Annals of Global Warming: Dramatic Links Found Between Climate Change, Elk, Plants, and Birds

March 14, 2012

Understanding the physics of the Earth’s atmosphere poses great problems — it is an astonishingly dynamic, fluid environment.  Understanding the relationships between species in ecosystems is no less complex, and no less vexing.

Wise followers of science recognize that when findings in biology, chemistry and physics, point the same direction, something powerful creates the convergence, and is not to be ignored.

So it is with these findings from the University of Montana and the U.S. Geological Survey, demonstrating clear links between climate change and the changing life patterns of large animals like elk, small animals like birds, and the plants the animals live in and consume.  This study is so complex that climate denialists haven’t figured out which part to deny, yet.  (This press release came out in January.)

From the USGS, with no adornment from the Bathtub, a press release on a letter in Nature Climate Change:

Dramatic Links Found Between Climate Change, Elk, Plants, and Birds

Released: 1/9/2012 11:30:00 AM

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communications and Publishing

In partnership with the University of Montana

Missoula, MT – Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in mountainous plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants, according to a groundbreaking study in Nature Climate Change.

Red-faced warbler in Arizona, photo by Tom Martin, USGS

Red-faced warblers are one of the species affected by climate change in the form of reduced snowpack in the Arizona Mountains, according to a USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit study. Photo by Tom Martin, USGS, May 1998, in the Coconino National Forest

The U.S. Geological Survey and University of Montana study not only showed that the abundance of deciduous trees and their associated songbirds in mountainous Arizona have declined over the last 22 years as snowpack has declined, but it also experimentally demonstrated that declining snowfall indirectly affects plants and birds by enabling more winter browsing by elk. Increased winter browsing by elk results in trickle-down ecological effects such as lowering the quality of habitat for songbirds.

The authors, USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit scientist Thomas Martin and University of Montana scientist John Maron, mimicked the effects of more snow on limiting the ability of elk to browse on plants by excluding the animals from large, fenced areas. They compared bird and plant communities in these exclusion areas with nearby similar areas where elk had access, and found that, over the six years of the study, multi-decadal declines in plant and songbird populations were reversed in the areas where elk were prohibited from browsing.

Hermit thrushes in the Coconino National Forest, Arizona - 2005 photo by Tom Martin, USGS

Hermit thrushes are a songbird species that was strongly affected by plant community changes in mountains because of reduced snowpack and cascading ecological effects, according to a USGS Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit study. 2005 photo by Tom Martin, USGS, in the Coconino National Forest

“This study illustrates that profound impacts of climate change on ecosystems arise over a time span of but two decades through unexplored feedbacks,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “The significance lies in the fact that humans and our economy are at the end of the same chain of cascading consequences.”

The study demonstrates  a classic ecological cascade, added Martin. For example, he said, from an elk’s perspective, less snow means an increased ability to freely browse on woody plants in winter in areas where they would not be inclined to forage in previous times due to high snowpack. Increased overwinter browsing led to a decline in deciduous trees, which reduced the number of birds that chose the habitat and increased predation on nests of those birds that did choose the habitat.

Elk excluded, aspen growth increases - photo by Tom Martin, USGS, Coconino National Forest

When elk are excluded, aspen growth dramatically increases - Climate change in the form of reduced snowfall in mountains is causing powerful and cascading shifts in montane plant and bird communities through the increased ability of elk to stay at high elevations over winter and consume plants. Here, you can see an example of the difference in aspen growth inside versus outside a fence that excludes elk. Photo by Tom Martin, USGS, in Coconino National Forest

“This study demonstrates that the indirect effects of climate on plant communities may be just as important as the effects of climate-change-induced mismatches between migrating birds and food abundance because plants, including trees, provide the habitat birds need to survive,” Martin said.

The study, Climate impacts on bird and plant communities from altered animal-plant interactions, was published online on Jan. 8 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Elk in winter at Camp Creek Feed Ground, Northwestern Wyoming - USGS photo

Elk in winter at Camp Creek Feed Ground, Northwestern Wyoming - USGS photo

More:


Oklahoma earthquake swarm, November 2011?

