Saturday, October 09, 2010

Oh Canada as wrong as you can be

Eli prefers climate disruption to climate change or global warming because while the drivers are global, warming, acidification of the oceans (Eli is a physicist AND a chemist, actually either a chemical physicist or a physical chemist depending on where he is working, so don't try the nonsense about it starting from a slightly basic point) etc., the effects are and will be local. Many countries have commissioned reports to try and understand what the local effects will be, and many officials are trying to work this out on their own. For example, John Nielson Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist, who recently told USA Today that Texans should expect temperature of 46 C in the near future (that's 115 F for the blighted folk who don't talk Celcius. Be thankful, Eli could have put it in Kelvin, the only absolutely correct temperature scale.)

Eli and the bunnies of course know that you should always follow the link and certainly follow the links on the link back to the original. And, of course, then you should figure out which axes are being ground. There begins our story. Over at Deltoid, Eli saw a comment by Holly Stick, a real blog scientist.

A different approach is being taken by a new report on how warming may affect parts of Canada. It talks about "climate prosperity," as in having benefits as well as harmful effects for Canada.

The link was to the Globe and Mail, a Journal of Mild to Severe Denial, sort of the Daily JPANDS, but hmm, Eli said to himself foolishly, looks like the Harper government is taking hold, and Steve Mcs friends out there on the tar sands are digging in and the Rabett foolishly passed on, to find a comment by Jeff Harvey, who knows ecology, being an real ecologist and not a blog ecologist
That report you linked above contains so many elementary scientific flaws that I have lost count. Its clear that few qualified biologists and ecologists contributed to it, otherwise many of their so-called 'benefits of a warmer climate' would have to be scrubbed.

For instance, much of Canada is dominated by acid soils in which coniferous forests predominate. How exactly will croplands expand into areas with totally inadequate soils? These soils take hundreds of years to be generated and maintained by their endemic biota; we will not suddenly experience a shift in their properties over the course of the next 50 years.

Moreover, biomes are already shifting polewards, but, given the unprecedented rate of warming, there will be clear pheological constraints imposed as different species successfully (or unsuccessfully) move northwards at different rates. Many less motile organisms - such as soil biota - will certainly not be able to keep up with more motile aboveground fauna. Furthermore, dietary specialists will suffer much more than generalists. Under this scenario food webs will unravel, given that most ecosytem processes emerge on the basis of tightly networked interactions over fairly large scales. Once some species begin diappearing from food chains, then we can expect systems to become much more prone to collapse. And, of course, species adapted to cold environments will be forced to advance even furhter north than they are now, and many will be pushed well beyond their thermal neutral zones and will become extinct.

On all accounts the rapid rise in temperatures at higher latitudes spells ecological disaster. If these changes were gradually occurring over the space of at least a millenium, then I would be more cautiously optimistic. But we are talking about less than 100 years, in systems that have already been seriously reduced by a suite of other human actions. This is not enough time for us to expect systemic adaptation and adaption amongst component species and communities.

The authors of reports like this are being, in my opinion speaking as a population ecologist, wholly irresponsible. Given that our understanding of the processes regulating the assembly rules and functioning of ecosystems are still rudimentary, I find it takes remarkable hubris for anyone to assume that such a large scale experiment on complex adaptive systems that sustain us will generate benefits that may counter the costs. We are stumbling along blind in the dark, and thus arguing that the rate of warming currently occurring in Canada will have benefits is like arguing that driving at 150 kph on a windy, rain-soaked road makes sense because we will reach our destination more quickly. Its the sprint of folly.

That motivated Eli to follow the Globe and Mail link, and what he found was what he expected

Study seeks silver lining in climate change's clouds

As the global environment warms through the course of this century, the Canadian climate will change in both bad and good ways, according to a new publication from the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

In fact, the study urges Canadians to start talking about what it calls “climate prosperity” along with climate change.

“There are risks to climate change, clearly, but there are also opportunities,” said David McLaughlin, president of the NRTEE. That does not justify abandoning efforts to mitigate global warming, he said. But climate change “is happening, and we can deal with it, and we can gain from it.”

The article lists what would happen in Canada for global temperature changes of 2, 3 and 4 K
If temperatures rise by 2 degrees C

Hello to
  • more cod north of the 60th parallel
  • some crop yields expanding by 40 per cent
  • a shorter winter road season
  • a golf season that expands 7 per cent to 20 per cent
Goodbye to
  • Prairie crops, as risk of desertification increases by 50 per cent
  • healthy Great Lakes, which will suffer from less oxygen, lower water levels and fewer fish
  • water, as the runoff in South Saskatchewan River basin declines
  • spring skiing, as the ski season in southern Canada decreases 15 to 25 per cent

Remember that Canada is pretty far north and temperature changes driven by increasing greenhouse gases have been observed to be much higher at high latitudes in agreement with modeling which predicts such an amplification above the global level, but there was also a link to the handout given to the press by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and something called the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Up in the left hand corner was the summary:

Widespread Impacts, some positive, most negative are expected across Canada as climate change brings increasing temperatures and changing moisture levels
and a great graphic (trust Eli) which if you click on the image below and then click when the magnifying glass appears, you will be able to read.

