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Linking the climate-ecology attribution chain

Filed under: — Jim @ 19 February 2009

Guest commentary by Jim Bouldin, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis

Linking the regional climate-ecology attribution chain in the western United States

Many are obviously curious about whether certain current regional environmental changes are traceable to global climate change. There are a number of large-scale changes that clearly qualify—rapid warming of the arctic/sub-arctic regions for example, and earlier spring onset in the northern hemisphere and the associated phenological changes in plants and animals. But as one moves to smaller scales of space or time, global-to-local connections become more difficult to establish. This is due to the combined effect of the resolutions of climate models, the intrinsic variability of the system and the empirical climatic, environmental, or ecological data—the signal to noise ratio of possible causes and observed effects. Thus recent work by ecologists, climate scientists, and hydrologists in the western United States relating global climate change, regional climate change, and regional ecological change is of great significance. Together, their results show an increasing ability to link the chain at smaller and presumably more viscerally meaningful and politically tractable scales.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago, a paper in Science by Phil van Mantgem of the USGS, and others, showed that over the last few decades, background levels of tree mortality have been increasing in undisturbed old-growth forests in the western United States, without the accompanying increase in tree “recruitment” (new trees) that would balance the ledger over time. Background mortality is the regular ongoing process of tree death, un-related to the more visible, catastrophic mortality caused by such events as fires, insect attacks, and windstorms, and typically is less than 1% per year. It is that portion of tree death due to the direct and indirect effects of tree competition, climate (often manifest as water stress), and old age. Because many things can affect background mortality, van Mantgem et. al. were very careful to minimize the potential for other possible explanatory variables via their selection of study sites, while still maintaining a relatively long record over a wide geographic area. These other possible causes include, especially, increases in crowding (density; a notorious confounding factor arising from previous disturbances and/or fire suppression), and edge effects (trees close to an
opening experience a generally warmer and drier micro-climate than those in the forest interior).

They found that in each of three regions, the Pacific Northwest, California, and the Interior West, mortality rates have doubled in 17 to 29 years (depending on location), and have been doing so across all dominant species, all size classes, and all elevations. The authors show with downscaled climate information that the increasing mortality rates likely corresponds to summer soil moisture stress increases over that time that are driven by increases in temperature with little or no change in precipitation in these regions. Fortunately, natural background mortality rates in western forests are typically less than 0.5% per year, so rate doublings over ~20-30 years, by themselves, will not have large immediate impacts. What the longer term changes will be is an open question however, depending on future climate and tree recruitment/mortality rates. Nevertheless, the authors have shown clearly that mortality rates have been increasing over the last ~30 years. Thus the $64,000 question: are these changes attributable in part or all to human-induced global warming?

Yes, argues a pair of December papers in the Journal of Climate, and a 2008 work in Science. The studies, by Bonfils et. al. (2008), Pierce et. al. (2008), and Barnett et. al. (2008), link observed western temperature and temperature-induced snowmelt processes to human-forced (greenhouse gases, ozone, and aerosols) global climate changes. The authors used various combinations of three GCMs, two statistical downscaling techniques (to account for micro-climate effects that aren’t resolved in the GCMs), and a high resolution hydrology model to experiment with the various possible causes of the observed climatic changes and the robustness of the methods. The possible causes included the usual list of suspects: natural climatic variability, the human-induced forcings just mentioned, and non-human forcings (solar and volcanic). Climate models were chosen specifically for their ability to account for important, natural climatic fluctuations in the western US that influence temperature, precipitation and snowpack dynamics, particularly the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and El Niño/La Niña oscillations, and/or their ability to generate the daily climatic values necessary for input to the hydrologic model. The relevant climate variables included various subsets of minimum and maximum daily temperatures from January to March (JFM), their corresponding monthly averages, degree days (days with mean T>0ºC), and the ratio of Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) to water year precipitation (P). In each case, multiple hundred year control runs were generated with two GCMs to isolate the natural variability, and then forced runs from previous model intercomparison projects were used to identify the impacts of the various forcings.

The results? The authors estimate that about 50% of the April 1 SWE equivalent, and 60% of river discharge date advances and January-to-March temperature increases, cannot be accounted for by either natural variability or non-human forcings. Bonfils et al also note that the decreases in SWE are due to January-to-March temperature increases, not winter precipitation decreases, as the observational record over the last several decades shows. The April snow is a key variable, for along with spring through early fall temperatures, it has a great bearing on growing season soil moisture status throughout the western United States, and thus directly on forest productivity and demographic processes.

