You Can Fool Climate Deniers, But You Can’t Fool Mother Nature. Plants Pack up and Move North.

March 10, 2013

You can fool a climate denier a lot easier than you can fool a fungus.

Climate News Network:

The Arctic is warming faster than many other parts of the planet, and plants are providing some of the clearest signs of the impacts, with vegetation now growing nearly 500 miles further north than it did a few decades ago.

LONDON, 10 March – The Arctic is on the move. The North Pole is in the same place, but Arctic conditions have begun to shift. A study of 30 years of satellite data confirms that the difference in temperatures between the seasons has diminished.

Conditions now have shifted the equivalent of four or five degrees of latitude southward. At the same time, vegetation has moved north, colonizing the thawing permafrost.

A team of 21 scientists from 17 institutions in seven nations reports in Nature Climate Change that as the cover of snow and ice has diminished and retreated in the Arctic Circle, the temperatures have begun to increase – at differing rates – during the four seasons. Although conditions differ from region to region, overall the growing season is beginning earlier, and the autumn freeze is starting later.

Conditions in northern latitudes now increasingly resemble those found several hundred miles further south 30 years ago. One of the authors, Bruce Forbes of the University of Lapland in Finland, told the Climate News Network that in his own research region of north-west Siberia “we are seeing more frequent and longer-lasting high pressure systems. In winter, the snow cover comes later, is deeper on average than in the 1960s, but is melting out earlier in spring.”

Climate is a complicated business, and there is always legitimate room for argument about the validity of one selected set of measurements, a potential bias in the observations, or the reliability of comparison data collected two generations earlier.

But vegetables can’t be fooled. Plants grow where they can. If deciduous shrubs are growing taller, and colonizing sites ever further north, then conditions must be getting warmer, and staying warmer.

Winners – and losers

Professor Forbes says that indigenous reindeer herders report that alder and willow, normally stunted by the polar winter, are growing taller: his own research team has confirmed this with dendrochronology, the science of tree ring measurement.

In the northernmost foothills of the Polar Ural mountains on the southern Yamal Peninsula in West Siberia, Russia, tundra shrubs are turning into small trees, with big implications.

“In a few decades, if the current trends continue, much more of the existing low shrub tundra will start to resemble woodlands as the shrubs become tree-sized”, he says.

This enhanced warming over a longer ground-thaw season has changed the landscape: it has, says Compton Tucker of the Goddard Space Flight Center in the US, “created during the past 30 years large patches of vigorously productive vegetation, totaling more than a third of the northern landscape – over nine million km2, which is roughly about the area of the USA –  resembling the vegetation that occurs further to the south.”

This warming of the high latitudes is not necessarily good news for all plants. As the tundra turns green at an accelerating rate, the growth of the boreal forests – those mighty stands of conifer species that cover northern Canada and northern Eurasia and enclose the Arctic Circle – may even be decelerating.

Boreal forest species are adapted to cold. “Some areas of boreal forest will be negatively impacted by warming temperatures, from increased drought stress as well as insect and fire disturbance”, says Scott Goetz of Woods Hole Research Center in the US, another of the co-authors.

Dot Earth:

Even as insect infestations and other factors accompanying warming have led to the “browning” of some stretches of boreal forest between temperate regions and the Arctic tundra, the tundra appears to be greening in a big way,various studies have shown. The newest such work, focused on scrubby windswept regions along Russia’s northwest Arctic coast, has found a particularly noteworthy shift is under way.

In this part of the Arctic, which could be a bellwether for changes to come elsewhere with greenhouse-driven warming, what might be called pop-up forests are forming. Low tundra shrubs, many of which are willow and alder species, have rapidly grown into small trees over the last 50 years, according to the study, led by scientists from the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Arctic Center of the University of Lapland. The researchers foresee a substantial additional local warming influence from this change in landscapes, with the darker foliage absorbing sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space. But the fast-motion shift to forests will likely absorb carbon dioxide, as well.

A particularly interesting aspect of this work, to my eye, is how it reveals the potential for fast-motion responses of ecosystems to environmental change in the far north. In work I covered in 2007, botanists found that Arctic plant species were extremely responsive to fairly rapid climate shifts in the past.




13 Responses to “You Can Fool Climate Deniers, But You Can’t Fool Mother Nature. Plants Pack up and Move North.”

  1. […] You can fool a climate denier a lot easier than you can fool a fungus. Climate News Network: The Arctic is warming faster than many other parts of the planet, and plants are providing some of the c…  […]

  2. uknowispeaksense Says:

    It’s not just a latitudinal issue either but altitudinal as well. There was a paper, about 3 weeks old now showing clear shifts in endemic plant species in the Himalayas up the mountains but the interesting and disturbing part is the acknowledgment that weed species, be they endemic weeds or alien species are colonising and outcompeting the species undergoing range contractions.

