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Explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation

Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to improve their understanding. Yet this isn't what happens with climate change denial. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet embrace any argument, op-ed, blog or study that purports to refute global warming. This website gets skeptical about global warming skepticism. Do their arguments have any scientific basis? What does the peer reviewed scientific literature say?

 


Inoculating against science denial

Posted on 27 April 2015 by John Cook

The ConversationScience denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused millions of premature deaths. Thanks to vaccination denial, preventable diseases are making a comeback.

Denial is not something we can ignore or, well, deny. So what does scientific research say is the most effective response? Common wisdom says that communicating more science should be the solution. But a growing body of evidence indicates that this approach can actually backfire, reinforcing people’s prior beliefs.

When you present evidence that threatens a person’s worldview, it can actually strengthen their beliefs. This is called the “worldview backfire effect”. One of the first scientific experiments that observed this effect dates back to 1975.

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10 comments


2015 SkS Weekly Digest #17

Posted on 26 April 2015 by John Hartz

SkS Highlights

Lomborg: a detailed citation analysis by CJA Bradshaw (ConservationBytes.com) attracted the highest number of comments of the articles posted on SkS during the past week. Coming in second was Permafrost feedback update 2015: is it good or bad news? by Andy Skuce. 

We Heart Chris Mooney

On the week of Sept. 8, 2014, the Web site Skeptical Science launched an online campaign to emphasize the broad scientific agreement about climate change. It was called “97 hours of consensus,” and for each hour, the organizers put out a new statement from a climate scientist highlighting the scientific consensus — accompanied by tweetable cartoon images of each scientist.

The campaign was popular enough that organizers claimed to have reached “millions” online. A tweet from Barack Obama surely didn’t hurt:

Barak Obama's Tweet re the TCP

The campaign did indeed create a successful spike in online attention, say the authors of a new academic analysis that crunches vast amounts of Web data to compare how differently Twitter and the mainstream media handle the subject of climate change.

Why you shouldn’t only get your climate change news from the mainstream media by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Apr 21, 2015

Toon of the Week

 2015 Toon 17

Hat tip to I Heart Climate Scientists

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6 comments


2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #17B

Posted on 25 April 2015 by John Hartz

Australia 'public enemy number one' of UN climate talks, says Nobel laureate

Australia is emerging as “public enemy number one” of the United Nations climate change negotiations to be held in Paris in December, according to a Nobel laureate of medicine speaking from a sustainability symposium in Hong Kong.

Prof Peter Doherty is representing Australia at the symposium, held every three years and which is being attended by 11 other laureates from around the world, who will sign a memorandum detailing their recommendations for making major cities sustainable.

The four-day symposium ends on Saturday afternoon, and Doherty said a clear message had emerged from his peers, who hold expertise across specialities including climate, economics and business.

“People are saying informally that Australia and Canada are emerging as public enemy number one for the Paris talks on climate,” Doherty said.

“No other names are being mentioned. Australia is seen as very much out of touch and out of sync with what’s happening globally.” 

Australia 'public enemy number one' of UN climate talks, says Nobel laureate by Melissa Davis, The Guardian, Apr 24, 2015


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Lomborg: a detailed citation analysis

Posted on 24 April 2015 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from ConservationBytes

There’s been quite a bit of palaver recently about the invasion of Lomborg’s ‘Consensus’ Centre to the University of Western Australia, including inter alia that there was no competitive process for the award of $4 million of taxpayer money from the Commonwealth Government, that Lomborg is a charlatan with a not-terribly-well-hidden anti-climate change agenda, and that he his not an academic and possesses no credibility, so he should have no right to be given an academic appointment at one of Australia’s leading research universities.

On that last point, there’s been much confusion among non-academics about what it means to have no credible academic track record. In my previous post, I reproduced a letter from the Head of UWA’s School of Animal Biology, Professor Sarah Dunlop where she stated that Lomborg had a laughably low h-index of only 3. The Australian, in all their brilliant capacity to report the unvarnished truth, claimed that a certain Professor Ian Hall of Griffith University had instead determined that Lomborg’s h-index was 21 based on Harzing’s Publish or Perish software tool. As I show below, if Professor Hall did indeed conclude this, it shows he knows next to nothing about citation indices.