Link o’ chain, meet link o’chain.

Update: The new USA National Phenology Network is described here.

254 Responses to “Linking the climate-ecology attribution chain”

  1. 201


    I thought your summary was a good one. I would quibble with the idea of CO2 “trapping heat,” since what’s actually happening is that the CO2 absorbs the heat and reradiates it. But for two paragraphs, I think your summary is about as concise as you can get and still convey the idea more-or-less accurately.

  2. 202
    Mark says:

    BPL: 201

    But that is, again, a detail.

    What is the difference between something trapping heat and absorbtion/redirection? Both impede energy transfer.

    The distinction is rather like saying “But the electrons actually travel in the OPPOSITE direction”. Doesn’t stop the lights coming on, does it.

  3. 203
    Jim Galasyn says:

    Thank you for the feedback, everybody. I put quotes around “heat-trapping” to hint that it’s a simplification.

    I was inspired by Barton’s “global warming in five bullet points,” from a recent RC post:

    1. CO2 is a greenhouse gas (Tyndall 1859).
    2. CO2 is rising (Keeling et al. 1958).
    3. The new CO2 is mainly from burning fossil fuels (Suess 1955).
    4. Temperature is rising (NASA GISS, Hadley CRU, UAH, RSS, etc.).
    5. The increase in temperature correlates with the increase in CO2 (76% for temp. anomaly and ln CO2 for 1880-2007).

    And, of course, Spencer Weart’s writings.

  4. 204
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    Jim Bouldin
    Great post thanks for writing it. If I’m getting the big idea right it’s that AGW is likely altering the snowpack. Because the trees are dependent on the snowpack they are being effected. Considering the importance of the trees to these forest ecosystems AGW is going to have a cascade effect.

    re 193:
    Has any work been done that connects AGW to other observed ecosystem changes and not just predicted changes? I am vaguely familiar with some work done in the North and Baltic Seas, but is there more published?

  5. 205
    James says:

    Rod B Says (26 February 2009 at 4:31 PM)

    ““Believer” is also not discriminating enough, though I’m not sure why it upset dhogaza so. You don’t believe AGW??”

    No, I don’t believe AGW, any more than I believe say civil engineering. Instead of doing my own stress calculations on that bridge I’m going to drive across, I may make some (perhaps unwarranted) assumptions about the competence & honesty of the civil engineers who designed it, but if I really wanted to spend the time & energy, I could repeat & check each step of the design myself. There’s no point at which I’d just have to believe.

    Same with AGW: every step of the chain of reasoning is math, science, and computer programming that I could repeat myself. There’s no place at which, like the old cartoon, I have to write “then a miracle happens”.

  6. 206
    Hank Roberts says:

    Mark, BPL, it’s one of the toughest areas (as Spencer Weart says, and a pointer to his section might be helpful in any summary).
    Anything short of the quantum physics is oversimplification. Task is not to oversimplify so grossly that people don’t get the picture.

    Can’t do that myself. Let me try to say why I think it matters:

    Greenhouse gases can capture energy (infrared photons).
    All molecules can exchange energy by colliding.
    A greenhouse gas can absorbs an infrared photon — its total energy goes up.
    The total energy gets exchanged – averages out – by collisions with nitrogen and oxygen, and sometimes by emitting an infrared photon.

    It’s not the same chunk of energy. It’s a way of catching and emitting chunks, but those are little, and separate, events.

    Total energy coming in from the sun is about constant.
    Adding more CO2 means that there are more of these molecules that can catch-and-release infrared photons in the atmosphere
    Eventually the energy goes out at top of atmosphere.

    Word picture attempt, third grade level, suitable for staging maybe by a modern dance group or the Portland Jugglers Convention:

    Say you have a field with a million people who are kind of limited in skill — they can hand tennis balls to the people next to them, but only at random. If they have nobody next to them, they drop the tennis ball (and it rolls off the edge of the field).

    You’re steadily putting in tennis balls from one end of the field, dropping them in so the people can’t toss them back out to you.
    (high energy photons, lots of ultraviolet energy, mostly hitting the ground where they warm the ground up)

    The only way they can get out is to move to the other end of the field. (be re-emitted as lower energy infrared photons)

    So you hand them in at one end and the people hand them around to the others at random. Eventually everyone’s busy, and as many tennis balls are being dropped off the far end of the field as are being added (radiative equilibrium)

    Now, there are also a few competent jugglers in the population.

    Each of them — besides handing tennis balls off at random to whoever’s nearby — can also each keep a dozen tennis balls in the air, juggling. Every now and then they get excited enough or someone elbows them and they “drop” one — which goes zinging off in a random direction. (that’s part of the radiative equilibrium)

    Usually an average guy catches what the juggler drops, and so just hands it off to a neighbor.

    Rarely another juggler catches that and adds it to the eleven or twelve she’s juggling. Sometimes that gets her excited enough that she drops one that goes zinging off …

    Now we double the number of competent jugglers!

    What happens? More of your tennis balls are there in the group being juggled instead of just handed off at random.

    Eventually, all those tennis balls do get to the far end of the field at random and get dropped out of the game. (a new radiative equilibrium is established)

    But with more jugglers, more of the tennis balls are now being “parked” among the people on the field for a while (a few hundred years) and each of the ordinary people out there is getting poked and bonked and elbowed a little bit more often by the jugglers.

  7. 207
    Hank Roberts says:

    Joseph O’Sullivan asks for observations of anything that
    > connects AGW to other observed ecosystem changes

    Here is a good recent place to start. You’ll have to do some reading:

    “… recent detailed multidisciplinary studies, which have pored over numerous long-term datasets (most compiled for reasons unconnected to climate change monitoring), have forced a re-appraisal of the magnitude and pace of the challenge that global warming represents ….

    One of the clearest ‘attribution fingerprints’ of global warming on biological systems is the advance of reproductive events ….”

  8. 208
    Mark says:

    Hank, 206 do you think you are saying something new here???

    How long does it take a photon produced at the Sun’s core to get out? And why?


    Having done physics with ASTROPHYSICS, do you reckon this is news to me?

    Now, please, tell me how the length of the hypotenuse can be calculated by considering the square root of the sum of the squares of the opposite sides. I await your education of me.

    After that you can tell me that you can increase profit by reducing expenses whilst keeping the product revenue the same.

    My glasses to protect me from the blinding flash of the obvious is in place and I’m ready…

    (PS theoretically any photon can be absorbed: the cross section of the target molecule may be so tiny it is unlikely to happen in light years of earth atmosphere, but it isn’t zero).

  9. 209
    Rod B says:

    dhogaza, my opinion, which Jum asked for, was that some of his adjectives were a bit too charged, which, as I said, is a style comment. In substance his paragraph was pretty good, which I also said. I did not object to it as Mark claimed. Lighten up.

    Mark, like I said you wanting to be called “the good guys” is self-satisfying and also nice ego building self-serving but does nothing for clarity of communications. Evidently you can’t come up with a description unless it either builds your pedastal or demonizes those that don’t completely subscribe to your dogma.

  10. 210
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Thanks Joseph (204). You’ve got it right. Check out the link provided by Mauri in comment #1, for the observational evidence in the Pacific Northwest. The evidence that the regional snowpack trends are due, at least in part, to AGW, comes from the 3 regional climate studies cited. The importance of snowpack will vary geographically, being highest in those areas with little to no summer rain (i.e. California). In some locations that receive more summer rain, snowpack declines might be expected to have a lesser impact, but any growing season T increases there would still be important. The long term effects are difficult to impossible to predict because there are so many variables, but if you combine van Mantgem et al’s results with the increases in catastrophic mortality (crown fire, insect attacks), now being documented (e.g. Westerling et al 2006 for fire) it doesn’t look good. It’s actually this latter type that concerns a lot of us more. And as van Mantgem et al state, the increased background mortality may portend subsequent catastrophic mortality increases, (and which they have evidence for in the Interior West–some of the study plots experienced heavy mortality after the last date of sampling, which won’t show up in the data until the plots are sampled again).

    Yes, there’s quite a bit of work being done, but it still tends to be at fairly large scales (continental, hemispheric; e.g. Rosenzwieg et al, 2008) because that’s where you get the strongest signal. There’s quite a lot of documented phenological change data at all scales; the trick is attributing the climate changes at smaller scales to global AGW, which necessarily requires GCMs, which have the ability to model across scales (down to the limit of their spatial resolution). As the magnitude of the climate effects increases, and GCMs’ resolutions and physics continue to improve, the power to quantify likelihoods of cause at those smaller scales will continue to grow. That’s one reason good climate models are so vital.

