Climate Change Task Force Newsletter, October

The intention of this newsletter is to keep CW members informed about current climate change related stories, research and local events. Please send submission ideas and comments to Abigail Derby Lewis, newsletter editor, at

CW co-editor: Sara Christensen, Melissa Gray, Andrew Valand

CW Contributors: Judy Beck, Carolyn Betz, Mary Carroll, Catherine Game, Erica Hasle, Kim Hall, Jennifer Hirsch, Kris Lah, Laurel Ross, Joy Marburger, Karen Miller, Melinda Pruett-Jones and Fran Stotz.


Highlighted Species


Photo Credit: Mike Pingleton

Reptiles are thought to be at considerable risk to climate change. However, recent work suggests that species with highly conserved activity patterns may be less vulnerable to increasing temperatures. A study looking at black ratsnake (Elaphe obsoleta) populations at different latitudes in Canada, Illinois, and Texas found activity patterns to be similar, even though climate conditions differed among sites. These data imply that snake activity did not vary as a function of temperature, and the authors suggest that snake populations, particularly in the northern part of their range, should be able to adjust and possibly even benefit from warming temperatures– if there are no negative impacts on their habitat and prey. Read the full article here.  

CCTF Announcements 

The next Climate Change Task Force meeting will be held on December 5, 2012 from 2-4 pm at US EPA in the Lake Huron Room, 12th Floor, 77 W. Jackson Blvd Chicago, IL 60604. 

Climate Change Related Stories

October 15, 2012. World’s biggest geoengineering experiment ‘violates’ UN rules. Californian Russ George, former chief executive of Planktos Inc., has dumped 100 tons of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of an ocean fertilization geoengineering scheme that many are calling a ‘blatant violation’ of two international moratoria. Satellite images along the Canadian coast confirm that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometers, which George hopes will trigger plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed to generate lucrative carbon credits. Scientists are still debating whether ocean fertilization will sequester carbon into the deep ocean over the long term, and have concerns that such fertilization could irreparably harm ocean ecosystems by producing toxic tides and exacerbate ocean acidification. Using tools borrowed from NASA and NOAA, George convinced the local council of an indigenous Haida village that the dump was part of a salmon restoration project, and gained their approval to use the diverse ecosystems around their islands. International legal experts say the project has contravened the UN’s convention on biological diversity (CBD) and the London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea, which both prohibit for-profit ocean fertilization activities. Many are hoping for a swift legal response from the US and Canadian governments, and are calling for a rapid ban on such rogue geoengineering experiments. Read the full article here.

October 11, 2012. Researchers find links between Arctic melting and summer floods and fires. New research suggests that the shifting summer winds responsible for the dramatic decline of Arctic sea ice is contributing to a climate feedback loop called “Arctic amplification.” Scientists believe that the record thaws of the Greenland ice sheet caused by this new weather pattern can linked to the increase in Rocky Mountain wildfires and the unusually wet European summers.  The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average due to the feedback loop, which blows ice far out to sea and creates areas of dark, iceless ocean that absorb more heat. While it is difficult to predict, this Arctic amplification is contributing to changes in the behavior of atmospheric circulation in fall and winter, fueling extreme weather events farther south. With roughly 97% of the Greenland ice sheet having experienced thaw this July, scientists expect continued changes in Arctic weather patterns. Read the full article here.

October 4, 2012. Innovative journalism linking backyard observations with climate science. Journalist Julia Kumari Drapkin has launched an innovative radio series called iSeeChange in rural Colorado, which offers scientifically accurate stories about climate change in the context of citizen observations. Connecting laypeople with scientists, the community can gain insight into the extraordinary environmental and climactic changes they observe. Each iSeeChange story begins with observations from local residents on topics such as early spring flowering, record-hot summer, and extreme droughts and wildfires, which Drapkin collects via email, calls, in-person interviews and even Facebook. The observations are then addressed by scientists, who explain how climate change might be playing a role in the changes being witnessed. Drapkin hopes this program will help connect laypeople to science and provide a valuable resource for both residents and researchers. Read the full article here.

October 4, 2012. World’s most northerly lake comes back to life. The most northerly lake in the world, Greenland’s Kaffeklubben Sø, is beginning to thaw after being buried in a near-permanent layer of ice nearly 2400 years ago. Amazingly, organisms that disappeared from its waters are beginning to return, demonstrating yet again how warm temperatures in the polar regions can result in rapid ecological changes. Sediment cores reveal that the lake once housed diatoms, though only hardy species of cyanobacteria were able to survive its frozen state. Since the 1960’s however, scientists have been documenting the return of nearly 20 species of diatoms as the lake has thawed. While other lakes have seen increases in diatom populations due to industrial pollutants and nitrates, there is no evidence that these factors have contributed to the return of diatoms in this Arctic lake. Scientists believe that this recolonization of diatoms is being driven purely by climate change. Read the full article here. 

