As the science over the cause of climate change has become increasingly solidified, many researchers are expanding their examination of the effects of climate change. Among other examples, some recent items of note include:
North American bird species are wintering further north. An Audubon Society study conclusively shows that hundreds of species of birds are spending winters further north in recent winters than they did 40 years ago. Climate change has affected northern latitudes more than the mid-latitudes and tropics: they’ve grown warmer faster than any other region. Migratory birds’ wintering patterns have been shifted.
Sea-Level Fingerprint of West Antarctic Collapse. An important study that came out in last Friday’s issue of Science looks more closely at how sea levels around the world would be impacted if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapsed. Contrary to the incomplete assessment that was part of the 2007 IPCC Report, sea level rise won’t be equitable across the globe. Due to gravitational effects and uplift as ice mass disappears from land surfaces, oceans bordering North America and in the Indian Ocean could rise ~30% higher than previously assumed. For instance, the IPCC forecasted a 5m sea level rise for areas near Washington, D.C. The new assessment indicates a sea level rise of 6.3m (1.3m more) due to additional effects.
Okay, I’m going to bring up a couple of short-comings of this study, one of which the authors identified. This assessment did not take into account the Greenland, East Antarctic or mountain ice sheets. Anything that causes the collapse of the WAIS will undoubtedly also cause collapses elsewhere across the globe. Thus, that 6.3m sea level rise for Washington, D.C. could easily go much, much higher. The authors acknowledge that serious concerns about the impact on coastal communities is increased as a result of this study, not decreased. Second, the authors compare their assessment to the IPCC’s. As I’ve written before, recent observations from across the planet indicate that every model used in the 2007 IPCC Report underestimated recent climate change. The poles are warming faster than any model used indicated. Climate zones are shifting faster. Drought areas are expanding further. Birds’ wintering areas are shifting north sooner. CO2 concentrations are higher and positive feedback mechanisms have been initiated. This doesn’t mean the results of this Science paper are invalid, only that the specific sea level rise number used for contrast is already out of date. Policy makers must be made aware of the most recent valid research, like this paper. The challenge facing researchers is being able to provide robust, comprehensive assessments so that strong policies can be created.
Weeds will appear in new areas and disappear in others. Land managers could have a short period of time to reintroduce native plants in areas that have been taken over by invasive species. The biggest question is where will precipitation fall most often.
Hurricanes’ roles in influencing Northern Hemispheric winters are being explored. The view that hurricanes are important in maintaining the balances the atmosphere works toward in much the same fashion as mid-latitude cyclones (think of the low pressure systems that typically move west to east) has gained traction in recent years. This article describes another effort at working to determine how that mechanism compares to mechanisms like El Nino.