Groundhog Day

Living in central Pennsylvania, it would seem remiss of me not to comment on Groundhog Day today. For those not familiar with the event, Groundhog Day, which takes place on February 2 every year, is the modern American version of an age-old tradition originating in Europe centuries ago. The modern Groundhog Day is celebrated in the United States in Punksutawney Pennsylvania (about 100 miles west of Penn State University, where I teach). According to legend, if the groundhog–who is named Punxsutawney Phil–sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring. After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2, he speaks to an event official in “Groundhogese”, and his prediction is then translated for the awaiting public. The event was popularized in the 1993 movie of the same name, starring Bill Murray.

Sadly, it appears that global warming may soon add Phil to the ranks of the unemployed. With the warming of 4-8ºC (7-14ºF) predicted over North America by the end of this century if we continue to increase greenhouse gas concentrations at current rates, the answer will become simple. Spring will come early every year. While this may seem like a pleasant outcome of climate change, it could in fact lead to serious problems for plants, animals, and entire ecosystems. Living things have adapted to the timing of the seasons over many thousands of years. Here, we are changing the timing of the seasons on timescales of decades. Plants and animals just don’t adapt well to changes on such short timescales.

January temperatures this year were 3-9ºC (5-16 ºF) warmer than the late 20th century average over most of the U.S. (see Figure).

January '06 Temperature Anomalies

Departure of January ’06 surface air temperatures from the late 20th century (1971-2000) average [source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center] (click to enlarge)

The widespread pattern of this warmth is what was so unusual. Usually when one part of the U.S., say the east coast, is experiencing unusually warm weather, other regions, say the Rocky Mountain states, are experiencing unusually cold weather. This has to do with the natural wiggles of the jet stream from one month to the next. However, the pattern we’re seeing so far this year, where essentially the entire U.S. is anomalously warm, only occurs when the jet stream has retreated far north from its usual position. As we have noted before (see here and here), there is no way to ascribe any single anomalous weather event, or even an anomalous season, to global warming and climate change. But what we can say is that the temperature pattern we’ve seen this January is similar to the kind of pattern that models predict as being normal in just a few decades time given some anthropogenic forcing scenarios. Global warming is likely to “load the dice”, making the kind of January temperatures that might seem remarkable by past experience increasingly probable, and hence increasingly more frequent.

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character finds himself having to repeat the same day over and over again (Groundhog Day, of course). At one point he announces “It’s cold today, it’s cold every day”. Were the movie to be remade several decades in the future, the character might instead have to lament: “It’s warm this winter, it’s warm every winter”.

82 comments on this post.
  1. Henry Molvar:

    Many of the weather reporters/forecasters on The Weather Channel are talking up the fact that January temps this year are far above normal. I have not heard any mention of GW or Climate Change but many of the millions of Americans who watch The Weather Channel must be wondering why this is happening.

  2. Marlowe Johnson:

    And I thought the reason it was so warm was because I finally went out and bought a snowblower before Christmas (we haven’t had any significant snow in Toronto since then) :)

  3. john mann:

    On the other hand, we’ve had a cool winter in the uk this year, with much colder weather in eastern europe.

    I thought this was due to variations in the north atlantic oscillation. Would this system lead to warmer n.america?

    [Response:While it has been cold in Central Europe, Scandinavia – which perhaps bears the brunt of the NAO – has been very mild indeed. There have been 8 (high) temperature records in January (text in Norwegian) in the northernmost part of Norway, as well as a flooding disaster in mid-Norway in end of January with record high rain (not snow!) fall in 29 locations. On the other hand, there have been reports of snow in Portugal (near the southern pole of the NAO dipole). These events are associated with the meandering of weather fronts as well as low-or-high pressure systems. The January 2006 SLP anomaly indicates high pressure over Fennoscandia and northwestern Russia, rather than over Iceland – hence it does not seem as the NAO was particularly weak for January. -rasmus]

  4. Banjomon:

    This is a serious problem that probably won’t get fixed. We need leadership in order to curb Global Warming and we’re not getting it from this administration.

  5. Tom Cecere:

    In Vermont, we’re usually praying for “only” 6 more weeks of winter weather!

  6. Tom Rees:

    Mike, you might want to look up some colleagues from Penn State Uni, who have done some research on this thorny topic already! The Groundhog Oscillation: Evidence of Global Change

    [Response: Thanks for the link Tom. I guess I’m doubly remiss now! – mike]

  7. Chip Knappenberger:

    Come on guys, there should be at least some QA/QC that goes on at Real Climate concerning the stuff you all write. You all aren’t being internally consistent.

    For instance, Gavin has just spent the last few days defending the work that comes out GISS and then Mike writes the following:

    “Sadly, it appears that global warming may soon add Phil to the ranks of the unemployed. With the warming of 4-8ºC (7-14ºF) predicted over North America by the end of this century if we continue to increase greenhouse gas concentrations at current rates, the answer will become simple.”

    Yet slide 43 of Hansen’s AGU talk shows that the “current rate” of greenhouse gas increase lies beneath all IPCC SRES scenarios (including A2 that Mike linked to), and instead falls somewhere between Hansen’s “alternative scenario” and his “2ºC scenario.” Now, to see what this means for temperatures over North America by the end of this century, I direct you to the transient simulations from the GISS ModelE web page (I think that Gavin would agree that this would be a reasonable place to go) One there, go down to Table 5 “Future Scenarios” and create lat-lon plots of surface temperature trends for the 21st century (or anomalies at the end of the century vs. the beginning) using any of the “GISS scenarios.” You will find that the temperature change over North America is barely HALF of what Mike suggests it will be.

    Why is it so necessary to exaggerate or use the results from unrealistic scenarios? Just tell it like it is, using the best available science and let folks decide what to make of things. Mike’s story can still be told using a potential temperature rise of 1.5-3ºC across North America, so why not tell it that way?

    [Response: A better phrasing would have been ‘up to 4-7 deg C’. We don’t have an agreed upon probability distribution function for the different scenarios, so picking one over another and not taking into account the uncertainty in climate sensitivity (the GISS model being on the lower end this time around) is not right either. A range is approporiate though. – gavin]

  8. Steve Latham:

    My complaint isn’t very substantial, but my training is in biology so if I’m ever going to comment on this blog it might as well be now.

    You say, “Here, we are changing the timing of the seasons on timescales of decades. Plants and animals just don’t adapt well to changes on such short timescales.” This is somewhat untrue. A lot of it depends on the generation times of the plants and animals involved. Plants and beasts with shorter generation times are generally quicker to adapt. More important is the amount of additive genetic variation present for natural selection to act upon in the populations of those critters. Because many of the species are organised in semi-isolated subpopulations that experience different climates already, the species as a whole have a great wealth of genetic diversity for selection to act upon. Within many species, where we’ve looked, the great variation in success (fitness) year-to-year among body types (e.g., Darwin’s Finches) or life history types (e.g., shore-spawning versus river-spawning sockeye salmon) tells us that even species with fairly slow reproduction can respond rapidly to a changing environment (including “speciation” within 13 generations for sockeye [4-year generation time] according to Andrew Hendry).

    However! Different species will respond in different ways to the directional change in climate and they will be differentially successful. Some species will move and/or evolve faster than others. That means that I agree completely with your assertion that ecosystems will be greatly altered — the interactions among species will be radically changed, some species will not keep up and will be lost from the ecosystems while other species will invade from other ecosystems.

    Superficially, things might not look too different (bark beetles and wildfires notwithstanding). There will be creatures living pretty much everywhere they currently live. The total amount of primary production might not decrease; it may even increase. To folks predisposed to downplay the effects of climate change on ecosystems, the changes that will occur will not be seen very negatively. In fact, at a superficial level, future development (paving) will probably have a much more obvious impact for the average person (who wouldn’t have any recollection of how their surrounding ecosystem used to function). That’s something to keep in mind.

    [I made similar comments on the acidification of the ocean post a few months ago — my turn to play Bill Murray I guess]

  9. Coby:

    Re 8,

    Thanks for that informative comment! I was wondering if you know some good resources that deal with climate change from a purely biological but still broad perspective. I understand and accept your points but it seems to me that history (eg PETM) does provide evidence that if a change is large enough and sudden enough the net effect can be extremely detrimental to the biosphere, at least on timescales humans are accustomed to thinking about.