October 1, 2012.  Plants’ carbon-sinking capacity is much lower than thought.  As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to climb, most climate models project that the world’s oceans and trees will keep soaking up more than half of the extra CO2.  Climate models estimate that the world’s oceans have absorbed about 30% of the CO2 that humans have released in the past 150 years and that land plants have gulped another 30%.  But the latest study, by ecologists at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, suggests that estimates of how much CO2 land plants can use are far too optimistic.  In a 13-year field experiment on 296 open-air plots, the researchers grew perennial grassland species under ambient and elevated concentrations of both atmospheric CO2 and soil nitrogen.  They found that from 2001 to 2010, grasses growing under heightened CO2 levels grew only half as much in untreated as in enriched nitrogen soils.  Researchers say that much more work is needed to understand how nutrient dynamics will affect carbon uptake – particularly in forest ecosystems, which are expected to be important carbon sinks. Read the full article here.

October 8, 2012.  Demographic miracle in the desert:  Some plants in arid regions benefit from climate change.  Dryland ecosystems cover 41% of Earth’s land surface and are highly vulnerable to global environmental change and desertification.  Climate models used by scientists to forecast the effect of climate change forecast predict a bleak future for these regions:  warmer temperatures, less rain, and rain will occur more erratically.  But, it will be important to recognize that some plants would benefit from the more erratic weather patterns.  Dryland plants cannot be directly compared to plant species growing in other latitudes, where weather conditions fluctuate less.  Dryland plants have adapted to the extreme climatic conditions of arid regions over the course of evolution, even under conditions of no climate change, and benefit from it.  For example, many plants species have a low drought tolerance and will die out in dry years, freeing up space for tolerant species waiting for a big rain.  Because they have a unique physiology, using average precipitation values may not predict their population dynamics. Read the full article here.

October 1, 2012. Great Barrier Reef loses more than half its coral cover. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, a study based on over 2,000 surveys of 214 reefs comprising the Great Barrier Reef found that coral cover has decreased by more than 50% from 1985 to 2012. The rate has declined most rapidly since 2006, and if this rate continues the reefs will halve again within another decade. The three main culprits of this loss are coral bleaching, an increase in storms, and crown-of-thorns starfish.  Increased acidification and rising ocean temperatures have enhanced coral bleaching. The reef has been affected by six cyclones in the last seven years, which has damaged the coral structure. The starfish outbreaks seem to occur every 13-14 years following major floods in the northern rivers (runoff provides nutrients to starfish larvae) and suck nutrients from the coral. There is a chance for reef recovery, however, if local threats can be eliminated, global carbon dioxide emissions are reduced, and the reef is allowed to slowly adapt to climate change. Read the full article here.

September 26, 2012. Study examines forest vulnerability to climate change. In conjunction with NASA, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have examined how the greenness of Western forests is impacted by snowpack. Mid-elevation forests (those between approximately 6,500 and 8,000 feet in elevation) seem to be the most sensitive to climate change and its impacts on temperature and precipitation. The research team used satellite (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer, or AVHRR, and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS) and ground data to analyze observations of the regions where mid-elevation forests transition to high-elevation forests. The results showed that forest greenness strongly correlated with the previous winter’s snowpack. Observations were taken from California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, but the findings can be extrapolated to similar ranges in the West. As climate change reduces snowpack and increases temperatures, more forest fires, beetle outbreaks and tree mortality occur. Mid-elevation forests will therefore serve as regions of interest for future research regarding ecological impacts of climate change. Read the full article here.

September 28, 2012. Buying Time Against Rising Seas. Rising seas in the Florida Keys region have lead to an attempted reintroduction of an endangered tree cactus plant to higher elevations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to plant 72 new cacti so as to foster growth of the species, which consists of only 300 – 400 plants left in the entire Florida Keys area.  Rising sea levels, hurricanes and tropical storms all infuse the region’s soil with salt, which threatens these plants. The new site is publicly protected and although this is the first attempt at reintroducing this species, the site previously hosted similar cacti; therefore, scientists are hopeful that the reintroduction will be successful. The new higher-ground site will not be publicized in order to avoid poachers from collecting and selling the cacti plants. Read the full article here.

September 28, 2012.  Climate change offers grim long-term prognosis for seafood.  The ongoing process of ocean acidification, fueled by man-made CO2 emissions, threatens many oceanic species that we consume.  Scientists working with oyster hatcheries have linked recent widespread deaths of oyster larvae to periodic influxes of more acidic ocean water.  Oceans have absorbed roughly two-thirds of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities since the Industrial Revolution began, leaving seawater 30% more acidic now than it was then.  Being a field that scientists began addressing less than a decade ago, much of the existing research looks at the fate of a single species in isolation.  Researchers are just now beginning more ambitious experiments to examine the fate of whole ecosystems. Research out of Oregon State University has found that Walleye Pollock, a species that support one of the largest and most valuable commercial fisheries in the world, appear to be able to cope with the level of ocean acidification that scientists expect over the next century.  But it’s unclear whether their prey are as resilient.  A study from Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization has suggested that, if humans continue producing CO2 emissions at the current rate, the region could see a reduction of up to 40% of its biodiversity and the average size of many marine species could be cut in half by the end of the century. Read the full article here.

September 24, 2012.  How is Earth’s water system linked with land use, climate change, and ecosystems?  To better understand how planet Earth’s water cycle works, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded grants totaling almost $27 million through the Water Sustainability and Climate program.  The goal of the new WSC projects – including studies of Rocky Mountain pine beetles, Los Angeles’ water supply, and the Sierra Nevada snowpack – is to understand and predict the interactions of Earth’s water system with climate change, land use, the built environment, and ecosystem function and services.  How can we better manage and predict water availability for future generations, given alterations to the water cycle caused by climate change and by more direct human activities?  The answers require a holistic understanding of complex water cycle and water resource processes, the feedbacks in a water system, and the vulnerability and resilience of water systems to climate and other human-caused change. Scientists believe that this analysis of the planet’s water system – of the feedbacks and links among climate change, ecosystems, built environments and human activities – will lead to the improved understanding, prediction and management of water resources. Read the full article here.

September 19, 2012.  Study may predict how climate change fosters Great Lakes dead zones.  A new study based out of Michigan State University has scientists looking at how extreme weather associated with climate change may produce more of the algae that creates dead zones in the Great Lakes and elsewhere.  Algal blooms are rapid increases in algae caused by an excess of nutrients, like the phosphorus and nitrogen often used in farm fertilizers.  When the heavy growths of algae die and decompose they use up dissolved oxygen, creating a “dead zone” that suffocates fish and other organisms.  Blooms typically grow in stable, low wind conditions and in warm water, the kind of climate during a drought.  Climate change can prompt such droughts, but may also cause more intense storms.  Such storms produce runoff that washes nutrients from land into the lakes.  The study attempts to quantify the relationship between blooms and the extreme weather associated with climate change.  Once the researchers gather data on nutrient flow and compare it to other regions, they will develop mathematical models to predict the influence of climate change on algal blooms. Read the full article here.

September 18, 2012. Climate change may super size lamprey. There are an estimated 75,000 adult sea lampreys in Lake Superior, and global warming may allow these blood-sucking organisms to grow bigger in both number and size. In the last three decades, water temperatures in Lake Superior have climbed nearly four degrees, making it the fastest warming lake in the world. This has fostered a growing lake trout population and a longer growing season for sea lampreys, making it a near perfect habitat for these eel-like predators. UW Sea Grant is investigating the effects these changes could have on Lake Superior and its fish populations. There is concern that it will be more difficult to control fish predation by these larger lampreys, as they will both lay more eggs and kill more fish. When lamprey populations were at their peak abundance 60 years ago, they caused significant declines in the economically important fisheries in the Great Lakes, and completely decimated the commercial lake trout fisheries in the lower lakes. Read the full article here.

September 17, 2012.  When it rains, it pours:  Intensification of extreme tropical rainfall with global warming modeled.  Global warming is expected to intensify extreme precipitation, but the rate at which it does so in the tropics has remained unclear.  Now an MIT study has given an estimate based on model simulations and observations:  with every 1° Celsius rise in temperature, tropical regions will see 10% heavier rainfall extremes, with possible impacts for flooding in populous regions. The climate models, which can simulate the effects of both El Niño and global warming, they found a pattern that showed a strong response in rainfall to El Niño that also responded strongly to global warming, and vice versa. The results suggest a link between the response of tropical extreme rainfall to year-to-year temperature changes and longer-term climate change. The researchers suggest that the tropics may be more sensitive to increased temperatures than temperate climates. They emphasize, too, that while wet regions will likely become wetter, drier parts of the tropics are also likely to become drier still. Read the full article here.

September 17, 2012. Arctic expert predicts final collapse of sea ice within four years. Dr. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, one of the world’s leading ice experts, predicts the final collapse of Arctic sea ice within four years. Citing a “global disaster,” he urges an immediate consideration of new ways to reduce global temperatures, including seeding the ocean with minerals to absorb CO2 or making clouds whiter to reflect the sun. While Wadhams has been predicting the collapse for years, he believes that the record low sea ice level reached this year will draw attention to the dire state of the Arctic ice. Read the full article here.

September 12, 2012.  ‘Astonishing’ ice melt may lead to more extreme winters.  The record loss of Arctic sea ice this summer will echo throughout the weather patterns affecting the U.S. and Europe this winter, since added heat in the Arctic influences the jet stream and may make extreme weather and climate events more likely.  In August, Arctic sea ice extent broke the record low set in 2007, and it has continued to decline since, dropping below 1.5 million square miles.  That represents a 45% reduction in the area covered by sea ice compared to the 1980s and 1990s, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).  The loss of sea ice initiates a feedback loop known as Arctic amplification. As sea ice melts, it exposes darker ocean waters to incoming solar radiation.  The ocean absorbs far more energy than the brightly colored sea ice that was present, thus increasing water and air temperatures, and melting even more sea ice. Since the jet stream is powered by the temperature difference between the Arctic and areas farther south, any alteration of that temperature difference is bound to alter the jet stream with potentially profound implications.  A study last year showed that Arctic warming might already be causing the jet stream to become more amplified in a north-south direction.  Significant alteration of the jet stream will lead to larger, more unpredictable changes to local and regional weather patterns. Read the full article here.

