Friday, 21 March 2008

Washington DC cherry trees bloom at normal time. Climate Faithful see it as a sign of global warming.

In the article below, Stanford University biologist Terry Root is either:

a) quoted out of context;
b) an incompetent clown;
c) a liar; or
d) an environmental activist
WASHINGTON - Pollen is bursting. Critters are stirring. Buds are swelling. Biologists are worrying.

"The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast," says Stanford University biologist Terry Root. The famous cherry trees in Washington, D.C., are primed to burst out in a perfect pink peak about the end of this month. Thirty years ago, the trees usually waited to bloom till around April 5.
Thirty years ago I suppose they would. The world was coming to the end of three to four decades of relatively cold temperatures. It's a classic example of climate science's use of outliers and low-end data points as a comparison point.

But what does a quick Internet search tell us? How about this?
When do the cherry blossoms bloom and when do they reach their peak?

The date when the Yoshino cherry blossoms reach their peak bloom varies from year to year, depending on the weather. Unseasonably warm and/or cool temperatures have resulted in the trees reaching peak bloom as early as March 15 (1990) and as late as April 18 (1958). The blooming period can last up to 14 days. They are considered to be at their peak when 70 percent of the blossoms are open. The dates of the National Cherry Blossom Festival are set based on the average date of blooming, which is around April 4th.
Sooooo, they bloomed in 1990 earlier than 2008? Sound the alarms!

Back to the article...
In central California, the first of the field skipper sachem, a drab little butterfly, was fluttering about on March 12. Just 25 years ago, that creature predictably emerged there anywhere from mid-April to mid-May.

And sneezes are coming earlier in Philadelphia. On March 9, when allergist Dr. Donald Dvorin set up his monitor, maple pollen was already heavy in the air. Less than two decades ago, that pollen couldn't be measured until late April.

Blame global warming.
I stubbed my toe this morning. I blamed global warming. The headache I had last week was quite bad. I blamed global warming. Last week I went to the Coke machine; it swallowed my money and gave me no delicious, black elixir. More global warming. Back in January I had to put blankets on the bed in what is usually the hottest month of the year here. Global warming. The heat sends people crazy, they sign up for loans they shouldn't have and can't repay leading to the collapse of Bear Stearns. Conclusive proof of global warming.
The fingerprints of man-made climate change are evident in seasonal timing changes for thousands of species on Earth, according to dozens of studies and last year's authoritative report by the Nobel Prize-winning international climate scientists. More than 30 scientists told The Associated Press how global warming is affecting plants and animals at springtime across the United States, in nearly every state.

What's happening is so noticeable that scientists can track it from space. Satellites measuring when land turns green found that spring "green-up" is arriving eight hours earlier every year on average since 1982 north of the Mason-Dixon line. In much of Florida and southern Texas and Louisiana, the satellites show spring coming a tad later, and bizarrely, in a complicated way, global warming can explain that too, the scientists said.
Florida, Texas and Louisiana all had later springs and that's somehow proof of global warming? I presume that in those states drab little butterflies weren't prancing around earlier than usual and allergy sufferers started sniffling later? And 1982 - there's that low starting point in action again.

By the way. If the world was cooling and it could be blamed on, say, man made aerosols then wouldn't the article use the Florida, Texas and Louisiana situation as proof of global cooling?

Biological timing is called phenology. Biological spring, which this year begins at 1:48 a.m. EDT Thursday, is based on the tilt of Earth as it circles the sun. The U.S. government and some university scientists are so alarmed by the changes that last fall they created a National Phenology Network at the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor these changes.

The idea, said biologist and network director Jake Weltzin, is "to better understand the changes, and more important what do they mean? How does it affect humankind?"

There are winners, losers and lots of unknowns when global warming messes with natural timing. People may appreciate the smaller heating bills from shorter winters, the longer growing season and maybe even better-tasting wines from some early grape harvests. But biologists also foresee big problems.

The changes could push some species to extinction. That's because certain plants and animals are dependent on each other for food and shelter. If the plants bloom or bear fruit before animals return or surface from hibernation, the critters could starve. Also, plants that bud too early can still be whacked by a late freeze.

The young of tree swallows - which in upstate New York are laying eggs nine days earlier than in the 1960s - often starve in those last-gasp cold snaps because insects stop flying in the cold, ornithologists said. University of Maryland biology professor David Inouye noticed an unusually early February robin in his neighbourhood this year and noted, "Sometimes the early bird is the one that's killed by the winter storm."