    Just a thought. You mention fungus under the photo but there’s no mention of fungi in the story. That said, one could argue that deniers who who only seem to frequent the echo chamber denier dens like WUWT are mushrooms….kept in the dark and fed on bullshit.

  3. astrostevo Says:

    That reminds me of this favourite quote from here :

    “I like ice also as an indicator of climate change for its political neutrality.
    Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. Its not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.”

    – Dr Henry Pollack, geophysicist, University of Michigan.

    Source :

    ‘Watts Up with Sea Ice?’ youtube video by Greenman3610 esp. 1 minute 14 secs to 1 minute 51 seconds.

    Well now we have another modified version here :

    “I like plants also as an indicator of climate change for their political neutrality.
    Plants ask no questions, present no arguments, read no newspapers, listen to no debates. Plants aren’t burdened by ideology and carry no political baggage as they nervelessly grow taller and spread to new areas or shrink form old domains. They just grow or wither.”

    Those who claim this is all about some political agenda, that the science is unclear – how can they possibly argue against the reality of melting ice and botanical changes? At some point (soon?) surely the physical global reality of forest growth and glacier retreat will make the “its all just politics” nonsense laughably untenable?

    (Yes, I would’ve thought we’re already past that point now too.)

  4. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    Makes for some hard choices for conservationists. Try to preserve natural habitats where they are, or recognize the changes that are happening and will continue to happen.

  5. Relatively recently it was even “worse”. Particularly circa 800 – 100 AD (MCA). Please see photos of fossilized trees from those times:
    At the time (MCA = MWP) trees were growing where now nothing – even mushrooms (only those in lichens) – do not want to grow.
    During MCA Greenlandic green trees were several kilometers away (and meters above sea level) the current range of trees.
    This “horrible” disaster in MCA Greenlandic “mother nature”, however, survived in good condition …

    That’s it always going, when for “the above” preconceived theory (here: catastrophic) …

    • Why did Greenland warm up back then?

    • rabiddoomsayer Says:

      Would you have a direct citation available. I have a distrust of Mr Watts site.

      Generally Thomas Lowell’s work tends to show that the ice sheets will be more responsive to climate change than models predict.

    • If you wish to use evidence then you need to do some more research. This is how to find that Watts distorts the fact, case in point:

      (you)Organic Remains from the Istorvet Ice Cap, Liverpool Land, East Greenland: A Record of Late Holocene Climate Change

      Thomas V. Lowell

      “…. Both the ice cap geometry and the presence of overrun organic remains indicate past temperatures at least as warm as those at present. At Istorvet plant remains yielded 12 number of radiocarbon dates. These ages, when converted to calendar years, range from A.D. 400 to 1014, with the largest concentration from A.D. 800 to 1014. This work hones the conclusion of Funder (1978) who reported general climate deterioration since 800 BC. Moreover, it indicates warm conditions at this latitude at the time of Norse colonization of Greenland.”

      Now the same main author; Thomas V. Lowell

      (not at Watts) Late Holocene expansion of Istorvet ice cap, Liverpool Land, east Greenland

      “…Thereafter the ice cap remained at or close to this position until at least AD 1660. The timing of this, the most extensive of the Holocene, expansion is similar to that recorded at some glaciers in the Alps and in southern Alaska. However, in contrast to these other regions, the expansion in east Greenland at AD 1150 appears to have been very close to, if not at, a maximum Holocene value. Comparison of the Istorvet ice-cap fluctuations with Holocene glacier extents in Southern Hemisphere middle-to-high latitude locations on the Antarctic Peninsula and in the Andes and the Southern Alps suggests an out-of-phase relationship. If correct, this pattern supports the hypothesis that a bipolar see-saw of oceanic and/or atmospheric circulation during the Holocene produced asynchronous glacier response at some localities in the two polar hemispheres.”

      Oops!!! For Watts!! One part of the world is cold while another is warm? But one must be lying or was wrong before? No, most are the same author and one supports the other.

      So what’s the reality? ’ It is this! The MWP is largest for the most part regional less so for Northern hemisphere temperature and from global even less so. We are now at (near) the former maximum Holocene value.

    • Is this an extract from the new children’s thriller series, The Further Adventures in Science of Tony the Weatherboy?

  6. […] is nature. Despite climate change deniers, plants are moving north, as this fine and comprehensive piece from climate crocks shows. The only thing to do is to align with nature, and never have you seen a […]

  7. […] 2013/03/10: PSinclair: You Can Fool Climate Deniers, But You Can’t Fool Mother Nature. Plants … […]

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