November 6, 2011

Is it enough to call it a swarm?  Oklahoma hadn’t had a quake of great signficance in about 30 years, but they had a 5.6 and a 4.7  yesterday — and look at this list for today and yesterday from the USGS (list will probably change at USGS as time moves on):

MAG UTC DATE-TIME
y/m/d h:m:s
LAT
deg
LON
deg
DEPTH
km
LOCATION
MAP 3.3 2011/11/06 18:26:56 35.478 -96.864 5.0 4 km ( 2 mi) SE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.7 2011/11/06 17:52:34 35.547 -96.819 5.0 7 km ( 4 mi) S of Sparks, OK
MAP 3.9 2011/11/06 15:07:05 35.535 -96.909 5.0 4 km ( 3 mi) NNW of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.2 2011/11/06 11:20:23 35.525 -96.883 5.0 3 km ( 2 mi) NNE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.0 2011/11/06 11:16:20 35.523 -96.844 4.9 6 km ( 3 mi) ENE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/06 11:03:52 35.539 -96.825 5.0 8 km ( 5 mi) S of Sparks, OK
MAP 3.9 2011/11/06 10:52:35 35.567 -96.797 5.0 5 km ( 3 mi) SSE of Sparks, OK
MAP 4.0 2011/11/06 09:39:57 35.506 -96.865 5.0 3 km ( 2 mi) ENE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/06 09:22:04 35.585 -96.823 5.0 3 km ( 2 mi) S of Sparks, OK
MAP 2.7 2011/11/06 08:14:12 35.474 -96.794 5.0 7 km ( 4 mi) NNE of Johnson, OK
MAP 3.2 2011/11/06 07:32:40 35.544 -96.901 4.9 5 km ( 3 mi) N of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.8 2011/11/06 06:31:10 35.559 -96.874 5.0 7 km ( 4 mi) NNE of Meeker, OK
MAP 3.0 2011/11/06 04:54:00 35.540 -96.687 5.0 6 km ( 4 mi) N of Prague, OK
MAP 3.6 2011/11/06 04:03:41 35.554 -96.760 5.0 8 km ( 5 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 5.6 2011/11/06 03:53:10 35.537 -96.747 5.0 8 km ( 5 mi) NW of Prague, OK
MAP 3.6 2011/11/05 14:36:30 35.584 -96.789 4.9 4 km ( 2 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/05 13:42:26 35.530 -96.766 5.0 9 km ( 5 mi) NW of Prague, OK
MAP 3.3 2011/11/05 11:24:15 35.521 -96.778 5.0 9 km ( 6 mi) WNW of Prague, OK
MAP 3.3 2011/11/05 09:12:11 35.591 -96.788 4.9 4 km ( 2 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 2.7 2011/11/05 07:50:42 35.559 -96.762 4.8 8 km ( 5 mi) SE of Sparks, OK
MAP 2.7 2011/11/05 07:44:34 35.488 -96.755 5.0 6 km ( 4 mi) W of Prague, OK
MAP 3.4 2011/11/05 07:27:20 35.566 -96.698 5.0 9 km ( 6 mi) N of Prague, OK
MAP 4.7 2011/11/05 07:12:45 35.553 -96.748 4.0 9 km ( 6 mi) SE of Sparks, OK

Back to Map Centered at 36°N, 96°W (That’s Tulsa, roughly)

 

23 quakes in two days.  Oklahomans might be excused for wondering what’s up.

Just technical details here.  USGS issued a notice on both of the larger quakes, the 4.7 on Saturday, November 5, and the 5.6 on Sunday, November 6.

Still, this isn’t much of a swarm for an active quake zone, like California, or Yellowstone, or Alaska.

But, for Oklahoma, this is big.  Plus, it appears to lay observers that earthquake intensity and frequency both have been building for over a year.   Recent earthquakes in Arkansas and Texas concern some local residents who fear the quakes are the result of hydrofracturing (fracking) activities being conducted in relation to natural gas and oil drilling and extraction.

And as this map of U.S. quakes in the preceding week shows, the quakes in Oklahoma are the largest in the U.S. for the week.

USGS animation of quakes in US for week ending Nov 6, 2011, afternoon

More quakes in California, on the USGS maps -- but the Oklahoma quakes are biggest

Research continues, and local residents stay nervous.

Here’s a map that should update with new quake information — which means, Oklahomans hope, that the indicators of quakes will go away over the next few days.