The checkerspot butterfly disappeared from Stanford's Jasper Ridge preserve because shifts in rainfall patterns changed the timing of plants on which it develops. When the plant dries out too early, the caterpillars die, said Notre Dame biology professor Jessica Hellmann.

"It's an early warning sign in that it's an additional onslaught that a lot of our threatened species can't handle," Hellmann said.

It's not easy on some people either. A controlled federal field study shows that warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide cause earlier, longer and stronger allergy seasons.

"For wind-pollinated plants, it's probably the strongest signal we have yet of climate change," said University of Massachusetts professor of aerobiology Christine Rogers. "It's a huge health impact. Seventeen per cent of the American population is allergic to pollen."

While some plants and animals use the amount of sunlight to figure out when it is spring, others base it on heat building in their tissues, much like a roasting turkey with a pop-up thermometer. Around the world, those internal thermometers are going to "pop" earlier than they once did.

This past winter's weather could send a mixed message. Globally, it was the coolest December through February since 2001 and a year of heavy snowfall. Despite that, it was still warmer than average for the 20th century.

Canadians endured almost six months of brutal winter weather that plunged the Prairies in the deep freeze, Prince Edward Island in the dark and central and Atlantic Canada under mounds and more mounds of snow.

And now the top weather man says the country's groundhogs got it wrong - even as spring arrives according to the calendar, Environment Canada senior climatologist Dave Phillips is forecasting six more weeks of winter. Environment Canada is predicting that the first month of spring, mid-March to mid-April, is going to be colder than normal across the country.

Phenology data go back to the 14th century for harvest of wine grapes in France. There is a change in the timing of fall, but the change is biggest in spring. In the 1980s there was a sudden, big leap forward in spring blooming, scientists noticed. And spring keeps coming earlier at an accelerating rate.

Unlike sea ice in the Arctic, the way climate change is tinkering with the natural timing of day-to-day life is concrete and local. People can experience it with all five senses:

-You can see the trees and bushes blooming earlier. A photo of Lowell Cemetery in Lowell, Mass., taken May 30, 1868, shows bare limbs. But the same scene photographed May 30, 2005, by Boston University biology professor Richard Primack shows them in full spring greenery.

-You can smell the lilacs and honeysuckle. In the West they are coming out two to four days earlier each decade over more than half a century, according to a 2001 study.

-You can hear it in the birds. Scientists in Gothic, Colo., have watched the first robin of spring arrive earlier each year in that mountain ghost town, marching forward from April 9 in 1981 to March 14 last year. This year, heavy snows may keep the birds away until April.

-You can feel it in your nose from increased allergies. Spring airborne pollen is being released about 20 hours earlier every year, according to a Swiss study that looked at common allergies since 1979.

-You can even taste it in the honey. Bees, which sample many plants, are producing their peak amount of honey weeks earlier. The nectar is coming from different plants now, which means noticeably different honey - at least in Highland, Md., where Wayne Esaias has been monitoring honey production since 1992. Instead of the rich, red, earthy tulip poplar honey that used to be prevalent, bees are producing lighter, fruitier black locust honey. Esaias, a NASA oceanographer as well as beekeeper, says global warming is a factor.

The early red maple is creating buzz, as well as sniffles. A New Jersey conservationist posted an urgent message on a biology listserv on Feb. 1 about the early blooming. A 2001 study found that since 1970, that tree is blossoming on average at least 19 days earlier in Washington, D.C.

Such changes have "implications for the animals that are dependent on this plant," Weltzin said, as he stood beneath a blooming red maple in late February. By the time the animals arrive, "the flowers may already be done for the year." The animals may have to find a new food source.

"It's all a part of life," Weltzin said. "Timing is everything."

4 comments:

BHUVAN CHAND JUYAL said...

Nice blog climate change. I have also a blog on effects of global warming.

Anonymous said...

The media doesn't do good science reporting. What you should do is this: follow the links at the end of the article, and find the date of peak bloom for the past twenty years. Plot them on a graph. Do a linear regression and see what the trend is. Report back here with what you find.

Jack Lacton said...

Fudgie,

At the Green in Buds and Florets Visible stages there is a meaningless 1 day negative trend line across the data.

Interestingly, as the stages progress the trend line rises to 5 days negative.

In terms of difference from the average, 2008 is only 5th ranked on the list and is within one standard deviation so there's nothing remarkable about it, which is what I pointed out before.

I'll poke around and see if there's a longer temperature record.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. So, what you see is that indeed, the blossom is starting to appear sooner, and is taking less time to mature. What you also see is that the media is terrible at reporting science. Clearly, they reported this one particularly badly. Most journalists are arts or humanities graduates so they often do get the science wrong.