    I don’t honestly know of any fairly small scale studies definitively attributing ecological effects to AGW, (but I’m looking!). I think a number of changes in the western USA could now be so, including the phenological shifts brought up by Aaron Lewishowever, given the findings of the 3 climate studies mentioned in this post.

    Rosenzweig et al. 2008. Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature 453:353-

    Westerling et al. 2006. Warming and earlier spring increase western US forest wildfire activity. Science 313:940-

  11. 211
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RRE #183 (ref #178) &

    “…my position is all things that can be in any way …linked to global warming are indeed caused by global warming… ”

    How scientific of you!

    That’s just the point. I am not a scientist. I’m a person concerned about life on planet earth & in avoiding the false negative.

    And, of course, we should solve problems with forsight & caution so as to avoid negative consequences of the solutions. However, when we have a problem of such magnitude as climate change and possible runaway warming, then it’s pretty hard to think of negative consequences that can match that. Still we should be smart about solving this problem, and BAU is pretty stupid.

  12. 212
    John Mashey says:

    re: 204 Joseph

    IPCC AR4 WG II, Chapter 1 (pp.79-131) has a mass of material, and Figure SPM.1, page 10 of the SPM, has a quick summary, and the first part of the TS has a longer summary.

    My favorites, because they are simply shown as a series of boundaries on maps, and because they reflect higher minimum winter temperatures (a GHG signature) are:

    a) The spread Northward of various beetles, now chewing up British Columbia. See B.C. temperature trends, and p.10 of temperature details in B.C.

    See B.C. map sequence to flip through, showing beetles and their FAQ.

    [yes, there are plenty of land-use issues, but the beetles are thriving because it hasn’t quite been getting cold enough in the Fall / Winter to suppress them.]

    b) The Northward march of kudzu, which U of Toronto researchers think will survive in southern Canada within ~another decade.

    Some things move North because humans want them there (grapes around Lake Okanagan, B.C., a little South of Kamloops on the earlier map, sugar maples in Eastern Canada), but bark beetles and kudzu aren’t in that category.

  13. 213
    Hank Roberts says:

    Er. Mark, I wasn’t writing to you at all.

    I posted a serious attempt to find words that might explain to a youngster how adding CO2 slows down the process by which heat leaves the planet.

    It’s not about you.

    Remember the audience, sir. Do your best to explain the science to people reading, and hope for correction by the real scientists here.
    That’s what any of us amateurs can do, try to be useful in finding the right words.

    We’re not the deciders.

  14. 214
    Hank Roberts says:

    For Jim Bouldin — you wrote a few responses back:
    > I don’t honestly know of any fairly small scale studies
    > definitively attributing ecological effects to AGW,
    > (but I’m looking!).

    Would it be fair to say that the “A” in AGW is responsible for the very rapid rate of change, and so you’d be looking for ecological effects related to the rate of change (either of the extremes or mean)?
    I’m thinking of Barry Brooks’s image here:

    Populations that we know have simply changed their location over many generations, in the past — say from the pollen layers in lakes changing as the ice age comes and goes — are now experiencing much faster changes.
    ReCaptcha: “the racing”

  15. 215
    Hank Roberts says:

    PS, while the Nature articles Jim Bouldin cited are paywalled, the Supplementary Info for those is usually available, e.g.
    Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change, by Rosenzweig et al.

    32 pages of good supplemental information, tabulating other studies.

  16. 216
    Mark says:

    RuDb, #209, “scientist” and “the good guys” have one letter in common.

    They aren’t the same.

    You see them as the same because you want something perjorative.

  17. 217

    Mark, Hank’s 206 was manifestly not intended for those who already have a good intuitive picture of what happens. . . which would obviously include you.

    I thought it was an excellent illustrative analogy, even if, as you point out, it could apply to other phenomena.

  18. 218
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Hank @ 214:

    Great observation Hank. I think you could conceive of the problem, and analyze it, either as a rate-of-change issue, or as a total-magnitude-of-change, issue. (A higher rate of change gives you a given total magnitude of change in a shorter period of time of course, so you need a shorter time series of data to get the same signal). But you do have to distinguish between the climatic and ecological effects in the analysis. For the climatic effects, the climate models (and empirical data in many places) are often able to detect an anomalously high rate of change. For ecological data, the models may not be as good (depending on the process in question) and the empirical data are almost never as long, which presents problems in attributing any observed ecological changes to climatic causes. The only way around that problem is to explore–as well as possible–the likelihood that some other (non-climatic) factors might be responsible for the effects observed, and that climatic patterns are NOT consistent with the ecological effects, which is EXACTLY what van Mangtgem et al did, and why I am so high on the study.