What is a ‘h-index’ and why does it matter? Below I provide an explainer as well as some rigorous analysis of Lomborg’s track record.

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51 comments


Changes in water vapor and clouds are amplifying global warming

Posted on 23 April 2015 by John Abraham

A very new paper currently in press shines light on climate feedbacks and the balance of energy flows to and from the Earth. The paper was published by Kevin Trenberth, Yongxin Zhang, John Fasullo, and Shoichi Taguchi. In this study, the authors ask and answer a number of challenging questions. Their findings move us a big step forward in understanding what is happening to the planet now, and how the climate will evolve into the future.

So, what did the scientists do? First, they used measurements at the top of the Earth atmosphere to count the energy coming into the Earth system and the energy leaving the planet. The measurements were made by satellites as part of the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System project (CERES for short). By subtracting one energy flow from the other, they found what is called the Earth’s energy imbalance. Most studies show that the energy imbalance is in the range of 0.5 to 1 Watt per square meter of surface area, which is causing ongoing global warming.

What the authors then asked is, how does this imbalance change? It turns out, the imbalance changes a lot over time. On a monthly basis the balance might change 1 Watt per square meter of surface area. The changes are caused principally by changes to clouds and water vapor, and other short-term weather patterns. Clouds have the ability to reflect sunlight back to space; however, clouds also have the ability to trap more heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. So, short-term fluctuations in clouds have large impacts on the net rate of heat gain by the Earth.

The authors also correlated the observed temperatures, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, and the flow of radiant energy to explore how they affect each other. They found a strong relationship between the outgoing long wavelength radiation (infrared energy) and temperature; however, this relationship varies substantially across the planet. In fact, the relationship switches sign in some regions, such as the tropics. Measurements of the absorbed incoming radiation from the sun provided direct indications of the effects of clouds on that quantity.

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8 comments


2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #17A

Posted on 22 April 2015 by John Hartz

Big insurance companies are warning the U.S. to prepare for climate change

A coalition of big insurance companies, consumer groups, and environmental advocates are urging the United States to overhaul its disaster policies in the face of increasingly extreme weather due to human-caused climate change.

According to a report released Tuesday by the SmarterSafer coalition, the U.S. needs to increase how much it spends on pre-disaster mitigation efforts and infrastructure protection. That way, it asserts, the U.S. can stop wasting so much money on cleaning up after a disaster happens.

“Our current natural disaster policy framework focuses heavily on responding to disasters, rather than putting protective measures in place to reduce our vulnerability and limit a disaster’s impact,” the report reads. “This needlessly exposes Americans to greater risks to life and property and results in much higher costs to the federal government.”

Big Insurance Companies Are Warning The U.S. To Prepare For Climate Change by Emily Atkin, Climate Central, Apr 21, 2015


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4 comments


University of Queensland offering free online course to demolish climate denial

Posted on 21 April 2015 by dana1981

Starting April 28th, 2015, the University of Queensland is offering a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) aimed at “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.”

The course coordinator is John Cook, University of Queensland Global Change Institute Climate Communication Fellow, and founder of the climate science myth debunking website Skeptical ScienceCook’s research has primarily focused on the psychology of climate science denial. As he explains,

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7 comments


Permafrost feedback update 2015: is it good or bad news?

Posted on 20 April 2015 by Andy Skuce

We have good reason to be concerned about the potential for nasty climate feedbacks from thawing permafrost in the Arctic. Consider:

  • The Arctic contains huge stores of plant matter in its frozen soils. Over one-third of all the carbon stored in all of the soils of the Earth are found in this region, which hosts just 15% of the planet's soil-covered area.
  • The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The vegetable matter in the soils is being taken out of the northern freezer and placed on the global kitchen counter to decompose. Microbes will take full advantage of this exceptional dining opportunity and will convert part of these plant remains into carbon dioxide and methane.
  • These gases will add to the already enhanced greenhouse effect that caused the Arctic warming, providing a further boost to warming. There's plenty of scope for these emissions to cause significant climatic mischief: the amount of carbon in the permafrost is double the amount currently in the air. 