    These things must be very difficult to quantify. Are you aware some work that tries to do that?

    Also, in terms of adaptation I think another very important concern is that climat change is not the only hit that ecosystems have taken, are taking and will take. Over-exploitation and general pollution will reduce that chance that a healthy population or ecosystem might have otherwise had.

  10. Eric Miller:

    I’m new to some of the global warming science, though I have a science background and I’ve been reading. I’m hoping someone can clear something up for me.

    Our atmospheric co2 levels are at 380, up from a preindustrial level of 280. Other trace global warming pollutants (GWP) including methane are higher, too. These levels are likely to persist for hundreds of years. The supposition is that our average global temps have risen 1 deg F in the past 100 or so yrs as a result of these GWPs.

    This 1 deg F increase has caused significant retreat of glaciers around the world, as well as polar ice sheets. My understanding is that the western ice sheet at one of the poles and the Greenland ice sheet are both considered “unstable”.

    Even if humans could hypothetically stop all GWP today, we would have a persistant state of high GWPs in the atmosphere, which would continue to increase the average global temp, and continue to melt glaciers and polar ice.

    Even if we were to follow Gore’s advice and construct massive CO2 filter/fixing plants and scrub the atmosphere down to preindustrial GWP levels, aren’t we still subject to the positive feedback loop defined by the relative albedos of snow/ice and water? Significantly more solar energy is being absorbed by sea water and exposed landmass by virtue of having less ice, causing greater release of methane and co2 from thawed peat.

    I’m hoping I have something wrong here, or I’m missing something. Because by this reasoning it seems doubtful human intervention, whether it be legislating tailpipe emission standards, shutting down our entire power grid and all vehicles today, or even constructing co2 fixing factories, could stop Earth’s demise.

  11. Roger Pielke Jr.:


    I accept that greenhouse gases affect the climate, and that they should be reduced, but I do have some questions about your post:

    1. You write that current temperature anomalies are consistent with “some anthropogenic forcing scenarios.” Yes, but it is 2006 and the scenario that you have selected is for 2021-2050. So does this mean that the current temperature anomaly is inconsistent with IPCC scenarios?

    2. Further the A2 scenario that you have chosen does not reflect present (or cumulative) emissions or population, so again, does this mean that because current patterns match this scenario that it is (a) just a coincidence, or (b) evidence of inconsistency between observations and this scenario? Isn’t there a more scientifically robust way to assert attribution in such cases (a la Myles Allen et al.)?

    3. Given the range of scenarios presented by the IPCC:

    Have you really said anything here?

    Isn’t it the case that most any pattern of warmer than average weather would be “consistent with” one or other of these scenarios? Should I then interpret this to mean that the anomalously cold pattern recently in Easter Europe are evience of inconsistency with the various IPCC scenarios, as I don’t see any of the IPCC scenarios that match? Is it that confirming evidence is accepted, and disconfiming rejected? How should I sort this out?

    Thanks for your answers!

    [Response: If I can answer for Mike, it is clear that he’s saying that this kind of pattern is something that resembles patterns that may become more frequent under the various scenarios. It’s not an attribution study, and he is not asserting that this anomaly is associated with climate change. Mike nowhere states that this is ‘consistent with’ projections and specifcially states that anomalous months (whether in the US or in Europe) are not attributable to climate change. Thus this is neither confirming nor refuting anything. It’s just an example. -gavin]

  12. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    #8, re biota with shorter generation times — I’m thinking bacteria & viruses. Who knows what new microscopic, unseen demons will evolve in a changing climate. Experts are talking about known diseases spreading to new areas in a warming climate, but what about the unknown ones (because they haven’t evolved or adapted yet). Boo! I think I just saw my own shadow.

    On another note, I loved GROUNDHOG DAY, because it shows a person given more and more chances to get it right, and progression from a cynical, nasty person to a good, charitable person. I keep hoping the contrarians will make the same progress, open their hearts, and start reducing their GHGs (at least just to humor the rest of us). Only problem is we may not have an infinite number of chances to get it right.

    As for now I’m enjoying winter here in the 26th latitude N — I love the 70s & 80s (the highs have been close to 90 this week). I hardly even think about summer, which under normal conditions can sometimes get to 112 degrees. And what about others who live in really hot climates?

  13. Hank Roberts:

    Perhaps naive question — have the infrared astronomers measured a change in how much IR gets through the atmosphere? (Can we review for example old astronomical survey photographic plates, knowing how those emulsions reacted to IR wavelengths, seeing what stars appear and at what magnitudes, and look at them again today and see if those (red dwarf stars, I suppose) are relatively less bright through the current atmosphere?

    Or can direct measurements — for example pointing an infrared laser at an infrared-detecting satellite — be done regularly for a few years and any change seen that matches the annual variation and average increase in CO2?

    I’d guess these don’t work or they’d have been done, but I wonder.

  14. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Re #10, even if we’ve reached the tipping point (I don’t think anyone knows for sure when that will be reached, or if it has been already), we still need to do all we can to reduce GHGs so as to lessen the harm, esp for future generations.

    It may already be slated to get very bad, but we don’t have to make it still worse. And in that scenario, every tiny bit we can reduce will be like putting drops of water on a thirsting man’s tongue & be received as the greatest relief, much more than givng a rich man a second yacht.

  15. wayne davidson:

    I have a problem with this Eastern Europe cold wave publicity, anomaly maps are hard to find for that region. Any links available before Gisstemp comes out? AO proponents must be scratching their heads, seems like the Pacific is providing a great deal of heat and moisture. Extraordinary warmer January has something to do with warmer air all the way to the Pole causing the jet stream to position itself accordingly, not like the jet stream goes wherever it wants to, but rather it places itself at the border between Polar and Continental air masses, where there is a significant drop in tropopause, if the Artic air mass is shrunken the jet stream heads Nortwards.

    [Response:There are some maps on CPC where you can see weekly anomalies for Europe – just click on the map (the monthly anomaly for January is not yet available but I guess it’s coming soon). -rasmus]

  16. Gary:

    Re #14 Perhaps this link can help?

  17. Jo Calder:

    Re #15. Thanks Gary, that link is very illuminating. It makes me wonder why the January average record for 2006 is more important than say the record January high for PA:

    Cheers, — Jo Calder

  18. Lynn Vincentnathan:

    Speaking about movies…Here’s one.

    If the link below is too controversial, please remove it, editors. I thought some might like it. And afterall science, politics, and economics are pretty much tied in together, like it or not (though I expect honest scientists to keep on striving for objectivity & honesty).

    Michel Foucault (social scientist) said, “Power is knowledge” (but I don’t think even he knew how true that statement was).

  19. Chip Knappenberger:


    Thanks for your response in #7, but you only addressed part of my concern. Mike claimed his 4-8ºC rise “if we continue to increase greenhouse gas concentrations at current rates”. Yet clearly Jim Hansen, as I pointed out, shows that the “current rate” of greenhouse gas forcing is less than IPCC SRES A2 (the scenario linked my Mike), and in fact is less than all the IPCC SRES scenarios. Admittedly, perhaps it won’t stay that way in the future, but, unless you are denying Hansen’s results, it definitely isn’t now. So, perhaps the sentence should have read something more along the lines of:

    “With a warming projected to be somewhere between 1.5-8ºC (3-14ºF) over North America by the end of this century under various scenarios of future greenhouse emissions, the answer will become simple.”

    This, I think, is a more fair representation of the science -which is after all, is one of the primary goals of Real Climate is it not?

  20. Steve Bloom:

    Note in the link from #16 that the Arctic regions above eastern Europe and Siberia are anomalously warm by about the same amount, and that (based purely on a visual inspection) the global average will probably be fairly close to zero. I’ve heard it said with some frequency that we can expect more climate instability of this sort as global warming progresses, but is this type of behavior by the jet stream a big part of what is meant by that?

