity. I would hope to see similar experiments in other areas. Replicated results are always preferrable and I would judge in this case essential.
“By the end of the five-year period of exclusion, many trees in the forest were drawing water from more than 40 feet deep in the soil.”
“Once the moisture that is stored in deep soil is depleted, the largest trees – towering 130 to 150 feet above the ground and basking in full sunlight – begin to falter and die. The death of such large trees that may take centuries to reach the top of the forest canopy, increased from about one percent per year to nine percent in the fourth year of the experiment, when soil water was depleted.”
I was under the impression that Amazonian soils were ofter shallow, so other parts may not fare as well.
While I am dismayed as anyone at the destruction of rain forests in the Amazon, I think we need to get our facts straight. It does NOT take centuries for trees to reach the top of the canopy in the rain forest (or any other forest for that matter). When a gap in a forest canopy appears, seedlings and younger stunted trees grow like mad to reach mature height. In the rain forest, this takes longer because the canopy is higher [30 – 50 meters] compared to most forests [20 – 25 meters]. Depending on species, it takes 30 to 80 years for trees to reach mature height in rain forests (only 10 to 40 years in other forests) which isn’t exactly zippy but its NOT centuries. Most trees live for a dang long time after reaching mature height – but they have to reach mature height QUICK or competitor trees will beat them to the sky and shade them out. So evolution has driven deep forest trees to reach mature height really fast. Rain forest trees have a higher mature height – because they can given the nature of abundant water supplies.
A recent article in the Smithsonian about the Serengeti was instructive because it outlined that the only reason the Serengeti remains a savannah is the PRESENCE of the massive herds of wilderbeests. When the wilderbeests died back due to an accidentally introduced cattle virus, the savannah rapidly grew brush and trees. The general evidence is that any region that gets more than 35+ inches of rain per year is gonna be forested in the absence of other pressure (humans or grazing animals removing the mature trees and preventing seedlings from growing). In my native Georgia, US, any field left unmowed for more than three or four years will be teeming with pine trees and completed forested within 10 – 20 years.
I am making a TV series (in the Community Television sector) titled MEDIA AND GLOBAL WARMING
and found the Amazon is Dying item.
I am interested in making contact with people who might like to contribute in some small way. Text can be quote from screens with approval.
I have also asked here in Australia if the Bush War on Terrorism is a distraction to the more serious question of Climate Crisis.
1. is it typical of the amazonian forest as a whole in terms of tree species soil type and depth, etc.?
This is one limitation in this type of study. Whilst there are typical soil types, and tree species throughout the region, there are many variables relating to those very factors.
2. Even if it is typical how many non-typical areas are there which might respond in a different manner to drought?
Locally, the Amazon is extremely diverse, though it has a broad degree of homogeneity on a regional scale, once you back up to genus/family level.
Things to consider however are the regional gradients in climate and thus adaptations to climate. An example is the increased rainfall heading from south to north. The physiology of within tree genera can be quite distinct based on these factors. Further, there is a gradient of fertility running roughly east to west with the west most fertile. For example the forests of Manaus have a much lower fertility than those around Iquitos (Peru). This gradient also coincides with an increased metabolic requirement in western forests, with shorter life spans and much higher turnover. Western forests are much more dynamic, and as a result more biodiverse.
6. The study area is within a reserve where presumably human interference is minimal, how does drought react with other human activities (e.g. selective logging)?
The big one there is slash and burn, as aerosols from the fires have a direct impact on cloud formation. Selective logging on the other hand is usually targetted towards species such as mahogany and spanish cedar (most valuable), though other hard woods are sold for domestic markets and/or charcoal. Larger species are usually targetted. Another factor relating to human activities is along the rivers. Most of the diversity in species is in the varzea (floodplain forests) as they are the most fertile with the highest rate of disturbance. These also would have a very different reaction to drought than terra firme forests.
Regarding any papers about the project I can point you only to one which i provided above but is useful only for learning about their methodology as it is about imaging spectroscopy.
Re #121 Where Mike wrote “Lastly, I’ve tried to find published results of this work but have failed, Publications of the Woods Hole Research Center does not seem to have any. Have I missed something.”
There is an piece about the Amazon drought in tomorrow’s issue of Nature. It says that a paper by Nepstad of WHRC is under review at the jounal Ecology. It continues “Nepstand is now lighting test fires to assess whether one fire makes the forest more vulnerable to others.”
Liam, Alastair, Thanks! The Asner et al. paper answers some of my questions.
It only seems to have used data from 2000 & 2001, in 2001 the covering reduced the 1920mm rainfall in the control area to about 600mm in the dry-down area – which is what the area would recieve during a drought. Locally droughts are caused by ENSO events.