September 11, 2012. Climate change likely to increase Lake Erie algae blooms and ‘dead zones,’ U-M ecologist says. Donald Scavia, director of the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute, states that with climate change expected to double the number of intense spring rain storms in the Great Lakes region this century, harmful algal blooms and “dead zones” in Lake Erie will likely increase. More frequent rainstorms will generate more phosphorus run-off from the no-till farmlands in the Midwest, fueling the algae blooms that generate the low-oxygen dead zones in the Lake. Dr. Scavia asserts that the current scale of agricultural best management practices, such as planting buffer strips around cropland and using less fertilizer, is not going to be sufficient to prevent algae blooms, and urges additional conservation actions to protect the health of Lake Erie. Read the full article here.

September 10, 2012. At edge of Peruvian Andes, tracking impacts of warming. Miles Silman, a professor at Wake Forest University, is a forest ecologist who specializes in the tropical forests in the Peruvian Andes. He believes that climate is change is affecting tropical areas just as much as polar regions, if not more so. Climate change threatens tropical forests in a number of ways. First, temperatures in the tropics are less variable than those at higher latitudes, and tropical species have a narrower thermal tolerance range. This means that tropical species are more susceptible to small changes in temperature and must migrate to stay in equilibrium. Secondly, as temperature belts in the tropics are wider, tropical species have to migrate farther and more quickly than temperate species. Finally, with tropical climates already being amongst the hottest on the planet, climate change in the region will create “novel climates” similar to those that exists millions of years ago. It is unclear how current species will adapt to these novel environments. Silman and his students study tropical tree migration in response to climate change, working in forests that are vastly understudied. They are finding that while many of the trees are indeed migrating, their current rate of migration is not enough to remain in equilibrium with the climate. Read the full article here.

September 9, 2012. Climate change stress killing forests, and why it matters. Covering 30% of the Earth, forests store carbon, provide habitats for innumerable species, retain soil, influence weather patterns, and are an economically important natural resource.  These vital functions are under increasing threat due to the stresses of climate change. Higher temperatures and more frequent and intense droughts have already begun to trigger massive die-offs in the western U.S. and have been documented on every other continent except Antarctica. A recent study shows that the loss of a forest’s dominant tree species has a cascading effect on the entire ecosystem, changing the soil composition as leaves or needles decompose, altering the amount of sunlight that reaches the forest floor, reducing soil retention, and fostering more fires. Economically, forest die-offs generate losses to loggers and the outdoor recreation industry, and have been shown to negatively affect real estate values in those areas. Furthermore, as trees die they release the carbon sequestered in their wood back into the atmosphere, contributing to increased climate change. Further research is needed to understand how forests affect rain cycles in light of climate change, and a collaborative website has been established for scientists to share data on drought and tree mortality. Read the full article here.

September 5, 2012.  Glacial thinning has sharply accelerated at major South American icefields.  A collaborative paper between scientists from Cornell University and the Center for Scientific Studies in Chile finds that the rate of glacier thinning has increased by about 50% over the last 12 years in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, compared to the 30 years prior to 2000.  The Southern Patagonian Icefield, together with its smaller northern neighbor the Northern Patagonian Icefield, are the largest icefields in the southern hemisphere — excluding Antarctica.  Earlier studies found that between the 1970’s and 2000 both icefields together raised global sea levels by an average of 0.042 mm each year.  Since 2000, they found that number increased to 0.067 mm rise of sea level on average per year – about 2% of total annual sea level rise since 1998.

Warming air temperatures contribute to the thinning at the highest and coldest regions of the ice field.  Warmer temperatures mean greater chances that rain, as opposed to snow, will fall on and around the glaciers.  This double threat of warming and more rain may, in turn, change the amount of water beneath the glaciers.  More water means less friction, so the glaciers start to move faster as they thin, moving even more ice in to the oceans. Read the full article here.

September 4, 2012. Summer of 2012 is Hottest on Record for Many in U.S.  Although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has not officially stated that the meteorological summer (June through August) of 2012 is the hottest on record, preliminary data shows that several regions throughout the country have set individual heat records. Singularly, July was the hottest month in U.S. history. During the entire summer period, 9,685 high temperature records were set or tied throughout the country, outnumbering record low temperatures by a ratio of 6-to-1, suggesting an overall warming trend.  The oppressive drought this year helped power a positive feedback loop in which dry conditions exacerbated the oppressive heat. Read the full article here.

August 29, 2012.  Heat waves move toward coasts, study finds.  A new study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, suggests that the nature of California heat waves is changing due to global warming.  Climate researchers detected a trend toward more humid heat waves expressed strongly in elevated nighttime temperatures, a trend consistent with climate change projections.  Moreover, relative to local warming, the mid-summer heat waves are getting stronger in generally cooler coastal areas. The paper also recommends looking at shifting conditions in local climate with a “non-stationary” approach.  The rate of climate warming necessitates a measure of extreme heat relative to the changing average climate rather than to historical climate norms.  So, instead of defining heat waves relative to fixed temperature thresholds, the researchers project heat wave intensity against a backdrop of increasing average summertime temperatures.  This causes the definition of heat waves, temperatures in the warmest 5% of summertime conditions, to evolve with the changing climate and reflect extreme conditions relative to the climate of the time. Read the full article here.