    [Response: I don’t think so. The wiggley-ness of the jet stream is associated with the phase of the NAO/AO – when the phase is negative, there is more variability (Thompson and Wallace, 2001), and when it’s postive, less. Since the projections are for a strengthening NAO (more positive phase), then that would indicate less jet stream variability in future. However, this is not an absolutely robust result and so while I’d rate it as ‘more likely than not’, it’s not with very much confidence. – gavin]

  21. nanny_govt_sucks:

    “Spring will come early every year. While this may seem like a pleasant outcome of climate change, it could in fact lead to serious problems for plants, animals, and entire ecosystems. Living things have adapted to the timing of the seasons over many thousands of years. Here, we are changing the timing of the seasons on timescales of decades. Plants and animals just don’t adapt well to changes on such short timescales.”

    I guess you haven’t heard of microevolution:
    “Microevolution is the occurrence of small-scale changes in gene frequencies in a population, over a few generations, also known as change at or below the species level.”

    Animals are adapting, contrary to your claim above. From a semi-recent Reuters article entitled “As Ice Thaws, Arctic Peoples at Loss for Words” ( ):

    “What are the words used by indigenous peoples in the Arctic for “hornet,” “robin,” “elk,” “barn owl” or “salmon?” If you don’t know, you’re not alone. Many indigenous languages have no words for legions of new animals, insects and plants advancing north as global warming thaws the polar ice and lets forests creep over tundra.”

    Plants are adapting as well. Here are a few examples:

    Global Warming Sparks Increased Plant Production in Arctic Lakes
    “Biological activity in some Arctic lakes has ratcheted up dramatically over the past 150 years as a result of global warming, according to a new study.”

    Earth is becoming a greener greenhouse
    “Our results … indicate that the April to October average greenness level increased by about 8% in North America and 12% in Eurasia during the period 1981 to 1999.”
    “the growing season is now about 12 ± 5 days longer in North America and 18 ± 4 days in Eurasia”

    Climate driven increases in global terrestrial net primary production from 1982 to 1999
    “Most of the observed climatic changes have been in the direction of reducing climatic constraints to plant growth.”

    Greening of arctic Alaska, 1981-2001
    “Here we analyzed a time series of 21-yr satellite data for three bioclimate subzones in northern Alaska and confirmed a long-term trend of increase in vegetation greenness for the Alaskan tundra that has been detected globally for the northern latitudes.”

    And this means good news for farming up North:
    “The changes of the agroclimatic parameters imply that Alberta [Canada] agriculture has benefited from the last century’s climate change.”

    So, needless to say I disagree with your assesment of the effects of climate change on plants and animals.

  22. Hank Roberts:

    Speciation and Biodiversity
    Interview with Edward O. Wilson

    “… species … are now disappearing at the rate somewhere of a thousand times faster than they are born due to human activity. At this rate, in one human lifetime, we can easily eliminate half the species of the world. Many of these have developed over thousands or millions of years. The clearly demarcated species that can be tracked in the fossil record, before humanity originated, appeared roughly on the order of about one species per million per year. Any rapid process of speciation that would let them begin again can’t duplicate that.”

  23. Dano:

    RE current #20:

    nanny, scale is very important in assessing ecosystems. Short-term increases in NPP are not necessarily permanent. What is more important is the rate of adaptation for spp. that are in areas that are changing. What may be best for you to understand this concept is to trace the historical range of Sequoia sempervirens for west coast glaciation range changes, and Castanea dentata on the east coast. As canopy cover is an important component of ecosystem diversity, it is important to understand how quickly these representative species (in the fossil record) can change their range.

    Most non-Googlers are far more sanguine about these changes than, say, folk who do this for a living [like ecologists as in comment #21 EO Wilson] – the changes being unprecedented in nonglacial times and with the also recent unprecedented CO2 levels, there is, simply, nothing in the past on which to base happyhappy touts.



  24. nanny_govt_sucks:

    #21: From your link it appears that deforrestation of tropical areas, and pollution and drainage of freshwater systems are blamed for the disappearance of species. What do these have to do with Global Warming?

    Also from your link:

    “ How quickly can these and other mechanisms produce new species?

    Wilson: Instantly. Well, in a few generations. First of all, in plants, there’s a mechanism — called polyploidy — which, in one step, can create a strain that can’t breed with the original stock from which it came. In fact, it’s called instantaneous speciation.”

    So this again points to plants adapting on short time scales.

  25. Hank Roberts:

    Like this? “giraffes find themselves in a changing environment in which they can only survive by eating leaves high up on trees. So, they stretch their necks to reach the leaves and this stretching and the desire to stretch gets passed on to later generations. As a result, a species of animal which originally had short necks evolved into a species with long necks.”

  26. Steve Latham:

    Yeah, Nanny, you’re off base here. The instantaneous speciation that occurs in some plants just doubles the amount of DNA in each cell. These polyploids typically have larger cells and larger bodies than the parental species. But it is only a rare lucky coincidence that they will find themselves in an environment in which they are fitter than the parental species. It happens, but I don’t think that there’s any physiological reason to believe that these mutants will be favored on a warmer planet. On the other hand there are plenty of reasons to believe that polar bears and ringed seals won’t do well. Their ‘functions’ in the Arctic ecosystem will be replaced by other creatures to some extent, but evolution won’t prevent their loss.

  27. Stephen Berg:

    Re: #13,

    Hank, I’ll refer you to the following NCAR site, which is an example of measurement of outgoing IR radiation. Longwave radiation is the same thing as IR radiation.

  28. nanny_govt_sucks:


    Polar bears defy extinction threat
    “THE world’s polar bear population is on the increase despite global warming, which scientists had believed was pushing the animal towards extinction.”

    You said:
    “Their ‘functions’ in the Arctic ecosystem will be replaced by other creatures to some extent, but evolution won’t prevent their loss.”

    Even in your doom and gloom scenario, won’t the two species (polar bears and seals) be replaced by many many species in a warmer, wetter world? Wouldn’t you consider sacrificing one species if it meant that many more could thrive, or is this the “Star Trek II: Search for Spock” version of enviromentalism where “the needs of one outweigh the needs of many”?

    Who chooses which species has needs that outweigh all the others?

  29. Jeffrey Davis:

    My wife and I take a trip each year to celebrate our anniversay (mid-January). Wherever we’ve gone recently has seen record or near record cold for the time. New York 2 years ago hit all time lows, I think, and we just returned from Barcelona where all the locals we spoke with about the cold and wet were very apologetic. Our 60 year old driver claimed to have never seen similar weather.

    There’s a film titled The Cooler about a sad sack who brings bad luck to gamblers on a hot streak. GW sceptics should study us and see if we’re the possible contrary forcing that they’ve been looking for: The Coolers.

  30. Steve Latham:

    Hi Coby (#9),

    To answer briefly, no, I am ignorant of paleoecology and don’t know any good references. I wish I did. My comments reflect a population genetics perspective.

    Now a more lengthly answer about something I know very little about.

    Definitely really fast/dramatic changes will have terrible outcomes for the organisms most affected, whether that change is precipitated by an asteroid impact or whatever it was that triggered the PETM. I don’t think what we’re talking about here is as significant as the PETM, though, at least in terms of model predictions. But even with the PETM I think you may find examples in support of my earlier post (now #8): some of the best data on biotic changes during PETM come from foraminifera, right? Well, those are little protists good at fossilizing. The same thing that makes them good at fossilizing may have made them particularly vulnerable. Could their ‘function’ in an ecosystem be replaced by other critters? How about diatoms? I saw a paper about turnover of diatoms near that period by wasn’t able to read the abstract.

    But focus on the idea of turnover. Changes in climate will manifest themselves as changes in local environments. Some species of diatoms which dominated prior to the enormous PETM changes probably didn’t adapt well, and you could probably say the same thing about most of the rare species, but a few species that were somehow pre-adapted for the climate change probably thrived after being released from the competitive effects of the other species. They might not have filled the niches so completely that they could replace 100% of the primary productivity provided by the full biodiversity of diatoms (and other algae) prior to the PETM, but I don’t think we can assume that the oceans became barren (despite their toxicity to most species). I have no evidence but would be happy to be educated on the matter.

    So, to repeat myself, I think the composition of ecosystems will change although at a superficial level their ‘output’ won’t change very much. We’ll see changes from yesterday’s fairly diverse ecosystems to tomorrow’s monocultures in the areas most affected. This actually brings up Lynn’s point (now #12) about disease organisms, although in a different way (I’m not that worried about scary new things evolving) — monocultures are more succeptible to disease outbreaks. Thus, a new prediction: we’ll see more boom and bust with the loss of diversity. (Actually not such a new idea.)

