NASA: Climate change may bring big ecosystem changes

Dec 15, 2011
Predicted percentage of ecological landscape being driven toward changes in plant species as a result of projected human-induced climate change by 2100. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth's land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type - such as forest, grassland or tundra - toward another, according to a new NASA and university computer modeling study.

Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., investigated how Earth's plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries as Earth's climate changes in response to rising levels of human-produced . Study results are published in the journal .

The model projections paint a portrait of increasing and stress in Earth's biosphere, with many plant and animal species facing increasing competition for survival, as well as significant species turnover, as some species invade areas occupied by other species. Most of Earth's land that is not covered by ice or desert is projected to undergo at least a 30 percent change in plant cover - changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate.

In addition to altering , the study predicts climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth's water, energy, carbon and other element cycles.

Predicted percentage of ecological landscape being driven toward biome-level changes in plant species as a result of projected human-induced climate change by 2100. Biomes are major ecological community types. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"For more than 25 years, scientists have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change," said Jon Bergengren, a scientist who led the study while a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. "Our study introduces a new view of climate change, exploring the ecological implications of a few degrees of global warming. While warnings of , and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it's the that matter most."

When faced with climate change, plant species often must "migrate" over multiple generations, as they can only survive, compete and reproduce within the range of climates to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted. While Earth's plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth's natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

To study the sensitivity of Earth's ecological systems to climate change, the scientists used a computer model that predicts the type of plant community that is uniquely adapted to any climate on Earth. This model was used to simulate the future state of Earth's natural vegetation in harmony with climate projections from 10 different global climate simulations. These simulations are based on the intermediate greenhouse gas scenario in the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. That scenario assumes greenhouse gas levels will double by 2100 and then level off. The U.N. report's climate simulations predict a warmer and wetter Earth, with global temperature increases of 3.6 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 4 degrees Celsius) by 2100, about the same warming that occurred following the Last Glacial Maximum almost 20,000 years ago, except about 100 times faster. Under the scenario, some regions become wetter because of enhanced evaporation, while others become drier due to changes in atmospheric circulation.

The researchers found a shift of biomes, or major ecological community types, toward Earth's poles - most dramatically in temperate grasslands and boreal forests - and toward higher elevations. Ecologically sensitive "hotspots" - areas projected to undergo the greatest degree of species turnover - that were identified by the study include regions in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, eastern equatorial Africa, Madagascar, the Mediterranean region, southern South America, and North America's Great Lakes and Great Plains areas. The largest areas of ecological sensitivity and biome changes predicted for this century are, not surprisingly, found in areas with the most dramatic climate change: in the Northern Hemisphere high latitudes, particularly along the northern and southern boundaries of boreal forests.

"Our study developed a simple, consistent and quantitative way to characterize the impacts of on ecosystems, while assessing and comparing the implications of climate model projections," said JPL co-author Duane Waliser. "This new tool enables scientists to explore and understand interrelationships between Earth's ecosystems and climate and to identify regions projected to have the greatest degree of ecological sensitivity."

"In this study, we have developed and applied two new ecological sensitivity metrics - analogs of climate sensitivity - to investigate the potential degree of plant community changes over the next three centuries," said Bergengren. "The surprising degree of ecological sensitivity of Earth's ecosystems predicted by our research highlights the global imperative to accelerate progress toward preserving biodiversity by stabilizing Earth's climate."

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Nanobanano
2.7 / 5 (7) Dec 15, 2011
At some point in this century,the Morganza spillway may be opened permanently.

After all, with the droughts predicted in the South, and floods predicted in the North, it would make sense to just go ahead and leave it open to hydrate the middle part of Louisiana.

Additionally, with sea level rising perhaps by several feet, you'd want a good flow of fresh water down the atchafalaya basin to help alleviate the salt water intrusion.

Without these measures, much of S. central louisiana may experience some form of desertification, even as the Salt water moves inland.

Mankind already nearly destroyed the cyprus trees, so if the sea levels rise a few more feet and back salt water up all the marshes and rivers, you can just go ahead and kiss them goodbye, along with much of the entire ecosystem in the region.

If the trend is real, and nothing intervenes on a global scale, then pretty much everything "natural" below I-12 will be extinct in at most a couple centuries.
tadchem
3.1 / 5 (8) Dec 15, 2011
Ecology 101: Climates are variable. Local microclimates are what affect ecologies. Ecologies change as the climate and microclimates change. Microecologies change at idiosyncratic rates. Almost everywhere one looks there is evidence that the climate was very different in the past. The American Great Plains were once forested. There are whale bones bleaching in the Sahara sun. There is no reason to suppose it won't be different in the future.
Nanobanano
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 15, 2011
Ecology 101: Climates are variable. Local microclimates are what affect ecologies. Ecologies change as the climate and microclimates change. Microecologies change at idiosyncratic rates. Almost everywhere one looks there is evidence that the climate was very different in the past. The American Great Plains were once forested. There are whale bones bleaching in the Sahara sun. There is no reason to suppose it won't be different in the future.


In most cases, those changes supposedly took place over thousands or millions of years.

The changes involved with AGW will take place on tiem scales of decades to centures.

The entire greater NOLA area, as well as anything in Louisiana within a mile of salt or brakish water, will begin to experience ecological damage as well as infrastructure damage at unsustainable / irrepairable rates in as little as 20 or 30 years.

if sea level rose linear, that would be 3.75 inches by 2041.

But sea levels are rising at least quadratic.
RazorsEdge
2.4 / 5 (14) Dec 15, 2011
Just another scare story, but useful for a postdoc to get a job with the current regime at NASA.
I have an issue with the biodiversity reduction claim. It's made up support the disaster issue. Take Antarctica, if it warms biodiversity will increase. It can finally support something more than penguins and leopard seals.
Nanobanano
3.9 / 5 (7) Dec 15, 2011
Just another scare story, but useful for a postdoc to get a job with the current regime at NASA.
I have an issue with the biodiversity reduction claim. It's made up support the disaster issue. Take Antarctica, if it warms biodiversity will increase. It can finally support something more than penguins and leopard seals.


You seem to think some other animals are just going to magically show up on the scene.

Maybe some flight birds from S. America and S. Africa will migrate there and populate it.

I doubt stuff like bears, dogs, pigs, or cats would make it there across the ocean, unless humans brought them there for colonization.

deatopmg
2.3 / 5 (12) Dec 15, 2011
"may", "could", "might" all keywords introducing yet another fear-mongering report full of BS and requests for more public funding.
omatumr
1 / 5 (9) Dec 15, 2011
"may", "could", "might", fear-mongering, BS, more public funding.

Today Big Brother is scared, dangerous, out of control - like a "Delinquent Teenager"

www.amazon.com/De...p;sr=1-1

1. Today Big Brother is Scared:

http://joannenova...idation/

http://judithcurr...t-150279

http://judithcurr...t-149143

http://noconsensu...nt-62436

2. Dangerous; May seize police control:

http://www.infowa...itizens/

3. Out of control, like a "Delinquent Teenager"

4. But "Fear not, the Universe is in good hands!"

http://dl.dropbox..._Not.pdf
rubberman
4.3 / 5 (8) Dec 15, 2011
"may", "could", "might" all keywords introducing yet another fear-mongering report full of BS and requests for more public funding.


Actually they are words used when attempting to speak of ANY future events. Anybody who uses more definitive ones WILL be dismissed even faster than denialists dismiss evidence.It's just a sad reality we all have to live with. Denying reality is fun but with rational people flights of fancy always land in the airport of reality...with irrational or ignorant people they land in the world where GHG's don't do what they must by their very nature, or they land on the polluted surface of a neutron star cleverly disguised as a main sequence one....
gregor1
2.3 / 5 (9) Dec 15, 2011
@rubberman.I take it the that you are a medieval warm period, little iceage, Roman warm period denier despite the fact that there are hundreds of studies confirming these. http://joannenova...en-data/
You are perhaps a hockey stick believer? Or even a flat earther? The recent study from Tibet is good too
http://joannenova...il-2068/
This is just Tibet but it suggests that sudden warming and cooling is not unusual.
The recent warming is nothing to lose sleep over.
Nanobanano
3.8 / 5 (4) Dec 16, 2011
The recent warming is nothing to lose sleep over.


Uh huh.

Come back in 5 years.

Funny thing is, the Hockey Stick believers' trend line ended up predicting this year's ice volume minimum exactly right.

nhc.noaa.gov/tafb/atl_anom.gif

and

nhc.noaa.gov/tafb/pac_anom.gif

It's pretty much been like this for a year now, depending on daily cloud cover.

In fact, the NE Pacific and E. Pacific seem to be warming up more.

The Atlantic continues to keep the hot spots, and the "cool" spots are also filling in with more heat.

Probably on pace to break some record highs at some point in the next few months in the Atlantic.
rubberman
5 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2011
Well Gregor, there is no denying the MWP and yes I am a hockey stick believer, although I wouldn't say I'm a fan of the trends that they indicate. Ironically enough, every graph relating to anthropogenic activities looks like a hockey stick. Saying there is no correlation between the following is sheer ignorance, population explosion(hockey stick) fossil fuel consumption(hockey stick) GHG emission (hockey stick)temperature rise (hockey stick) Glacial retreat (hockey stick) species extinction, invasive species arrivals, ocean acidification, permafrost melt, arctic ice loss....we have enough hockey sticks to supply my kids team bud.
The fact that it is happening globally and at a pace that can be observed in a single human life span is unsettling, the fact that people try to pawn it off on natural variability is laughable. Citing examples of past warming periods would be a logical argument IF the varibles of that equation were the same as the current one, they're not.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2011
Uh huh.

Come back in 5 years.


Perhaps that is long enough, but probably not. There are three big sources of 'noise' in the global dataset that we need to be sure we are adjusting for correctly before we can really nail down our estimated trends. The AMO, PDO and ENSO each happen on scales of at least a couple years, and as long as 30 years in some known instances. To confidently adjust the datasets to account for those, we need good observations of at least a representative number of cycles for each of those three cycles. Good satellite observations began in 1979, and we continue to refine the satellite datasets as we learn more about how to interpret them. A new version of the UAH dataset is due out soon, with improved adjustments for intstrument drift, for example.

Projections like the one above are updated as the science is refined. The above is an update to previous work, for example.

I would expect better projections in more like 20 years, not so much 5.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2011
I would also like to point out that the US Department of Agriculture has been doing this kind of work for a lot longer than NASA. I consider the USDA to be the top authority in this field. For example, see the following:

http://www.usda.g...stem.pdf

The USDA does not attempt to make such long term projections as the one above, but I have to scratch my head and ask myself how confident NASA is in the above numbers. I don't think I would make real estate investments based on the NASA numbers. Would you?

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