August 20, 2012.  Gauging the impact of warming on Asia’s life-giving monsoons. Scientists from Columbia University and West Virginia University have been going on treks around the world to study climate change in numerous different ecosystems.  On this particular journey they head to Mongolia to analyze the outer edges of the monsoon rain belt.  But the most populous countries to be affected by changes in monsoon patterns are India and China.  Seventy to 80 percent of annual rainfall throughout India falls between the months of June and September.  Assuming a projected 2°C temperature rise by mid-century, they anticipate that the monsoon winds may decrease, but rainfall will increase, by about 8 to 10 percent in volume.  Meanwhile the duration of the rainy season in India may shorten, from an average of 60 days of heavy rain today, to about 40 to 50 days in the future.  Also, the variability of monsoon rainfall could lead to both more floods and more droughts.  In countries with such large populations that heavily rely on agriculture, this means that there are significant planning implications for flood management as well as storing water for future use. Read the full article here.

August 26, 2012. Arctic sea ice shrinks to new low in satellite era. According to NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center, sea ice reached its smallest extent ever recorded in more than three decades of satellite measurements on August 26 this year. This new low is 27,000 square miles below the previous low record of 1.61 million square miles, seen on September 18, 2007. As this record was set before the end of the summer melt season in the Arctic, scientists expect to see an even larger loss of ice in the coming weeks. Sea ice naturally grows during the winter and shrinks when temperatures climb in the spring and summer. However, satellites have observed a 13 percent decline per decade in the minimum summertime extent of the sea ice over the last 30 years, with the thickness of the sea ice cover also declining. As summertime temperatures were not unusually warm this year, scientists attribute the record retreat to the persistent loss of perennial ice cover in the Arctic. Read the full article here.

August 26, 2012. Intriguing Habitats, and Careful Discussions of Climate Change. Managers of zoos and aquariums have been struggling with the correct strategy for incorporating climate change issues into their daily presentations and displays. Some of the main problems have been overwhelming visitors with the magnitude of the problem and prompting feelings of guilt, as well as confusing visitors with climate change jargon such as “greenhouse gas effect” and “global warming.” In order to overcome these challenges, a group of aquariums began working with cognitive scientists and linguistics experts to fine-tune a script that relies on intriguing and igniting discussion on climate-related topics, and have since been awarded a National Science Foundation grant for their efforts.  Likewise, other zoos and aquariums across the country have taken steps to focus first on the animals and then to suggest small steps visitors can take to assist in conservation efforts. Although there exists some doubt as to the impact this information may have upon guests, there seems to be a shift toward bringing climate change issues to the forefront. Read the full article here.

August 23, 2012. Fall migration is underway, but a bit early? Preliminary and mostly anecdotal observations of birds throughout the Chicagoland area have pointed toward early migration for several different species. According to area bird watchers, species such as the Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Green Warblers are being spotted about one to three weeks earlier than usual during their migration south. High temperatures and drought this summer may be to blame for early migration, as they can cut the nesting process short (due to an inability to lay eggs or keep offspring fed) and initiate the southbound journey early. This phenomenon can only be confirmed after scientists take a detailed look at official data over the next few months. Read the full article here.



October 21, 2012. Evolutionary response of the egg hatching date of a herbivorous insect under climate change. Anthropogenic climate change and land use changes are forcing organisms to rapidly adapt to new environments. While genetic adaptation is crucial to mitigate extinctions, as of yet there are few examples of climate change directly influencing genetic changes in wild populations. Climate change has disrupted the synchronization between the seasonal bud burst of an oak (Quercus robur) and the timing of egg hatching of a species of moth (Operophtera brumata) that depends on it for food. A quantitative genetic model predicts that natural selection will delay the egg hatching date, and this paper presents long-term observational and experimental data that confirm such a genetic change in hatch date. As the observed rate of change matches the predicted rate of change of one day per year, the rapid adaptive response in insect phenology can be attributed to the selection pressures cause by environmental change. This genetic change in the egg hatching date appears to be keeping pace with the advancing bud burst of the host tree. Read the full article here. 

October 14, 2012.  The impact of global land-cover change on the terrestrial water cycle.  Humans have altered a large proportion of the Earth’s surface, approximately 41%, replacing natural vegetation such as forests and wetlands with anthropogenic land cover (ALC) such as croplands and built up land.  Of all ALCs, grazing land covers the largest are, taking place on roughly ¼ of the land surface.  Land cover change alters the water cycle through direct changes to the timing and magnitude of evapotranspiration (ET).  There are two key indicators of human impact on ET at the global scale:  change (alteration to type of land cover) and appropriation (amount of the mass touched by human activity).  The most commonly cited statistic of human impact on the global water cycle has humans appropriating 23% of total terrestrial ET (TET).  Until recently, most studies have not considered how land cover changes TET.  Using an elaborate GIS, the authors calculated that humans appropriate 41% of TET.  These numbers reflect that humans tend to occupy areas of higher ET and avoid areas of lower ET, such as polar and desert areas.  Global estimate, although useful, tend to under represent the scope of impact that humans are having on TET because some activities that reduce ET, such as clearing forest and wetland for cropland, are cancelled out on a global scale by activities that increase ET through irrigation and reservoir creation, and vice versa.  The recent integration of land cover models allow for the generation of hotspots of altered ET.  With the uneven spatial distribution of impacts of global change on terrestrial water flows, a critical goal for future water planning will be to determine where the anthropogenic effects are additive and where they nullify each other. Read the full article here.

October 1, 2012.  Climate change cripples forests.  A team of scientists combined 13,000 tree core samples, historic temperature and moisture data, records of historic events, and computer simulations of future climate trends to investigate the future of forests in the Southwestern United States.  The team concluded that in the warmer and drier Southwest of the near future, widespread tree mortality will cause forest and species distributions to change substantially.  They were able to identify two climate variables that can be used to estimate annual regional tree growth variability with exceptional accuracy:  total winter precipitation and average summer-fall atmospheric evaporative demand.  Forest growth is best when total winter precipitation is high and summer-fall atmospheric evaporative demand is low.  When air is warmer it can hold more water vapor, thus increasing the pace at which soil and plants dry out.  The air literally sucks the moisture out of the soil and plants.  By their calculations, there will still be wet winters, but they will more often be followed by warm summers, putting stress on trees and limiting their ability to respond to a subsequent wet winter.  Consider a scenario where GHG continue to accumulate in the atmosphere along a “business-as-usual” trajectory; summer-fall atmospheric evaporative demand is projected to be 18% higher than the 20th century average by 2050 and 41% higher by 2100.  By the end of this century, they forecast that the southwestern forest drought stress will exceed megadrought-type levels even during years with abnormally wet winters. Read the full article here.

October 2012.  Decline of forereef corals in response to recent warming linked to history of thermal exposure.  Studies have been consistently finding that average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have increased by about 0.2°C per decade since the mid-1970s with as much as 1.0°C in the tropics.  Because tropical reefs exist near corals’ upper thermal limits, even a small rise in ocean temperature could have important consequences on their health.  Historical growth records obtained from coral cores reveal that skeletal extension is negatively correlated with regional SST.  However, these studies also show that the calcification response of corals to ocean warming is highly variable, both taxonomically and geographically.  The authors investigated the slow growing massive reef building coral Siderstrea siderea because it is an important reef building species commonly found in all three different reef zones:  shallow forereef, backreef, and nearshore habitats.  Also, it is a resilient species that is likely to have a more complete historic record of past environmental change.  Results showed that reef zones that were consistently exposed to small, regular temperature fluctuations (diurnally and seasonally) were more resilient to the recent artificial changes to SSTs.  The forereef environment is generally more thermally stable (more proximal to open ocean) and therefore more vulnerable to recent and future warming resulting from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Read the full article here.

October 2012. Soil mediation in grasslands. A recent study finds that the physical composition of soil can determine the responses of grassland plants to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using data collected from CO2-enrichment experiments conducted in grasslands, scientists found that C4 grasses were able to keep their stomata closed more frequently in higher CO2 concentrations, and were thus able to conserve soil water. C4 grasses with different leaf-to-root ratios were then tested in a variety of soils with CO2-enrichment. While all soil types experienced higher levels of soil water under increased CO2 conditions, only coarse soil types with greater plant-accessible water, such as sandy loam, experienced differences in grass competition. In these cases, the more productive tall grasses gained dominance over the drought-tolerant mid-sized grasses. These findings demonstrate that grassland productivity in response to increased atmospheric CO2 can be mediated by soil texture, and highlight the importance of indirect effects, which may not be readily apparent, on ecosystem responses to environmental change. Read the full article here.

October 2012.  Adapting to climate change through urban green infrastructure.  When considering ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation (EbA) to address current and future climate change, it is important to recognize the merit of the methods of urban green infrastructure (UGI).  Because a majority of the world’s population now resides in urban centers, there is great potential for green infrastructure to help the greatest number of people while using ecological principles to combat climate change.  There are the traditional UGI approaches, such as urban parks and forestry, which have been established as basic remedies.  Currently there are numerous newer methods, like bio-swales, green roofs, permeable pavements, and rain gardens, being considered by many cities and regions to join in the movement.  But research is still needed to assess quantitatively how effective UGI approaches compare with artificially engineered systems.  At the moment we can see the site-specific benefits of such methods, but further evaluation is needed to understand the overall benefits when implemented at large scales to impact urban climate, hydrology, and ecology. Read the full article here.

September 30, 2012. Shrinking of fishes exacerbates impacts of global ocean changes on marine ecosystems. Previous research has shown that marine organisms are primarily affected by changes in temperature, oxygen content and other biogeochemical properties of the ocean. A potential major change includes a reduction in body size of fish as ocean temperatures rise and oxygen is depleted from the water. The impacts of this change on the marine ecosystem are unknown, and researchers have modeled the biological responses of over 600 species of fishes to changes in size, distribution, and abundance. Results show that average body weight will be reduced from 14-24% from the years 2000 to 2050 under a high-emission scenario (failure to curtail greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide), half due to changes in distribution and abundance and half due to changes in physiology. Tropical and intermediate latitudes will experience the greatest impact with an average reduction in size of more than 20%. The model results introduce a new facet of climate change impacts on marine ecosystems. Read the full article here.

September 30, 2012. Temperature as a potent driver of regional forest drought stress and tree mortality. Although climate change may trigger droughts that reduce tree survival and productivity in forest ecosystems, little is known about the relative influence of specific climate parameters on the decline of forests. Using a comprehensive data set on tree-rings from AD 1000-2007, this paper presents a forest drought-stress index (FDSI) for the southwestern United States. The FDSI corresponds with measures of wildfire, forest productivity, mortality and bark-beetle outbreaks, thus lending confidence in the value of the index as an indicator of forest-vigor. Nearly 82% of the FDSI variability is due to the warm-season vapor-pressure deficit and the cold-season precipitation. If the vapor-pressure deficit continues as predicted by climate models, the mean forest drought-stress by 2050 will exceed that of the most severe droughts in the past 1000 years, resulting in dramatic changes in forest structure and composition. Read the full article here.

September 17, 2012. Global forecasts of urban expansion to 2030 and direct impacts on biodiversity and carbon pools. Although it is predicted that world urban populations will increase to nearly 5 billion by 2030, the future locations, magnitudes, and rates of urban expansion are understudied. This is important because urban land-cover change impacts biodiversity and ecosystem productivity through loss of habitat, biomass, and carbon storage. In this study, researchers present spatially explicit forecasts of global urban land-cover change to explore the effects on tropical carbon biomass and biodiversity. They find that if all areas with high probabilities of urban expansion undergo change at the current trends of population density, then urban land cover will nearly triple by 2030. As such an increase would likely occur in regions relatively undisturbed by urban development, such as the Eastern Afromontane, the Guinean Forests of West Africa, and Sri Lanka, there could be a significant loss of key habitat in biodiversity hotspots. In the pan-tropics, predicted losses in vegetation biomass would equal nearly 5% of emissions from tropical deforestation and land-use change. In light of these aggregate global impacts of projected urban expansion, urbanization cannot be considered a local issue and requires significant policy changes. Read the full article here.

September 13, 2012.  Drought and tropical soil emissions.  Tropical forests inhale vast amounts of carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen to the atmosphere, but important questions remain about the effect of climate change on greenhouse-gas fluxes from soil, and hence to what extent the beneficial climate services provided by tropical forests will persist in the future.  A report has come out finding that an experimentally induced drought had reduced greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from tropical soil to the atmosphere, an effect that represents a negative feedback to climate change.  The authors simulated the effects of drought by preventing rainfall from reaching the forest floor for three months, and measured GHG emission from soil.  They documented profound declines in the efflux of CO2 from soil and increases in soil consumption of methane.  The drought also elicited surprising reductions in denitrification (the production of nitrous oxide).  Together, these effects lowered the global warming potential of the soil emissions.  Because tropical forests are a major source of nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere, this result implies that a drier climate could cause substantial reductions in global emissions of nitrous oxide from soil.  Moreover, although it is crucial to consider the effects of drought alone, real world emissions will hinge on the combined effects of changing precipitation and temperature, along with chronic shifts in atmospheric CO2 levels and nutrient deposition — factors that were not manipulated in the authors’ experiment. Read the full article here.

September 13, 2012. Ice loss shifts Arctic cycles. The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) announced that satellite data has revealed a record loss in Arctic ice pack in recent weeks. The amount of ice retreating has exceeded that predicted by models and scientists, bringing current models into question as well as the potential impacts of this well-known climate change indicator. The new record (previously set in 2007) has occurred with only one strong summer storm and an otherwise “normal” weather season; this is due to the fact that much of the Arctic pack is “first-year ice” which froze last winter. Alarmingly, this rate of decrease points toward an ice-free sea as early as 2030 – 10 years earlier than predicted by models recently used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Scientists are unsure if the models are simply not resolving natural variability or are underestimating the negative feedbacks associated with climate change and Arctic ice cover. Among the uncertainties accompanying the decreasing sea ice are predicting ecological and meteorological impacts. While some species have shown resilience toward climate change in the Arctic, others numbers have declined. Additionally, the relationship between large-scale atmospheric dynamics and Arctic sea ice cover are still being explored, although scientists have predicted the Northern Hemisphere will have a snowy and cold winter. Read the full article here.

September 2012. Timing of carbon emissions from global forest clearance. Nearly 17% of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by land-use changes such as agricultural expansion and deforestation. In an attempt to quantify the carbon storage of wood products, new research estimates the fate of cleared wood and the timing of atmospheric carbon emissions for 169 countries. The percentage of carbon stored in wood products and landfills 30 years after forest clearance ranges from 0% to 62% globally, with only 34 countries having more than 25% of carbon in storage after 30 years. Countries with predominantly temperature forests experience the highest storage rates due to a greater proportion of products such as lumber and wood panels. Conversely, tropical countries have a greater fraction of non-merchantable wood and/or wood used for paper production and energy, and thus experience lower carbon storage rates. This research will contribute to climate models which have previously ignored or oversimplified greenhouse-gas emissions from global land-use conversion, and demonstrates that the timing of greenhouse-gas emissions from cleared forests is affected by both the country and the fate of the cleared wood. Read the full article here.