  31. Steve Latham:

    Ah, Nanny, but I believe that even Mitch Taylor would agree that when the sea ice gets really rare the ringed seals will have no place to pup and the polar bears will have diddly to eat except garbage. I’ll keep an eye out for future work done on the issue, though, and thanks for the link.

    I shouldn’t do this, but let’s talk about ethics just for a brief moment. You’re saying that we should change the earth faster to reduce barriers to new speciation? Are we talking about the needs of potential species? It’s interesting, but keeping with your anthropomorphic framing via the Star Trek utilitarianism, isn’t this a little like asking if we should steal the gametes of male and female humans who have chosen not to mate so that we can fulfil the needs of their unborn children to be conceived? (My apologies to the moderators who want to keep this to science.)

  32. Hank Roberts:

    > 23 asked what deforestation and loss of fresh water ecosystems have to do with warming.

    You can look that up easily.

  33. Steve Latham:

    I should have taken more geology I suppose, but I think this says that maybe the P/E was a productive transition (at the end of the page):

    “Regardless, the levels of Ba and P recorded across the P/E boundary at Sites 1220 and 1221 are high in comparison to those measured in other Leg 199 sediments. This observation, together with the congruency of behavior between the two elements, raises the intriguing possibility that the shipboard data record an increase in surface ocean productivity across this important paleoceanographic interval (Thomas et al., 2000; Bains et al., 2000) rather than an increase in barite saturation arising from the injection of Ba into the global ocean from the marine gas hydrate reservoir (Dickens, 2001).”

    The website is from 2002. Perhaps this question has been resolved already?

  34. wayne davidson:

    #16 Gary, thank you very much for the link. Quite impressive difference, in temperatures, Gisstemp should look a bit different though. It is a first glance at what isolated winter air masses do.

  35. Dano:

    nanny needs to look at plant adaptation, as they are the primary producers on the planet (caveat: I’m a plant guy).

    And the argument that replacing top-down regulating species at the top of the trophic level is, simply, ludicrous and shows the absolute lack of biology class attendance.

    Google only gives information, not education or wisdom.



  36. Hank Roberts:

    So, speaking of whether or not to come out of one’s hole or go back and hibernate, did everyone see today’s Wall Street Journal front page article about contention among hurricane researchers? It’s the catty side of the WSJ, more heat than light I suspect.

  37. Pat Neuman:

    Warmest January of Record (1897-2006) at Madison, WI.
    Jimmy the ground hog did not see his shadow in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.

    January mean temperatures (2006) set new 100-110 year records at many climate stations in WI, MN, MI, SD, ND, NE, IA, IL and MI. Plots (1890s-2006) at

  38. Erica:

    Nanny, it seems to me that if you are really concerned about government intervention in the lives of citizens, then you should jealously guard the circumstances that allow political stability. Severe economic dislocations always increase the risk of dictatorship, whether of the right (as in Germany after the disasters of the Weimar period) or the left (as in Russia during the devastation of WWI.) It is possible that global warming will turn out to be less dangerous than some scientists predict. But it is, frankly, much more probable that the consequences will result in massive economic disruption. We have a chance now to take action to lessen that risk. Waiting only increases the role government will have to play to manage this disruption. What are conservatives, of all people, waiting for? It’s time to stop denying an unpleasant reality and start offering ideas for solutions. For example, here is an argument presented by an economist on the difficulties and prospects for using market forces to address global warming (from private correspondence):

    There is no market for the atmospheric chemistry even though it is a precious resource. This is what economists call a “missing market” or an “externality.” People can alter the atmospheric chemistry in a way that degrades its social value without having to pay anything for it. In this situation, economic actors acting as individuals will use such a precious source as if the price were zero even though the true social value is quite high.

    The problem with the market for atmospheric chemistry is that we can’t meaningfully establish property rights over its use. As a consequence, there is no agent sitting there charging people everytime they make use of the atmoshpere.

    The end result is that we end up using the atmosphere as a carbon dump instead of a mechanism for protecting human life.
    This is the case even though we have reached the point at which the atmospheric chemistry has far greater marginal value protecting us from the sun than it does as a carbon sink.

    If there were some economic actor making the people who want to use the atmosphere as a carbon sink compete against the people who want to use it as a optimally configured blanket around the planet, the people looking for a carbon sink would
    find another option.

    Economists have spent a lot of time trying to come up with strategies that would mimic the market outcome if a market for atmospheric chemistry could be created. A nice fat tax on the use of petroleum and coal would do the trick. Equivalently, you can pay subsidies to people who use alternative energy sources.

    The alternative is to wait around until entrepreneurs come up with energy sources that are not damaging to the atmosphere and are cheaper than petroleum. But that does not seem to be
    happening fast enough to keep us from getting to what appears
    to be the looming tipping point. R&D in energy has focused primarily on rendering new sources of petroleum financially feasible.

    At this point, we’re going to need a “Manhattan Project” type effort to meaningfully address the issue.

  39. Simonjm:

    Google only gives information, not education or wisdom.

    Couldn’t agree more Dano.

    Regarding the polar bears a blog I frequent has a resident AGW sceptic/ anti-environmentalist who just recently highlighted that article.

    Another sceptic popped up with a site of researchers showing while some populations were going down and some up most appeared stable, therefore no impact from GW and we don’t have to worry.

    A little more digging had those same researchers saying more research should be done, that hunting shouldn’t just be done on locals knowledge- increase in local bear numbers around settlements due to starvation- and

    “The Group concluded that the IUCN Red List classification of the polar bear should be upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable based on the likelihood of an overall decline in the size of the total population of more than 30% within the next 35 to 50 years. The principal cause of this decline is climatic warming and its consequent negative affects on the sea ice habitat of polar bears. In some areas, contaminants may have an additive negative influence.”
    Read the PBSG latest press release 14th meeting of PBSG in Seattle, USA 2005

    Our resident sceptic thinks you can dismiss the recommendations of the researchers, only the current raw data can be used as the researchers want a job for life studying an endangered species!

    Well why not he dismisses the work of climatologists.

    You don’t know what you are talking about, a detailed google around will show you are all wrong; guess you must be disappointed that those years of study and work amounts to nothing.

  40. nanny_govt_sucks:

    #30: “You’re saying that we should change the earth faster to reduce barriers to new speciation? Are we talking about the needs of potential species?”

    I’m saying why worry about one or two species when many many more could benefit in a warming scenario. Polar bears will probably be around as long as seals are anyhow. Global climate, as far as I can tell, is far more up to Mother Nature than to us humans.

    #37: I don’t forsee a “severe economic dislocation” based on global warming. A warmer, wetter, CO2-fertilized future sounds like good news, more productive crops, less crop-killing frosts, longer growing seasons etc… See my links above for more. If your “take action now” means handing over more power and money to politicians, then I fail to see how that is going to lead to less government intervention in the lives of citizens. Even if you are right, with my approach the slide to totalitarianism starts later and takes longer.

    Actually I’m concerned that the true aims of the alarmist community are revealed by their proposed “solutions” to Global Warming which all involve putting more power in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats… [cut]

    [Response: Excess politics trimmed. Science please – William]

  41. Simonjm:

    #39 Nanny I don’t quite get you as you are saying that you are against government interference… [cut]

    [Response: Can we stick to the climate science, please. Other blogs do politics – William]

  42. Urs Neu:

    Mike, Gavin (or somebody else) –

    I have wondered for a long time, what the decrease of the latitudinal temperature gradient (due to the arctic warming faster than the rest) might mean for atmospheric circulation. One could make some general (theoretical) condsiderations:

    – in principle the existing circulation system is the result of the temperature difference between polar and tropical regions (due to the different amount of incoming radiation), of earth’s rotation speed (if the speed was much lower, circulation system would probably be much less chaotic) and also of the land mass / ocean distribution and huge mountain regions (like the Rocky Mountains). Much of the rest is internal variation.
    – the pattern of the polar front (as the border between cold air in the north and warm air in the south) is formed in a way that allows the “necessary” latitudinal heat transport. This transport is more effective, if the flow pattern is more meridional, i.e. with strong waves, and most effective if there is decoupling of cold (or warm) air masses drifting to the south (or north, resp.)., because these are rotating systems which are not deflected by the Coriolis force. The latitudinal heat transport happens through the dynamics of the circulation system, because it has to overcome the Coriolis force somehow.
    – Now, one could suggest that if the latitudinal temperature gradient decreases, the dynamics of the circulation system could decrease as well. That would in general mean more zonal than meridional flow patterns and/or more stable circulation patterns.

    Do you know of any such considerations or model results which point into such a direction?
    Of course there are many other patterns which influence the circulation patterns (AO/NAO, ENSO, etc.), but this might be a general underlying trend in the long-term.

    More stable flow patterns could mean more extreme weather – not only concerning temperature, but also other extremes like precipitation (if persisting over the same region) or even storms. Zonal flow patterns have higher wind speeds in general, so high wind speeds could be more frequent despite a general decrease due to the decrease of the temperature gradient.

    I have a general impression, that circulation patterns are more stable today than 10, 20 years ago and have become more zonal, especially in winter. This is subjective, and I’m not sure if it is really true (it’s not easy to find an objective parameter to describe such pattern changes…).

    Well, what do you think?

    [Response: I can make some similarly general points (maybe we can get Isaac to chime in?). I think in general you are correct. The key temperature gradient is not the equator to pole, but more sub-tropics to sub-polar which sets up the conditions needed for baroclinic instability. The winter circulation patterns are more coherent than the summer and there has been a long term trend to more zonal flow (NAO/AO indices), though it is not a strong a trend as it appeared back in the late 90s. However the link between the temperature gradient and the zonality of the flow is not straightforward or well known. In some model experiments, it is the upper atmosphere gradients that have a big influence, in others, it is changes in planetary wave activity. In the IPCC AR4 runs, there is a robust model tendency towards more zonal flow (see here) for what that’s worth. However I don’t follow your conclusion that more zonal flow implies more extremes. As we have seen this month, winter extremes in temperature are associated with large displacements of the jet stream (i.e. extremely a-zonal flow), and the paper by Thompson and Wallace (Science, 2001) showed that more quantitatively (for instance, I think I recall that temperature extremes in Paris are 5 times more likely with negative NAO than with with positive NAO). With respect to individual storms, there is some indication of a slight deepening of the low pressure with time, but I am unsure why that is thought to have occured. – gavin]

  43. Hans Erren:

    re 26:
    Funny that OLR is increasing when CO2 increase would mean a reducing OLR (blocking outgoing infrared).

    It’s those clouds again.

  44. Timothy:

    Re #16 and #19: I also noticed the high Arctic temperatures. There have been record high temperatures in Svalbard [north of Norway] this winter and it seems the ice isn’t coming as far south as normal. There’s recently been a lot of attention paid to record low minimum extents of the Arctic sea-ice in September, but less attention to what is happening to maximum ice extents in March.

    Why is this? Has less been changing? Is there less data? Or have I just missed it?

    Re #41: mid-latitude circulation. Modelling studies generally show a weaker storm track [fewer cyclonic systems] when the meridional gradient weakens under climate change. However, there are some suggestions that the distribution of storms may change with their being more strong storms [measured by minimum central pressure], possibly due to the extra energy available due to the warmer oceans.

    [Response:It is true that the sea-ice edge is unseasonally far north at the moment (see recent graphical sea ice analyses). -rasmus.]

  45. Simonjm:

    Sorry guys since you let nanny slip through I thought I could.
    No need to post this

  46. Stupid Evil Bastard:

    What the hell happened to winter?
    According to the calendar today is February 3rd, 2006 yet when I stepped outside this morning it felt and looked more like late March or mid April. There isn't a spec of snow anywhere outside of downtown Detroit at the Winter Blast celebration tha…

  47. Almuth Ernsting:

    Re 40:

    The person who has posted this obviously dimsisses all the studies which show that crops will be negatively affected by GW in future. Here, for example a press release about a conference on the subject organised by the Royal Society:

    Worryingly, global crop production was on a downward spiral for three years before 2004. In 2004, there was a bumper harvest because the main growing areas in the US were not too warm and not too dry that summer (something forecast to become much less common). Down again in 2005, with losses primarily attributed to extreme weather (very hog summer, drought in many growing areas). For week-to-week worrying news you only need to look here . January’s news included severe losses to US winter crop because of anomalous warmth and drought, 50% reduction in grain harvests in Texas last year, disastrous spring harvest forecast there (meaning a total loss of 1.5 billion dollars just in Texas). Not to mention eastern Africa, much of southern Africa, torrential rains destroying part of India’s cotton harvest, etc.

    Almuth Ernsting


  48. Urs Neu:

    re response to 42

    Gavin – thanks for your response.
    Of course the temperature gradient is mainly along the polar front. But this also is a result of the pattern produced by the general north-south gradient in combination with earth rotation. However, this is a minor point.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I mentioned two different possible reactions, i.e. circulation getting more stable or getting more zonal.
    I thought of the circulation getting more stable, which could possibly lead to more extremes, e.g.
    – displacement of the jet stream (or polar front) in the same pattern over several months, which of course produces strong temperature anomalies as those discussed here, or which produced the summer heat wave 2003 over Europe
    – in the scale of weeks stable flow can lead to big amount of snowfall (like 1999 in the Alps) or to heavy rainfall events. Stable flow patterns can lead to repetition of the same events in short time, like the floods in Europe a few years ago.
    – stable flow might ev. also favour the development of very heavy midlatitude storms like Lothar 1999 in Europe
    That’s what I meant.

  49. Laura:

    Nanny, you are saying that our current course will provide a warmer wetter more productive world that can support higher biodiversity, and therefore we should stay the course.

    There will be some extinctions, but many more new species will appear.

    Are you aware that in the geologic record, the “rapid speciation” periods after mass extinctions take millions of years?

    Sure, a new species can form instantaneously. An adapted species, having accumulated myriad helpful changes to its DNA, does not.

    But let’s say that we’re willing to wait millions of years to see the benefits to biodiversity from our elevated CO2 levels. How are we going to maintain these elevated levels of CO2 for millions of years after the oil runs out?

  50. Hank Roberts:

    > 13, 27(not 26), 43 — outgoing infrared, question for lay reader
    I appreciate the pointer Stephen gave; Hans, you know how to read those data sets, I don’t; can either of you say a bit more to explain them? I confess visual aids always help me, if someone’s made them.

    I can imagine that both could be true — blocking more outgoing infrared as CO2 increases, yet still measuring more from the satellite looking down. If the planet’s warming faster than the IR opacity increases, wouldn’t that be the result? I’m probably asking you all to oversimplify this for me.

  51. nanny_govt_sucks:

    [Response: Excess politics trimmed. Science please – William]

    But eric’s post is OK? Give me a break.

  52. nanny_govt_sucks:

    #51: Sorry, “Erica’s”, not “eric’s”.

    #49: “Are you aware that in the geologic record, the “rapid speciation” periods after mass extinctions take millions of years?”

    As far as I’m aware, today’s “mass extinctions” are blamed on factors such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing, etc… that are unrelated to any anthro-CO2 warming. Warming is pushing back the ice and permafrost and expanding habitats according to the links I provided above.

    I understand and empathize with the concern over the loss of species, but let’s put the blame where it belongs so we can effectively address the problem.

  53. Tom Fiddaman:

    Re 52

    True enough, but anthro warming is just emerging from the noise. It will get bigger and faster. So will some of the other forces, and they likely interact multiplicatively rather than additively. The policies that address GHGs also address many of the other problems.

    Personally, I’m planning for species succession on my own land – but I face choices like cutting all the trees before the pests get them and they burn. Maybe I’d love the rainforest that could be here in 5000 years, but since I’ll be dead I’m more worried about the transient.

  54. Dano:

    Re current 52:

    let’s put the blame where it belongs so we can effectively address the problem.

    Outstanding! Human activities are to blame. Well done.

    But your ‘expanding habitats’ is a false premise. There are habitats that are being displaced by the expanding habitats. So placing a value judgement that says ‘expand good’ neglects ‘shrink bad’. The full calculation is not performed, making the judgement ‘expand good’ problematic.

    Effectively addressing the problem means adding up all effects, not just the ones we like or that sound good to our POV. ‘Effectively’ means having all the understanding, too, and that means understanding scale, which you clearly do not. Your valuable contribution to the effects of the societal response can be in the realm of human reaction, but not in the realm of likely effects on ecosytems. Simply put, we can tell, here, that you are not arguing effects on ecosytems – you don’t know what they are. You are arguing supposed effects on your pocketbook. Plain as day.



  55. Hank Roberts:

    I can’t argue with belief about what’s true based on faith but I can point to references for the science:

    Deforestation and CO2 increase — if you’re open to considering that these could possibly be connected, there’s good reason to believe that deforestation did change climate, long before people started burning fossil fuel in large amounts; there’s an entire topic on it:

    Pictures may help:

    Tom, on planning — a bit tangential to climate science but perhaps someone knows a site focusing more on this specific question. I’m managing 50 acres for wildlife habitat, 40 in dry mountain terrain and 10 in temperate rainforest. Removing “fire ladders” so fire can burn between trees (brush and low dead limbs) and keeping brushpiles and thickets 20-30 meters from trees you want to keep makes a forest more resilient when fire comes. Mapping the flora closely lets you clear around the individual trees coming up without wholesale brush removal. A dead trunk within a foot of a live one will probably kill the live one when fire comes; haul it 2-3 feet away and the heat from the burning dead wood is much less likely to damage the live tree.

    A lightning fire 3 years ago tested my 40 acre site after about ten years of fire preparation; it burned gracefully and fairly cool, while the surrounding 200 acres was toast. Their trees mostly died from heat shock as brush burned around them; they lost canopy shade and will have a lot of brush regrowth, have to salvage log and replant with tree-farm pines. Most of the trees I limbed and cleared around have survived to date (it takes years to know for sure). Pre-logging this was, and still is, black oak and pine and incense cedar and such.

    Getting a competent botanist in early to do a complete flora and identify small trees needing extra protection made all the difference in planning for fire and improving the outcome.

    A salmon biologist got me concerned about this work, he told me the salmon in the river 3000′ below my property was so silty from the past century’s forest fires that the fish he studies had all but disappeared. My tiny parcel’s trivial for changing that — but it’s now visible on the mountainside having survived the fire better than what’s surrounding it — so people notice that this sort of work makes a difference when fire comes.

    In 200 years the site may be back to a canopy shaded landscape — which burns gracefully every decade or so. In 1000 years, the foot of topsoil that disappeared from this site in the past 100 years may be back in place (look at lichen on your rocks; in my site, it takes 100 years for them to reach full size; the band of lichen decreasing in size down to ground level marks where the topsoil was a century ago, for this site).

    Thoreau wrote “the measure of a man’s worth is what he can afford to leave alone.” These days, just leaving land alone takes an inordinate amount of weekends to keep it healthy.

  56. nanny_govt_sucks:

    #54: “There are habitats that are being displaced by the expanding habitats. So placing a value judgement that says ‘expand good’ neglects ‘shrink bad’.”

    Expanding of habitats that can support more life is good, shrinking of habitats that don’t support much life is good also. It’s a win-win situation for life in general in a warming scenario.

    I’m no biologist, but if you count the species that each ecosystem can support from North to South I’m sure you’ll find that warmer, wetter ecosystems in general support more species and in greater number than do icy cold dry ones.

    Certainly there needs to be a balance between cold and warm, but what makes anyone think that we are at or near that balance right now? For most of this planet’s history temperatures were 8-15 C warmer than today. Look at a picture of our globe with the ice caps and dry deserts on every continent. Is it possible that maybe, just maybe our planet is too cold and dry right now?

  57. Richard Simons:

    Most of Canada was unusually mild in January too. In Winnipeg the previous record was beaten by 3C. Several communities have declared states of emergency because it has not been possible to construct the winter roads across the lakes and swamps and all supplies are having to be flown in. To appreciate the significance, a large container of milk (4 litres) costs about US$13.

    In some quarters there seems to be the expectation that agriculture will simply move north with global warming. Although there are pockets of decent soil, in most of the area of Canada that is now covered by forest the soils are thin or absent so the lack of infrastructure would be irrelevent.

  58. Coby:

    #56 – Nanny,

    Certainly there needs to be a balance between cold and warm, but what makes anyone think that we are at or near that balance right now?

    I don’t think anybody thinks there is some ideal climate out there, life has thrived at many different global climates. One could argue that the current climate is in fact ideal for the current biosphere seeing as how it has evolved in this climate. Humans are certainly capable of living in all kinds of climates.

    But what all of your arguments are ignoring or handwaving away is the time it takes for an ecosystem, not just a species or two, to successfully undergo the changes required to survive. Yes, grizzlies can just walk north as they are already doing, but what about forests? And what about everything the grizzly relies on for food? Gizzlies are pretty versatile eaters so they may fair well, but the point satnds for many, many more species that are less resilient. A forest can not migrate one or two humdred kilometres, or possibly more, in just 100 years. What about migrating birds that arrive at their nesting grounds but they are too early or too late or the food sources they count on are not there (extinct or migrated away won’t matter to them)?

    If these kinds of things happen too quickly, as all the available evidence seems to indicate it will, then there will be many extinctions and those will lead to many more before some other new species jumps into the empty niche.

    For a very clear example you can look at coral reefs and the entire ecosystems built around them. If the temperatures rise only a degree or two more, these reefs will die. They will not migrate, they will not pop up in formerly too cool waters.

    Eventually they or something like them will flourish but you have to understand we are talking at least 100’s of thousands of years if not millions if geological history is to be any guide.

  59. Joel Shore:

    Re #52: I think that the point is (and #58 seems to be going in this direction too) that the various stresses that man is putting on ecosystems interact in negative ways. So, for example, while it might be true that migration of species could mitigate to some degree the effects of a rapidly changing climate, the fact that the ecosystems are already stressed and that they are highly fragmented limits their resiliency and ability to migrate.

  60. Hank Roberts:

    > temperature

    I don’t know if this is current thinking or not. Experts comment?

    “The warming resumed by 8500 BC. By 5000 to 3000 BC average global temperatures reached their maximum level during the Holocene and were 1 to 2° Celsius warmer than they are today. Climatologists call this period the Climatic Optimum. During the climatic optimum many of the Earth’s great ancient civilizations began and flourished. In Africa, the Nile River had three times its present volume …”

    [Response: I really don’t like the word ‘optimum’ since it is rather value-laden and not really appropriate. High northern latitudes were definitely warmer during the mid-Holocene (due to the higher summer insolation at that point in the precession cycle), but there is increasing evidence that the tropics were cooler (see Kim et al (2004) for instance). The Sahara was definitely wetter as well. – gavin]

    [Response: We’ve discussed this before on RC. See our glossary entry on the “Mid-Holocene Climatic Optimum”, and also this entry in our FAQ. – mike]

  61. Dano:

    Re current #56:

    I’m no biologist, but if you count the species that each ecosystem can support…

    That you are no biologist is immediately apparent from your previous comments and especially your [e]xpanding of habitats that can support more life is good, shrinking of habitats that don’t support much life is good also. It’s a win-win situation for life in general in a warming scenario. and your [f]or most of this planet’s history temperatures were 8-15 C warmer than today… Gawd. Where to begin?

    I have to call diminishing (nonexistent) returns here, nanny, sorry.

    But it must be apparent to lurkers here that there is a biological component to the argument that must be considered. Plants are the primary producers of energy for life on this planet. Plants adapt to climate at a rate that is slower than the current climate change rate. That is: plants are already adapted to conditions. If they want to continue to exist in these conditions, they must move. Plants cannot get up and walk to a new place. They migrate north or south at a rate. That rate is slower than the change rate we are undergoing now.



  62. Mike Atkinson:

    In Britain about half the butterfly species are in decline, while the other half are expanding northwards (a gross simiplification, I know). Among the reasons is that many butterflies are habitat specialists and most habitats in Britain are fragmented and greatly reduced. Heathland species (e.g. Silver-studded Blue) have been observed to be evoloving to disperse less, there is no point them flying more than a few hundred meters as they run out of habitat. Those that fly further are unlikely to find suitable habitat. This makes it hard for habitat specialist butterflies to take advantage of global warming, even if the habitats are moving north (which is often difficult for similar reasons) the butterflies are unable to follow.