USGS map of Oklahoma City/Tulsa area where earthquakes occurred in the week leading up to November 6, 2011

USGS map of Oklahoma City/Tulsa area where earthquakes occurred in the week leading up to November 6, 2011

 


Oklahoma earthquake

March 1, 2010

While attention was on Hawaii, wondering about the tsunami’s effects there, Oklahoma got hit with an earthquake of magnitude 4.1, a big one for such a flat, geologically inactive state (link goes to USGS site).

Epicenter of Oklahoma earthquake, February 27, 2010

Epicenter of Oklahoma earthquake, February 27, 2010

Most likely there is no connection between the Oklahoma quake and any other shaking on Earth in the past week or so.


Texas earthquake!

September 23, 2007

Epicenter of Texas earthquake

Really. A Texas earthquake. September 15, 2007.

Missed it? Well, it was at the dinner hour, 06:16:42 PM (CDT). You may have thought it was Bubba’s great sauce for the barbecue, or the raspberry in the iced tea.

US Geological Survey provides a state-by-state listing of latest earthquakes. Texas is not a particularly active zone — but there are quakes, even here.

This last one, just over a week ago, was a 2.7 on the Richter scale, too weak to merit much news coverage even in the flatlands. It shook Milam County and surprised people there, but it didn’t do much damage:

In terms of destruction, the earthquake was hardly significant.

Emergency responders said they knew of only one report of damage: A teapot fell off of a woman’s stove.

In California, people probably wouldn’t have even noticed the tremor. But this earthquake happened in the Lone Star State and left Brazos Valley residents baffled.

“You just don’t expect your house to shake,” said Burleson County resident Karen Bolt. She was in her trailer home cleaning dishes when the temblor began.

USGS provides more details than you can use:

Magnitude 2.7
Date-Time
  • Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 23:16:42 (UTC) – Coordinated Universal Time
  • Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 06:16:42 PM local time at epicenter
  • Time of Earthquake in other Time Zones

    Location 30.74N 96.74W
    Depth 5.0 kilometers
    Region CENTRAL TEXAS
    Distances 35 km (20 miles) W of Bryan, Texas
    65 km (40 miles) ENE of Taylor, Texas
    110 km (70 miles) ENE of AUSTIN, Texas
    170 km (105 miles) NW of Houston, Texas
    Location Uncertainty Error estimate: horizontal +/- 16.2 km; depth fixed by location program
    Parameters Nst=4, Nph=4, Dmin=123.3 km, Rmss=1.25 sec, Erho=16.2 km, Erzz=0 km, Gp=130.4 degrees
    Source USGS NEIC (WDCS-D)
    Remarks Felt in the Caldwell-Rockdale area.
    Event ID ushhc

    Still, Texans should be relieved it was a small one. The largest recorded Texas earthquake was in 1931, with an epicenter near Valentine. At 5.7 magnitude and VII intensity, it nearly destroyed the little town of Valentine.

    In terms of magnitude and damage, this is the largest earthquake known to have occurred in Texas. The most severe damage was reported at Valentine, where all buildings except wood-frame houses were damaged severely and all brick chimneys toppled or were damaged. The schoolhouse, which consisted of one section of concrete blocks and another section of bricks, was damaged so badly that it had to be rebuilt. Small cracks formed in the schoolhouse yard. Some walls collapsed in adobe buildings, and ceilings and partitions were damaged in wood-frame structures. Some concrete and brick walls were cracked severely. One low wall, reinforced with concrete, was broken and thrown down. Tombstones in a local cemetery were rotated. Damage to property was reported from widely scattered points in Brewster, Jeff Davis, Culberson, and Presidio Counties. Landslides occurred in the Van Horn Mountaiins, southwest of Lobo; in the Chisos Mountains, in the area of Big Bend; and farther northwest, near Pilares and Porvenir. Landslides also occurred in the Guadalupe Mountains, near Carlsbad, New Mexico, and slides of rock and dirt were reported near Picacho, New Mexico. Well water and springs were muddied throughout the area. Also felt in parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, and in Chihauhua and Coahuila, Mexico.

    Texas history courses could make some use of these data, for map reading exercises, and for general geography about the state. Click on the map below, the isoseismal map of the 1931 Valentine, Texas quake, and geography teachers will begin to dream of warm-up exercises right away.

    Isoseismal map of 1931 earthquake near Valentine, Texas

    USGS offers a wealth of information on Texas’ geology and geography — stream flow information, drought information — collected in one spot for each state in a “Science in your backyard” feature.

    Pick your state, pick your topic, and go.


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