September 2012. Thermal tolerance and the global redistribution of animals. While the global redistribution of living organisms is one of the most significant biological responses to climate change, little is known about how temperature establishes geographic range boundaries. This paper shows that cold-blooded terrestrial and marine organisms differ in how they fill the potential latitudinal ranges predicted by their thermal tolerance limits. As cold-blooded marine organisms tend to more fully occupy the latitudes within their thermal tolerance limits, they are predicted to adapt to climate change by expanding their poleward range while contracting their equatorward boundaries. However, terrestrial cold-blooded animals do not tend to occupy the warmest regions of their latitudinal range and thus may not shift their equatorward boundaries consistently. Both of these predictions have been seen in global observations of climate-induced range shifts, indicating that the ranges of marine species may align more precisely with their thermal tolerance limits and have more predictable range shifts. Predicting range shifts is important for assessing community and population viability, and more research is needed to understand the factors other than temperature that control equatorward range limits for terrestrial ectotherms. Read the full article here.

September. 2012.  Pacific temperature trends.  Being that the tropical Pacific Ocean is considered the engine of the global climate system, it is important to understand oceanic convection and latent heating of the atmosphere.  To better interpret the dynamics, significant research has been conducted recently about tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and removing the uncertainty created by the occurrence of the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) signal to generate more accurate results.   Of critical importance is the SST gradient across the equatorial Pacific, as the pattern of SSTs influences the location of the main tropical convection.  Competing theories have highlighted the importance of cold-water upwelling in the east, which might limit the warming there and would lead to a strengthening of the west-to-east SST gradient, whereas other theories have highlighted the importance of evaporative cooling and changing vertical stratification in the ocean, which would imply a weakening of the gradient.  In order to remove the ENSO ‘noise’, they were able to adopt a dynamic three-dimensional interpretation of ENSO variability rather than a linear view.  With this approach they found a clear pattern of warming of the west Pacific of the order of 0.5° C per century and cooling in the east of a similar magnitude.  This favors the ‘ocean dynamical thermostat’ theory of mean SST changes under enhanced greenhouse warming. Read the full article here.

July 15, 2012. The hydrology of the humid tropics. Stemming from a community workshop held in Hawaii in March 2011, this study outlines the state of knowledge of the humid tropics, research areas needing further exploration, and strategies for gaining a better understanding of how the hydrology of the humid tropics may be affected by anthropogenic climate change. The “humid tropics” are defined as the area between 25° N and 25° S where precipitation exceeds evaporation for at least 270 days per year. Fluxes of energy and water here have greater spatial and temporal variability at larger magnitudes compared to more moderate climates; human-induced changes (i.e. land-cover and energy demands) will have a significant and direct impact on these cycles. Tropical hydrological processes are expected to accelerate due to warming temperatures and an increased moisture capacity of the atmosphere. Three main research areas needing more attention include: (1) measuring, modeling and understanding moisture cycling between land and atmosphere; (2) information on biogeochemical cycles and the impact of humans on landscapes (e.g. catchment processes affecting evapotranspiration and runoff); and (3) a need for more field campaigns that monitor moisture dynamics from the subsurface through the troposphere for longer periods of time.  The strategies for tackling these research needs call for strengthening empirical data as well as targeting specific gaps in tropical hydrological knowledge. Read the full article here.

July 1st, 2012. Changes to dryland rainfall result in rapid moss mortality and altered soil fertility. Researchers used a factorial warming and supplemental rainfall experiment on the Colorado Plateau to address the affect of climate change on arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Increased rainfall (more precipitation through more frequent, smaller events) resulted in increased mortality rates for the moss Syntrichia caminervis, while increased temperature had no effect. Moss cover decreased from 25% to less than 2% due to more frequent precipitation. Measurements in the laboratory confirmed that during smaller precipitation events, the carbon balance was negative. Because mosses serve as important components of the dry land ecosystem, this study highlights the complexity with which climate change may impact ecosystem structure and the fact that more research is needed to understand how climate modifications impact the community. Read the full article here.


1) Chicago Wilderness Congress 2012 Shaping the Future of Regional Conservation will be held on Thursday, November 15, 2012 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, The Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL. For more information and to register for the Congress, click here.

2) The 2012 Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Science Conference, Linking Research to Management at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in a Rapidly Changing Environment, invites professionals and the public to attend on November 28 at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana. For more information on the event click here. To register contact



National Adaptation Forum, Denver, Colorado- April 2-4, 2013.

The National Adaptation Forum will convene practitioners and innovators (e.g. managers, policymakers, researchers) who are actively engaged or interested in climate change adaptation. The Forum will create a space for the professional adaptation community from across the United States to share strategies, lessons, tools, and information necessary to incorporate climate change into their work.  Submission deadline for proposals is Nov 23, 2012. Proposals that address multiple sectors and present innovative ways to advance climate change adaptation are particularly encouraged. For more information, go here.


1) The Northeast Climate Science Center is the research organization that provides support to the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives covering the Chicago Wilderness region. Their mission is “to provide scientific information, tools, and techniques to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change”. They host a free online Colloquium titled “Translating Climate Science for Resource Managers”. View the full Fall 2012 scheduled here.

Upcoming webinar on November 28 @ 2:30 PM (central): “What stakeholders need to know about the relationships between Water Resources and Climate Change”.  For more information and to register, go here.

2) Talking Climate is a resource space focused on translating the best research evidence into practical guides on a wide range of topics, ensuring academics and practitioners get the most from climate change communication research. They offer a comprehensive and frequently updated database of academic papers, a regular newsletter, and a blog featuring comment and analysis from climate change communication experts. To sign up to receive their blog and newsletter, go here.

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