  19. 219
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Hank @ 215:

    I know many people do not have subscriptions to these journals, are not near a research library, and their local library generally carries Science at the most, sometimes not even that. What to do?

    Answer: ALWAYS WRITE TO THE AUTHORS AND REQUEST AN ELECTRONIC REPRINT for any article of interest. There is always an author given, with email address, for reprint requests and general correspondence. This is perfectly legal in most cases. DON’T BE BASHFUL. Most scientists are more than happy to quickly send out their works. Find the secondary authors’ web pages/email addresses and request the same of them if need be.

  20. 220
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Rod B., about the least pejorative title I can come up with is “scientific consensus backers”.

  21. 221
    Hank Roberts says:

    > one letter in common
    Oh, no, no, I won’t ask which one. Nope. Not going there.

    How about something on topic? I came across this following up some forest/lumber links:
    Carbon Balance and Management 2006, 1:4doi:10.1186/1750-0680-1-4
    Commentary–A psychological effect of having a potentially viable sequestration strategy

    “… The slow leakage that occurs centuries into the future can give a false sense of security that the carbon and climate problem is under control. If this were to cause policy makers to become less vigilant about reducing the total emissions of anthropogenic carbon, our descendants would be penalized with having much higher carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere when leakage begins. This “carelessness feedback” would apply to other forms of sequestration that are not permanent. To avoid falling into this trap requires generations of policy makers to be aware of the feedback and committed to intergenerational equity….”

  22. 222
    Mark says:

    Hank, in 213 you say you weren’t writing to me. Please explain what the first word in 206 means (this being the number of the post that you weren’t writing for my “benefit”)

  23. 223
    Chris Madson says:

    I recently ran across Mantgem’s paper while researching an article on the effect climate change will have on habitat types in Wyoming. As many of you may know, warm, dry conditions over the last fifteen years or so have led to outbreaks of several tree-eating insects, particularly the mountain pine beetle, which has a taste for limber, lodgepole, and whitebark pines. The outbreak is unprecedented in the last 400 years and will eliminate most of these trees in size classes above about 5 inches in diameter. Some foresters have predicted that this die-off will lead to a more diverse timber association both in terms of tree size and species. Subalpine fir is expected to be one of the key players in this replacement of old-growth lodgepole forest.

    Now comes Mantgem et al to tell us that subalpine fir is under significant long-term drought stress. Another possible replacement for lodgepole is quaking aspen, except that aspen acreages have declined by more than 30 percent in Colorado over the last decade because of a malady the sylviculturists are calling “sudden aspen decline” because they aren’t sure what’s causing it. Best speculation is that warmer, drier growing conditions are at least partly to blame.

    The picture that emerges for me is that the entire western montane forest is under increasing stress. Forest Service descriptions of “the new forest” seem wildly optimistic. Much more likely that we will see a drastic reduction in forested acreage, followed by an upward migration of mountain and desert shrub communities, followed by an invasion of cheatgrass, which will change the natural fire regime and perpetuate itself.

    The combination will almost certainly mean a drastic decline in fixed carbon, along with a crash in biodiversity. The first phases of this trend are clearly visible on nearly any forested slope in the central Rockies– millions of acres of “ghost forest,” the bleached trunks of millions of dead trees.

    That’s a pretty major ecological impact but far from the only one. Take a look at the technical literature on whitebark pine and its relationship with grizzlies. Also look at the literature on pika distribution over the last century. Also take a look at the new paper on amphibian populations in Yellowstone Park by McMenamin et al.

  24. 224

    Hank wrote in 213:

    Er. Mark, I wasn’t writing to you at all.

    In 222 Mark responds:

    Hank, in 213you say you weren’t writing to me. Please explain what the first word in 206 means (this being the number of the post that you weren’t writing for my “benefit”)

    I think you got him there, Mark.

    He actually was writing to you — but not to explain the science, thinking that you didn’t know any of it on the elementary level that he was explaining it. Looking at what he said just afterwards 213:

    I posted a serious attempt to find words that might explain to a youngster how adding CO2 slows down the process by which heat leaves the planet…. Remember the audience, sir. Do your best to explain the science to people reading, and hope for correction by the real scientists here. That’s what any of us amateurs can do, try to be useful in finding the right words.