The Catastropic Stuff?

With a regional temperature rise of 2-4 C

  • 50% of the mass of the Western glaciers go west and some just go.
  • the ecology of the Great Lakes is disrupted as oxygen levels fall
  • water wars with the US, won't that be fun
  • at 2 C heatwave deaths double at 4 C there is a large increase in cardio-respiratory deaths as air quality plunge
  • farms and timber threatened by disease and drought (already happening)
Eli, being a somewhat untrusting bunny suspects that this National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy might be your local chamber of commerce in drag, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society might be like glossy mag publishers, but the important news for our Canadian hares is that (from 350 or Bust)
To generate a national conversation on the impacts of climate change and potential solutions, the two organizations are hosting a series of panel discussions with leading Canadian experts over the next two weeks. The first will take place today from to 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Regional sessions will take place in Halifax on Oct. 13th, Montreal on Oct. 14th, Toronto on Oct. 18th, Vancouver on Oct. 20th and Saskatoon on Oct. 21st.
You might want to give Jeff a plane ticket.


Nick Barnes said...

On the subject of Canada, did you see this?

zinfan94 said...

Dr. Rabett: The sizable drop in the MacKenzie River delta permafrost reminded me of a question has been nagging me; maybe someone here has an answer.

Trenberth has been looking for some missing heat in the planetary energy budget; the amount of heat he's looking for is about 40 to 60 x 10^20 J per year. This is a lot of heat, about 10 to 15 times the amount generated by burning fossil fuels, and there aren't very many places where this amount of heat could be hiding. Could melting permafrost and the increase in ground temperatures in permafrost areas account for some of the missing heat?

Permafrost is estimated to hold about 73,000 cubic miles of water (see the nice table at the USGS link showing how this compares to world water distribution). In general, permafrost seems to be about 20% ice embedded in the ground materials (soils, sand, rocks and gravel).

In order to account for missing heat of 40 x 10^20 J per year, my quick estimate is that about 2000 cubic miles of permafrost ice would melt to water, with the temperature of both the water and ground rising from minus 4 to minus 10 deg C to a ground temperature 2 to 6 deg C. An annual melt of 2000 cubic miles would be about 2.8% of the world's permafrost, so this is likely too high a melt rate, but the amount of heat potentially absorbed by melting permafrost appears to be huge.

This is just a quick estimate, but it seems that melting permafrost might absorb about 20-40 times the heat accumulating in the atmosphere due to global warming. A quick search on Google Scholar didn't find any directly relevant hits on research on this topic.

Any thoughts?

EliRabett said...

Nick, saw it some time ago. Frankly Eli is a bit of an outlier on these things. IEHO any civil servant is perfectly free to talk to the press provided that she or he or whatever makes it perfectly clear that they are speaking only for themselves and do not represent their agency or the government as a whole. When the press calls and asks if the can speak to Dr. X, IEHO again, it is perfectly fair for the press office to say, yes, you can speak with Dr. X when he is not at work and you should emphasize that Dr. X does not speak for the government, we do.

David B. Benson said...

Climate dysfunction

Robert said...

Being a Canadian studying climate sciences, this makes me a little sad to read... It makes me feel even worse to have to add to the list.

-Loss of Glaciers in Northeastern Labrador (25% of area lost in last 5 years!)
-Extensive losses from ice caps in the Canadian Arctic
-Spruce Budworm Destroying Trees in Northern Canada that used to be protected by cold winters
-Ditto on Other insects which are more widespread in Northern portions....

Oh and part of newfoundland was under water

Storms like this don't usually keep their power but warm SSTs protected it and allowed it to hit with quite a force.

Holly Stick said...

"a real blog scientist" Thank you, I think?

The political situation in Canada is too complex to explain quickly. The cabinet includes creationists and climate change deniers, and they have muzzled scientists. But Prime Minister Harper is also a control freak who keeps his politicians muzzled much of the time and who muzzles public servants in general, not just the scientists. He also controls media questions as much as possible. Think paranoid and secretive, like Nixon. He's getting more erratic, and I expect a crash of some sort.

Holly Stick said...

Here's a couple more links, the first by the journalists who are cited in most srticles, though some links don't work any more.

And from Orwellian to Kafkaesque:

Holly Stick said...

More yet; you may have heard that PM Harper does not like StatsCanada, probably because he finds it harder to lie when they provide honest stats; but he's cutting some surveys, including environmental statistics:

And Stephen Leahy crticizes the NRTEE/Royal Canadian Geographical Society report: