Topic: Energy and Environment

Release the Kraken

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Making headlines today (like the one above) is a new paper by Zoë Doubleday and colleagues documenting an increase the population of cephalopods (octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid) over the past 61 years.  The authors, after assembling a data set of historical catch rates, note that this population increase, rather than being limited to a few localized areas, seems to be occurring globally.

End of analysis.

From then on its speculation.

And the authors speculate that human-caused climate change may be behind the robust cephalopod increase. After all, the authors reason, what else has had a consistent large-scale impact over the past six decades? No analysis relating temperature trends (spatially or temporally) to cephalopod trends, no examination of other patterns of climate change and cephalopod change, just speculation.  And a new global warming meme is born—“Swarms of octopus are taking over the oceans.”

There is an overwhelming tendency to relate global warming to all manner of bad things and a great hesitation to suggest a potential link when the outcome is seemingly beneficial. We refer to this as the global-warming-is-bad-for-good-and-good-for-bad phenomenon. It holds a great majority of the time.

In the case of octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish, the authors are a bit guarded as to their speculation of impact of the increase in cephalopod numbers—will they decimate their prey populations or will they themselves provide more prey to their predators? Apparently we’ll have to wait and see.

No doubt, the outcome will be a complex one as is the case behind the observed population increases. Depletion of fish stocks, a release of competitive pressure, and good old-fashioned natural environmental variability are also suggested as potential factors in the long-term population expansion. But complex situations don’t make for great scare stories. Global-warming-fueled bands of marauding octopuses and giant squid certainly do. 

Reference:

Doubleday, Z. A., et al., 2016. Global proliferation of cephalopods. Current Biology, 26, R387–R407.

Old-Growth Forests of Southern Chile Are Experiencing Large and Unexpected Increases in Growth and Water-Use Efficiency

Those who fear anthropogenerated climate change have long claimed that global warming will negatively impact Earth’s ecosystems, including old-growth forests, where it is hypothesized that these woodland titans of several hundred years age will suffer decreased growth and increased mortality as a consequence of predicted increases in temperature and drought. However, others see the situation as the opposite – one in which trees are enhanced by the aerial fertilization effect of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which is expected to increase growth and make trees less susceptible to the deleterious effects of drought.

So which vision of the future appears more likely to come about? According to the seven member research team of Urrutia-Jalabert et al. (2015), the much more optimistic future is not only coming, it is already here.

Working in the Andean Cordilleras region of southern Chile, Urrutia-Jalabert et al. performed a series of analyses on tree ring cores they obtained from long-lived Fitzroya cupressoides stands, which they say “may be the slowest-growing and longest-lived high biomass forest stands in the world.”

Focusing on two of the more pertinent findings of their study, as shown in Figure 1 below, both the basal area increment (a surrogate for aboveground woody biomass accumulation) and intrinsic water use efficiency (a measure of drought resistance) of Fitzroya dramatically increased over the past century. Commenting on these trends, the authors write “the sustained positive trend in tree growth is striking in this old stand, suggesting that the giant trees in this forest have been accumulating biomass at a faster rate since the beginning of the [20th] century.” And coupling that finding with the 32 percent increase in water use efficiency over the same time period, Urrutia-Jalabert et al. conclude the trees “are actually responding to environmental change.” Indeed they are. Magnificently.

Climate Modeling Dominates Climate Science

Computer modeling plays an important role in all of the sciences, but there can be too much of a good thing. A simple semantic analysis indicates that climate science has become dominated by modeling. This is a bad thing.

What we did

We found two pairs of surprising statistics. To do this we first searched the entire literature of science for the last ten years, using Google Scholar, looking for modeling. There are roughly 900,000 peer reviewed journal articles that use at least one of the words model, modeled or modeling. This shows that there is indeed a widespread use of models in science. No surprise in this.

However, when we filter these results to only include items that also use the term climate change, something strange happens. The number of articles is only reduced to roughly 55% of the total.

In other words it looks like climate change science accounts for fully 55% of the modeling done in all of science. This is a tremendous concentration, because climate change science is just a tiny fraction of the whole of science. In the U.S. Federal research budget climate science is just 4% of the whole and not all climate science is about climate change.

In short it looks like less than 4% of the science, the climate change part, is doing about 55% of the modeling done in the whole of science. Again, this is a tremendous concentration, unlike anything else in science.

We next find that when we search just on the term climate change, there are very few more articles than we found before. In fact the number of climate change articles that include one of the three modeling terms is 97% of those that just include climate change. This is further evidence that modeling completely dominates climate change research.

You Ought to Have a Look: Badges, Ratings and Rewards

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

Badges? Do we need these stinking badges?