    Other butterfly species (e.g. Mountain Ringlet) are moving up mountains (which generally gives them less habitat) and are expected to run out of moutain.

    Most of the habitat specialists are being actively conserved, habitat management which favours them (and usually many other species) is required. The old patterns of land management, which were done for commercial reasons, have changed so much that without non-commerical management by conservation bodies I think that many of them would go extinct.

  63. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Re #56 and “Certainly there needs to be a balance between cold and warm, but what makes anyone think that we are at or near that balance right now? For most of this planet’s history temperatures were 8-15 C warmer than today. Look at a picture of our globe with the ice caps and dry deserts on every continent. Is it possible that maybe, just maybe our planet is too cold and dry right now? ”

    Volcanoes provide good soil, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant or safe to live through an eruption. Just because something might have good effects eventually doesn’t justify letting something bad happen if you can stop it. A little common sense goes a long way.

  64. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Re #57 and “In some quarters there seems to be the expectation that agriculture will simply move north with global warming.”

    Sure. But that’s not a benign change. As you move toward the poles, latitude belts get SMALLER (do the math, it’s a cosine curve). That means the agricultural belt will get smaller, which will mean less food. Duh.

  65. Barton Paul Levenson:

    Re #64 — my dumb mistake. Area north of a latitude line is a “1 – sin” curve, not a cosine curve. For those who are interested:

    A = 2 pi R^2 (1 – sin theta)

    where A is area, pi the circle constant, R the sphere’s radius and theta the latitude. To get it between two latitudes, you subtract A for theta(North) from A for theta(South) in the northern hemisphere, and vice versa in the southern hemisphere.

    Let me give a numerical example, ignoring area in square meters and just using fraction of the hemisphere’s surface (A = 1 – sin theta). Let’s say, rather generously, that the world agricultural belt is everywhere from 10 degrees to 50 degrees. Area north of 10 degrees is 0.826 of the surface (hemisphere net area 1), north of 50 degrees is 0.234 of the surface, net area in between, 0.592 (59.2% of the hemisphere).

    Now let’s say global warming shifts the agricultural belts toward the poles by 5 degrees of latitude, so that they now occupy the area between the 15 and 55 degree lines. 0.741 – 0.181 = 0.560, 56% of the area. So our growing area has decreased from 59.2% of the globe to 56.0%. That’s a 5.4% drop in growing area (1 – .56/.592). So, at the very least, and even if the change doesn’t affect the hardiness or the fertility or the ability to grow crops, we get 5.4% less of them. See the problem?

  66. Neal J. King:

    nanny_govt_sucks keeps harping on the potential net improvement to the world’s ecosystem / populations of species / etc.

    The first problem is that we won’t ever completely know all the changes until they happen. With the best scientific models and data, we can still only make plausible estimates or guesses.

    The second problem is that there is no acceptable way of calculating a “net” result. Will the world be a better or a worse place if we gain more robins but lose arctic terns? If the agricultural productivity of Iceland increases, but the Maldives disappear beneath the waves?

    My preference would be to favor keeping things as much as possible unchanged, for the sake of biological diversity (or simply for variety of viewing): I would actively miss the beautiful array of species that can be seen in coral reefs today. Whereas whatever variations are likely to emerge in cold-adapted robins within my lifetime (and probably within my great-grandchild’s lifetime) are likely to be rather minor.

    I believe that the Hippocratic oath commends us: “First, do no harm.” I think this is an approach that makes sense in thinking about a complex issue with somewhat unpredictable aspects.

  67. nanny_govt_sucks:

    To all: Please see my links in post #21. You can see that green vegetation IS moving North based on real observations of the past 20 or so years of warming, and that animals are following. I’m sure we all know that nature has ways of planting forests via birds, squirrels, bear scat, or whatever.

    But if you feel these planting methods are not satisfactory for you, why not plant the Northern forest yourself, or advocate for it to be done? This would be a low-cost adatptation alternative to help the planet and the animals you feel are endangered adjust to a warming scenario. As the warming climate moves North, you could find the new environments that were ready for trees, then plant them in advance of the natural methods. No international agreements or forced-changes in world economies needed, just a travel visa, a back pack and some seed.

  68. Roger Smith:

    “But if you feel these planting methods are not satisfactory for you, why not plant the Northern forest yourself, or *advocate* for it to be done?”

    Dear Nanny,
    It’s curious that you are advocating for what would essentially be a massive public works project- the re-engineering of the Northern American forest. I wonder if it’s even scientifically feasible. The LaRouche party has similar ideas about creating massive canals to get water from the polar regions down to the deserts of the Southwest where the water is needed.

    I don’t think moving trees, wildlife and creating habitants would be cheap (backpackers scattering seed does not a forest make)- and coordinating with Canada would make it international… GHG emission reduction agreements would be moderate and market-friendly in comparison.

  69. Don Baccus:

    re #67:”This would be a low-cost adatptation alternative to help the planet and the animals you feel are endangered adjust to a warming scenario”

    How does accelerating the northward expansion of temperate forests help preserve polar bears, northern hawk owls, ptarmigan, snowy owls and other northern residents?

    How does this help preserve the dozens of species of shorebird that migrate north each year to nest in the open tundra? Without tundra, these migrants would disappear. The huge numbers of migrants we see in places like Delaware Bay or Gray’s Harbor (Washington State) would be no more. Hunters would no longer have snow geese or tundra swans to shoot at.

    I could go on in this vein for thousands of words, listing specific species that will suffer as a result of climate change, but my guess is that nanny_govt_sucks – “I’m no biologist!” – at heart really doesn’t care whether or not a bunch of species go locally, regionally, or entirely extinct. All he cares about is “winning” the political debate, consequences be damned.

  70. Tom Fiddaman:

    Re 67

    For starters, not all species are mobile via bird and bear; many will have trouble keeping up. Species have different preferences for precipitation, summer & winter temperature etc., and so may need to move in different directions. That makes it hard to sustain complex interactions of pollination, predation, etc. Moving from Seattle WA to Vancouver BC is a lot different than moving Seattle itself to Vancouver.

    The adaptive planting suggestion betrays a naive understanding of the scale of the northern forest. Just replanting trees in North America would be a multi-hundred billion dollar exercise. Even if it were affordable, how do we know what to plant and where, when our understanding of ecosystems is imperfect, regional forecasts are unreliable, and the temperature transient will go on for decades? The history of introduced species is not a pretty one.

    The natural capital embodied in the northern forest is almost certainly worth trillions. It is laughable to think that a few volunteers can replace it. In effect, you are proposing a system in which all are free to foist off their GHG externalities on others, and to hope that a few altruists will pick up the pieces (never mind that they accelerate warming as they drive north with their seeds). Of course, economic conditions like that select against altruism, so the outcome will be bad. To the extent that it’s bad for people, I doubt that such a plan will help freedom to flourish.

    Meanwhile, further south (see 64), things are no easier. What do you propose to plant in the Sahara if it warms and expands? Failing that, where will the residents of regions that become less attractive go? Perhaps the altruists can host them in their homes. After all, they could finance their philanthropy by getting rich speculating on Canadian land before the WSJ skeptics wake up to the possibilities.

    Perhaps this would be a good time to exercise a little democratic initiative to point economic incentives in beneficial environmental directions. If you equate carbon taxes with dictatorship, perhaps you could propose a socially and biologically realistic alternative mitigation plan.

  71. Laura:

    Nanny, you can’t just move the plants north. They have evolved to use the length of daylight to time their development. This way they have the best chance of flowering when insect populations are good for pollination, completing seed development before frost, not dropping seed too early and having it germinate before winter, etc. If you move them north, the daylength signals will be off. Even if adaptation could take place in a few generations, it could take decades just to expose the plant population to enough year-to-year variation in weather conditions so that they could find a good average and get the signal calibrated right. Meanwhile there would be a lot of false starts, dead ends, and extinctions.

    The same scenario holds true for animals, for timing of migration, reproduction, hibernation, and so on. Just because they can get to a new habitat and even survive for a few years doesn’t necessarily mean they can thrive there.

  72. Richard Simons:

    re #67
    “This would be a low-cost adaptation alternative” (going out with backpacks of seeds to extend the forests north)

    This entertained me as clearly ‘nanny_govt_sucks’ has no idea of the scale of the problem. Neglecting all the other problems (e.g. many areas are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest road and people have to be got there and fed, and as Roger Smith pointed out, scattering seeds does not make a forest) I roughly calculated how many seeds would be needed, getting seeding rates etc off various websites.

    To seed a strip just 10km wide across the north of Canada and Alaska would take over 2000 tonnes of seeds with a value of well in excess of 10 billion dollars (assuming the seeds are available and demand did not push up prices). And Russia is bigger. So much for cheap solutions.

  73. Leonard Evens:

    Unfortunately, political-economic-ideological ideas tend to affect judgements in these matters. The WSJ has been an advocate of currently fashionable ideas about the free market and how it is the best, or perhaps least bad, method to deal with all problems. From his pseudonym, it appears that nanny_govenrment_sucks agrees with this position. Perhaps it should be pointed out that fashionable political-economic-ideological ideas may be transitory even on the short scale of human history. Certainly, throughout most of our history, we had authoritarian governments and markets were not too free. And free market ideas are hardly accepted by all of humanity today. The danger of making decisions today on the basis of prevalent ideas about how society should be organized is that we may find those ideas radically modified or rejected entirely in a few hundreds of years. And any solutions must deal with the reality that others may not have the same ideology. As I see it, the best strategy is pay attention to the science to see what needs doing. In so doing we must avoid ideological predispositions as much as possible and suspect our own inclinations in these things. Having understood what is happening, we have to come up with the best means to deal with it which are consistent with whatever we find important based on our idelogical predispositions. compare for example our atttidues towards a possible Avian Flu pandemic. I doubt even the WSJ would try to convince us not to worry about it because they fear it might mean a large scale government public health intervention. Or that they would worry too much about how it relates to free markets.

  74. Eban Goodstein:

    The reference to a 4-8ºC (7-14ºF)predicted warming is from the A2 scenario– isn’t this the most pessimistic? Is the forecast for North American warming similar under A1 or B2?

  75. Stephen Berg:

    Re: #67, “You can see that green vegetation IS moving North based on real observations of the past 20 or so years of warming, and that animals are following. I’m sure we all know that nature has ways of planting forests via birds, squirrels, bear scat, or whatever.”

    True, but the vegetation and species of animals are leaving behind desolate areas to the south. It is simply a displacement, not an expansion.

  76. Pat Neuman:

    Climate Change – Part 1
    By Rick Kupchella, KARE 11 News Twin Cities area
    Aired 10:15 PM Feb 7, 2006, (NBC affiliate)

    Climate Change – Part 1 [Northern Minnesota]


    … “Specifically, these moose are dying from parasites: brain worms and liver flukes. Mark Lenarz with the State Department of Natural Resources says it appeared the parasites “caused those individual moose to starve to death.”

    Lenarz says that’s “really contrary to what parasites are supposed to
    do.” Parasites are not supposed to kill the animal.

    In trying to figure out – why – this is happening, scientists have become focused on ‘temperature’. Lenarz says, “If you’re a moose, and it’s the middle of summer, and you’re panting, you just have a lot less time for eating.” In the end, he says, many of these moose cannot cope with the added stress. Lenarz says the moose are dying in greatest numbers â?? within a year of a very hot summer.” …

    “Watch Rick’s report on Climate Change
    Minnesota/western Wisconsin
    [Kare11 New Extra, Part 2. 10 PM Feb 8].

    More Information on Climate Change
    … KARE 11 has assembled a large collection of resources, reports and sound from nearly a dozen experts. To view that page, visit

    Wednesday night’s Extra will look at the factors believed to be contributing to global warming â?? in particular, man-made factors, and what if anything can be done to reverse our impact on the environment. Join us Wednesday at ten.” …

  77. Pat Neuman:

    “Jimmy did not see his shadow this morning, so we can all look forward to an EARLY SPRING!”

    Jimmy the groundhog may not be needed in future years. An early spring is a gimme now.

    No below zero F daily low temperatures occurred at Minneapolis during January of 2006. Only one year, 1990, of the 1891-current period of record at Minneapolis had no below zero lows in January.

    In 1990 there were 3 below zero F. days in February. There have been no below zero lows in February so far this year. A warming trend is in the works for the end of this month.

    How many below zero daily lows can Minnesotans expect this year? I’ll say zero. How many in 2007, 2008, 2009 … ? Zero? Anyone care to make a guess?

  78. Pat Neuman:

    LIVE, NOON-2PM CST TODAY – Public asked to join in on Climate Change Discussion public forum – Kare11 website.

    Many Twin Citians have been relocating to western Wisconsin due to cheaper land for big homes. Commuting to Minneapolis and St. Paul is still considered the cheapest way to go for those that want big homes and think they can afford them.

    Forum, NOON-2PM CST today at:

    Rick Kupchella’s pair of stories on climate change looked at the phenomenon â?? and tried to separate the science from politics. Still, there is plenty of controversy. Rick will sit down Thursday and answer viewer questions about his research, the science and the questions we have yet to answer. Join us from noon to 2:00 p.m. Thursday for a discussion on climate change — and what goes into tackling such a large story. Until then, visit and see many of the sources Rick consulted in his research.

    Rick’s broadcast summaries (Parts 1 and 2) are at:

    Global warming, let’s do something about it. Our heart should be where our home is.

  79. Chuck:

    Regarding #7: Jim Hansen notes in his paper that “if we wanted to stabilize atmospheric CO2 [concentrations] for the next few years, we would need to cut fossil emissions by about 60%”. Later in the paper, when considering other factors, such as feedbacks to the atmosphere of ocean CO2″, he estimates emission reductions of “60-80%” will be needed in the long run. What does it mean to reduce global CO2 emissions by 70% from their current rates? Well, current annual emission rates are between 6 and 7 billion tons per year, and reducing these rates to about 1 or 1.5 billion tons per year would be the rate of emissions that existed in the late 1920s. Put another way, the 13 largest emitting countries in the world (USA, China, India, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Germany, Canada, Australia, …) emit about 70% of the global total. So one “extreme” to reduce global emissions by 70% would be to reduce the emissions of those 13 largest countries to ZERO, and hold the emissions of all other countries in the world constant at their current rate. The “opposite extreme” would be to reduce the emissions of the 13 largest countries by at least 60%, and reduce the emissions of all of the OTHER countries in the world to ZERO. And those levels of emission reduction have been estimated in models to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at 550 parts per million — roughly twice the pre-industrial level and roughly 50% higher than current atmospheric concentrations. And the time to stabilization will be about 400 years. Now, does anyone REALLY believe that stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations is feasible? Certainly, none of the people alive in the world today (Shirley MacLaine excepted) will live to see it.

  80. Steve Sadlov:

    Meanwhile, Eurasia had a dreary, iced over, horrid January (actually, longer than that, but for the purposes of this article ….). So, might that mean that the unprecedented continental scale warmth in North America balanced the unprecedented cold in Eurasia at the same time? A “rogue wave” or a “Perfect Storm” in the Jet Stream? A dynamic system, with many resonances, innately complex feedback loops and built in filters it is. If it were an electronic circuit, imagine the difficulty either designing or modelling it!

    [Response: It is unlikely that the anomalies balance out. The Global February data are not in yet, but the January mean results are. They show (scroll about half way down the page) cold conditions over a substantial portion of interior Eurasia, southern Europe and Alaska, but anomalous warmth over the rest of the Artic, most of North America and, more importantly, over a substantial part of tropical Africa, South America, and most of Australia. Given the greater importance of the tropical regions in a spherical average (Cylindrical Equidistant projections such as used in this case, give a misleading indication of the surface areas at differing latitudes, overly emphasizing high-latitude regions), the global mean anomaly would look to be substantially positive for January. Will be interesting to see the February data when they’ve been processed. – mike]

  81. Steve Sadlov:

    No comments regarding my rogue wave and electronic circuit analogies?

  82. Steve Sadlov:

    RE: Reply to #80. So, another minor fine point is that we are clearly in a La Nina year, and as a result, the Jet Stream is averaging well north of normal in Western North America. Just another off hand observation. ENSO is a powerful factor.