    In essence he was trying to explain to you and Barton Paul Levenson (who is extremely knowledgeable in climatology) how to explain the greenhouse effect to others — the good majority of those who visit this blog. He knows that you and Barton understand the greenhouse effect and the physics behind it quite possibly a great deal better than he or I, but given the nature of this forum, how we present it may be just as important as what we present.

    Incidentally, this is why it may be valuable to argue with someone who is being dishonest — someone who is always trying to argue that the IPCC could be overestimating the consequences of climate change but ignoring the possibility that the IPCC may be underestimating the consequences of climate change, or someone else who is simply and obviously trying to confuse people on whether or not carbon dioxide can be a greenhouse gas based on a clearly fallacious argument despite having graduated from Cavendish Laboratories where he studied the infrared absorption properties of carbon dioxide in great detail — and yet oftentimes plays as if he has no expertise whatsoever.

    The individual that you are “responding to” may already understand everything that you are explaining, but for someone else who has just wandered in or may not even post, what you say may make a real difference.

  25. 225
    Mark says:

    Yeah and I’m a bit grumpy this week too, Tim (I’d probably still bite someone’s head off, but this time I probably was over eager in posting a few times. After enough pecks at you, you get sensitive to pecking.

    The issue I have with what Hank was saying is that, as far as the *result* is concerned, “trapping” is fine.

    Radio operators use it for signals trapped under the “whatever they call it” layer (can’t remember it, I know I know it but recall is far worse than storage).

    It’s a lie-to-children sort of misrepresentation. True enough to give you an idea of what this is doing.

    The more complete and complex lie-to-student that Hank gave is OK for people who did some Physics related course in university. But for those, the current introductory explanation available all over the web and in the IPCC summary report is already there.

    Jim I think got a good one that is complete at the education of people who stopped at their O-levels some years ago or haven’t yet finished the GCSEs.

    I mean, you don’t leave the oven door open because you let the heat out. But that implies that the heat is trapped in there. But the oven is warmer, so that’s obviously not *true* true.

    But it’s good enough.

    As was Jim’s short version.

  26. 226
    Mark says:

    PS a hint for Hank, I tend to, if I want to clarify or extend someone’s post, say “further to X’s post…”.

    If it doesn’t fit your style of prose, there are plenty of other ways to get the same contextual handle in there. Just get it in there early.

  27. 227

    Mark wrote in 225:

    Yeah and I’m a bit grumpy this week too, Tim (I’d probably still bite someone’s head off, but this time I probably was over eager in posting a few times. After enough pecks at you, you get sensitive to pecking.


    My apologies for having contributed to that. I am having a heck of a week as well — and a large part of it actually has very little to do with Real Climate — issues that will be left dangling until Monday if not later, apparently.

  28. 228
    Ken Boettger says:


    I do not accept Tamino’s analysis.

    You averaged out the temps before comparison.

    The problem is the extreme highs and lows. Prior to the 1970’s, our winters gave us 30 below zero once in ten years. We hit 25 below most years (70 percent is the rough figure from the data). What Tamino loses in his analysis is that we have no longer hit 30 below. We no longer hit 25 below. We no longer hit 20 below. Nor 10 below. Our coldest winter over the last ten years barely reached 10 below.


    The situation is the same for summer. Prior to the 1970’s, we rarely exceeded 100 degrees (once in ten years). Today we have exceeded 110. If I recall correctly, we have hit broke records in the last ten years at 112 and 114. This is approximately a 15 degree change.

    I thank Tamino for his analysis, but you missed my point entirely. You avoided the minimim winter and maximum summer temperatures. Those temps are available at NOAA. Averaging the temps before graphin or analyzing, and you lose this most critical component of the data. And so I cannot accept your analysis. It the extremes we will have to live with. 114F in Ellensburg is getting down rigbht unbareable for those of us who have lived in eastern washington since the 50’s. The data clearly suggests an upward trend. So are we going to see another 15 degrees in the next 10 or 20 years? If so, that would be 130 in Ellensburg. No more crops. And a few more degress and this region will not be habitable.

    That is the cold hard facts.

    Graph the single maximum and minimum annual extremes for the winter months and summer months over the last 50 years. Your graphs will show a far more pronounced warming. It is those extremes we will have to live with.

    I will say no more here. I have had my say. God forbid what is coming.


  29. 229
    Hank Roberts says:

    Did anyone figure out where Ken Boettger’s numbers come from? He says he’s using “if I recall correctly” and I haven’t been able to locate a better source.