Need, perhaps not, but apparently some of us actually want them and will go to lengths to get them. We‘re not talking about badges for say, for example, being a Federal Agent At-Large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs:

 

(source: Smithsonianmag.org)

But rather badges like these, being given out by the editors of Psychological Journal for being a good data sharer and playing well with others:

A new paper, authored by Mallory Kidwell and colleagues, examined the impact of the Psychological Journal’s badge/award system and found it to be quite effective at getting authors to make their data and material available to others via an open access repository. Compared with four “comparison journals,” the implementation of the badge system at Psychological Journal led to a rapidly rising rate of participation and level of research transparency (Figure 1).

An Absence of Ocean Acidification Impacts on Two Marine Copepods

Copepods are small crustaceans and encompass a major group of secondary producers in the planktonic food web, often serving as a key food source for fish. And in the words of Isari et al. (2015), these organisms “have generally been found resilient to ocean acidification levels projected about a century ahead, so that they appear as potential ‘winners’ under the near-future CO2 emission scenarios.” However, many copepod species remain under-represented in ocean acidification studies. Thus, it was the goal of Isari et al. to expand the knowledge base of copepod responses to reduced levels of seawater pH that are predicted to occur over the coming century.

To accomplish this objective, the team of five researchers conducted a short (5-day) experiment in which they subjected adults of two copepod species (the calanoid Acartia grani and the cyclopoid Oithona davisae) to normal (8.18) and reduced (7.77) pH levels in order to assess the impacts of ocean acidification (OA) on copepod vital rates, including feeding, respiration, egg production and egg hatching success. At a pH value of 7.77, the simulated ocean acidification level is considered to be “at the more pessimistic end of the range of atmospheric CO2 projections.” And what did their experiment reveal?

In the words of the authors, they “did not find evidence of OA effects on the reproductive output (egg production, hatching success) of A. grani or O. davisae, consistent with the numerous studies demonstrating generally high resistance of copepod reproductive performance to the OA projected for the end of the century,” citing the works of Zhang et al. (2011), McConville et al. (2013), Vehmaa et al. (2013), Zervoudaki et al. (2014) and Pedersen et al. (2014). Additionally, they found no differences among pH treatments in copepod respiration or feeding activity for either species. As a result, Isari et al. say their study “shows neither energy constraints nor decrease in fitness components for two representative species, of major groups of marine planktonic copepods (i.e. Calanoida and Cyclopoida), incubated in the OA scenario projected for 2100.” Thus, this study adds to the growing body of evidence that copepods will not be harmed by, or may even benefit from, even the worst-case projections of future ocean acidification.

 

Arctic Sea Ice Loss Not Leading to Colder Winters

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Although it’s a favorite headline as people shiver during the coldest parts of the winter, global warming is almost assuredly not behind your suffering (the “warming” part of global warming should have clued you in on this).

But, some folks steadfastly prefer the point of view that all bad weather is caused by climate change.

Consider White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) head John Holdren. During the depth of the January 2014 cold outbreak (and the height of the misery) that made “polar vortex” a household name, OSTP released a video featuring Holdren telling us that “the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak, is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues.” 

At the time we said “not so fast,” pointing out that there were as many (if not more) findings in the scientific literature that suggested that either a) no relationship exists between global warming and the weather patterns giving rise to mid-latitude cold outbreaks, or b) the opposite is the case (global warming should lead to fewer and milder cold air outbreaks).

The Competitive Enterprise Institute even went as far as to request a formal correction from the White House. The White House responded by saying that the video represented only Holdren’s “personal opinion” and thus no correction was necessary. CEI filed a FOIA request, and after some hemming and hawing, the White House OSTP finally, after a half-hearted search, produced some documents. Unhappy with this outcome, CEI challenged the effort and just this past Monday, a federal court, questioning whether the OSTP acted in “good faith,” granted CEI’s request for discovery.

In the meantime, the scientific literature on this issue continues to accumulate. When a study finds a link between human-caused global warming and winter misery, it makes headlines somewhere. When it doesn’t, that somewhere is usually reduced to here.

You Ought to Have a Look: 2016 Temperatures, Business-as-Usual at the UN, and the Cost of Regulations

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

We sign in this week with a look at how this year’s global temperature is evolving as the big Pacific El Niño begins to wane. The temporary rise in global temperature that accompanies El Niño events is timed differently at the surface than it is in the lower atmosphere. Thus, while El Niño-boosted warmth led to a record high value in the 2015 global average surface temperature record, it did not fully manifest itself in the lower atmosphere (where the 2015 temperatures remained well below record levels).