    I’m assuming when he writes “today we have exceeded 110” he’s referring to, well, I’m not sure. Certainly not March 1st 2009.

    I found this — not an official weather station record:

    Ellensburg, WA Weather Facts
    * The highest recorded temperature was 110°F in 1928.
    * The lowest recorded temperature was -31°F in 1919.

    That’s from

    Anyone got a link to the weather station record, to check that?

  30. 230
    Hank Roberts says:

    > … quotes around “heat-trapping” to hint that it’s a simplification.

    Good simple fix.

    > “lie-to-children” or “lie-to-student”

    Yeah; tagging which audience the text is meant for and hinting, or being explicit about, how much poetry is involved, always helps.

    “Physics for Poets: Why is the sky blue and why does the Earth go round and round?” (paraphrasing from my 1960s college catalog).

    That ‘framing’ avoids a lot of argument over wording.

    Confucian scholar: “What is necessary is to rectify names.”
    Engineer: “So, does this mean you’ll finally stop equivocating?”

  31. 231
    xyz says:

    A long study on butterflies and some implications re climate change:

    “Most wild species are expected to colonise northwards as the climate warms, but how are they going to get there when so many landscapes are covered in wheat fields and other crops? A study published Wednesday (25 February 2009) shows it is possible to predict how fast a population will spread and reveals the importance of habitat conservation in helping threatened species survive environmental change

    Published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the research tracks the recovery of a rare British butterfly over 18 years and offers hope for the preservation of other species”


    Co-author Professor Chris Thomas, of the University of York, added: ‘Many species will need to move their distributions to survive climate change. Such species may only be able to expand their distributions in landscapes where there is sufficient habitat to do so. We need to take action now to identify and conserve these key landscapes.’

    It reminds me of the game of musical chairs, when they take away a chair when the music stops and the one who doesn’t get to a chair loses out. Only now, this seems to be playing out on a global scale (read niche for chair) with dramatic consequences for zillions of species whose niches disappear, let alone the potential ecological connections that the human race relies on between many of the species for stable food supplies.

    How will the human race deal with the intermediary phase of proliferation of fungi, bacteria and pathogens as the old niche orders break down?

  32. 232
    Hank Roberts says:

    PALAIOS; March 2009; v. 24; no. 3; p. 192-198; DOI: 10.2110/palo.2007-p07-077r
    © 2009 SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology


  33. 233
    mauri pelto says:

    Nice illustration of the issue, Hank. Makes me wonder about the algae record of say Lake Tahoe? I have observed two opposite reactions of speices to warmer weather and reduced snowpack in the North Cascades, WA. While observing the glaciers we make an annual count of mountain goats observed. Because we go to the same glaciers at the same time every year, it has some validity. The mountains goats have generally appreciated the reduced snowpack of 2003-2006, allowing the population of the main group we watch to rise from 20 to 80 members. .
    On the other side glacier ice worms populations have not appreciated the loss of either snowpack or glacier area.

  34. 234
    Hank Roberts says:

    Wow. (lose the trailing period for the mountain goat page link to work)

  35. 235
    Jim Eaton says:

    Global warming is predicted to reduce to mixing of Lake Tahoe until it becomes a permanently stratified lake (Tahoe has warmed 5 degrees in the past decade). The loss of clarity has slowed in recent years, but the warmer temperatures may well cause increased algae growth in coming years.

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    Jim Bouldin says:

    Glacier worms! Who’d a thunk? That was hands down one of the coolest things I’ve read lately.

    Mauri includes among his work gear ice axe and crampons. Where’d the rest of us go wrong?

  38. 238
    Joseph O'Sullivan says:

    re #210 Jim Bouldin
    I found and read the two papers online. They are very informative.
    Rosenzweig et al. 2008 is here
    Westerling et al. 2006 is here

    An example of the work in marine environments is here
    “The deepening of North Sea bottom-dwelling fishes in response to climate change is the marine analogue of the upward movement of terrestrial species to higher altitudes. The assemblage-level depth responses, and both latitudinal responses, covary with temperature and environmental variability in a manner diagnostic of a climate change impact”

  39. 239
    saveearth64 says:

    The bottom line is that we are in real trouble with global warming , it’s here and will only get worse.
    We need new ideas and breakthough science. I have been following 2 new ideas that i believe have merit. One is about research in the UK, they are trying to create the energy found in stars here on earth. I also have been hearing about some interesting developments in Cold Fusion. A new process called SuperWave Fusion seems to be producing excess heat. I like to know what others think, is this something or just wishful thinking on my part. check their website:

  40. 240
    Ray Ladbury says:

    saveearth64 #239: It’s horse puckey. The same old cold-fusion crap recycled.

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    Peter Miles says:

    At this time, approximately 30% of the CO2 currently generated by burning fossil fuels ends up in the oceans, which mitigates global warming, but has a more sinister impact of acidifying our oceans…lastest reports (e.g. see the Monaco declaration) suggests major impacts on certain marine life environments are likely. Unfortunatety much of this work is still in its infancy.

    We may end up concluding that this OA (ocean acidification) is the single biggest issue we face with climate change. How about a summary of lastest OA work here on Real Climate?

  43. 243
    Chris S says:

    An example of a ‘back garden’ survey – one many of us could do had we the time & inclination…


    “Changes in phenology of hoverflies in a central England garden” Graham-Taylor, Stubbs & Brooke (2009) Insect Conservation & Diversity 2; p 29-35

  44. 244
    Jim Bouldin says:

    Show of hands for keeping the ppm below, say, 560 ppm….

    GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 36, L05606, doi:10.1029/2008GL036282, 2009

    Coral reefs may start dissolving when atmospheric CO2 doubles

    Jacob Silverman

    Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
    Jerusalem, Israel

    Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution,
    Stanford, California, USA

    Boaz Lazar

    Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
    Jerusalem, Israel

    Long Cao and Ken Caldeira

    Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution,
    Stanford, California, USA

    Jonathan Erez

    Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
    Jerusalem, Israel


    [1] Calcification rates in stony corals are expected to decline significantly in the near future due to ocean acidification. In this study we provide a global estimate of the decline in calcification of coral reefs as a result of increase in sea surface temperature and partial pressure of CO2. This estimate, unlike previously reported estimates, is based on an empirical rate law developed from field observations for gross community calcification as a function of aragonite degree of saturation (Ωarag), sea surface temperature and live coral cover. Calcification rates were calculated for more than 9,000 reef locations using model values of Ωarag and sea surface temperature at different levels of atmospheric CO2. The maps we produced show that by the time atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 will reach 560 ppm all coral reefs will cease to grow and start to dissolve.

    Show of hands for keeping the ppm below 560 ppm….

  45. 245
    Mark says:

    Wasn’t CO2 @ 1400ppm the limit at which the Appollo 13 guys were going to die?

    Now, what is the toxic limit of, say, radium, compared to the maximum allowed limit of radium by safety laws? Is the difference more than 4x? Probably.

  46. 246
    Hank Roberts says:

    CO2 can be looked up quite easily.
    Apollo didn’t use a standard air mix, so you can’t simply state a ppm figure without more information.

    “… The cabin pressure was allowed to equilibrate at 5 psia as altitude was reached. The atmosphere was enriched with oxygen until the breathing gas approached 100 percent oxygen. Oxygen was used in flight to furnish breathing gas as well as to make up for spacecraft leakage, resulting in an oxygen-rich atmosphere.”

    > radium
    Heavy metal toxicity and radiation damage differ.
    There’s no simple answer.

  47. 247
    Hank Roberts says:

    What say we veer back onto the topic? Chris S posted a wonderful link above to a full text article worth reading.

    Here’s the abstract, to encourage folks to look into it:

    “Changes in phenology of hoverflies in a central England garden” Graham-Taylor, Stubbs & Brooke (2009) Insect Conservation & Diversity 2; p 29-35

    Abstract. 1. Hoverfly data, obtained from 20 species during 1991–2007 from a single garden in Peterborough, England, were analysed to test for temporal trends in timing of first and last appearance, flight-period length and maximum number.
    2. During this period of climate warming, first appearance in spring has become significantly earlier for three species and flight period longer for a different set of three species.
    3. Key correlates of first appearance date and flight-period length were winter temperature, which increased over the study period, and spring temperature which showed a non-significant warming trend. Wetter summers also marginally lengthened the flight period. In addition, there were significant year effects, suggestive of population responses to changing climate independent of prevailing temperature.
    4. However, there was little evidence that last appearances in autumn have become later, and maximum numbers have not increased.
    5. These trends match those reported from other, better-studied taxa.

    A point to note is the mix changes because some species respond differently. That’s ecology in action.

  48. 248
    Andrew says:

    Believe CO2 reach 2% during the Apollo 13 mission.

    2% is 20,000 ppm

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