But exactly how bad will it be, and how quickly will it cause problems for us? Does the latest research bring good news or bad?

Ted Schuur and sixteen other permafrost experts have just published a review paper in Nature: Climate change and the permafrost feedback (paywalled). This long and authoritative article (7 pages of text, plus 97 references) provides a state-of-the-art update on the expected response of permafrost thawing to man-made climate change. Much of the work reported on in this paper has been published since the 2013 IPCC AR5 report. It covers new observations of permafrost thickness and carbon content, along with laboratory experiments on permafrost decomposition and the results of several modelling exercises.

The overall conclusion is that, although the permafrost feedback is unlikely to cause abrupt climate change in the near future, the feedback is going to make climate change worse over the second half of this century and beyond. The emissions quantities are still uncertain, but the central estimate would be like adding an additional country with the unmitigated emissions the current size of the United States' for at least the rest of the century. This will not cause a climate catastrophe by itself, but it will make preventing dangerous climate change that much more difficult. As if it wasn't hard enough already.

Observations

There's a lot of information in this paper and, rather than attempt to describe it all in long form, I'll try to capture the main findings in bullet points. 

  • The top three metres of permafrost contain about 1035 PgC (billion tonnes of carbon). This is similar to previous estimates, but is now supported by ten times as many observations below the top 1 m depth. Very roughly, the deepest deposits richest in carbon are near the Russian, Alaskan and Canadian Arctic coasts, with the poorest in mountainous regions and in areas close to glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet.

The carbon content in the top three metres of permafrost soils. From Hugelius et al (2013).

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22 comments


2015 SkS Weekly Digest #16

Posted on 19 April 2015 by John Hartz

SkS Highlights

Andy Lacis responds to Steve Koonin, a guest post by ATTP of the blog site, and Then There's Physics, garnered the most comments of the articles posted on SkS during the past week.    

We Heart CleanTechnica

Many of us here at CleanTechnica are big fans of the site Skeptical Science. Skeptical Science has a great system for debunking common myths put forward by global warming deniers, and then getting those articles and key points out to more people. Bob Wallace had the excellent idea of doing something similar with regard to anti-cleantech myths.

Toon of the Week

2015 Toon 17 

Hat tip to I Heart Climate Scientists

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0 comments


2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #16B

Posted on 18 April 2015 by John Hartz

2015 hottest year to date, could top 2014 record

By the reckoning of the three main agencies that track global temperature, 2015 has so far been the warmest year in more than a century. Coming immediately after the hottest year on record, the ranking serves as a reminder of how much the globe’s overall temperature has risen thanks to the ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

With the year only a quarter through, it’s difficult to say definitively how 2015 as a whole will turn out. But with an El Niño event currently in place that could help keep temperatures at record or near-record levels for the remainder of the year, 2015 may be poised to eclipse 2014’s newly minted record, though climate scientists are cautious on such pronouncements.

Land & Ocean Temperature Departure from Average: Jan-Mar 2015

How surface temperatures around the world varied from the 20th century average over the period from January to March 2015. Credit: NOAA

“We expect that we are going to get more warm years, and just as with 2014, records will be broken increasingly in the future. But perhaps not every year,” said Gavin Schmidt, who leads NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies.

2015 Hottest Year to Date, Could Top 2014 Record by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Apr 17, 2015


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The Rise of Skeptical Science

Posted on 18 April 2015 by CollinMaessen

This is a re-post from Real Sceptic

Everyone at Skeptical Science spends a lot of their time reading the scientific literature and listening to experts. Without that we wouldn’t be able to write all the material that’s published on Skeptical Science. It’s a lot of work, especially when you do this with a critical eye. Our goal, after all, is to ensure that what we write reflects the scientific literature on the subject as accurately as possible.

The materials created by Skeptical Science are used by teachers, politicians, and of course by users on the internet to rebut climate myths. Thanks to this a lot of people have seen materials produced by us, even though they might not know that they have.

The website Skeptical Science wasn’t created overnight, nor was the team behind it assembled instantly. It started small with John Cook starting the website and publishing the first rebuttals to climate myths. As I wasn’t familiar with the story of how Skeptical Science evolved to the website it is today I had the idea to interview John about this.

Despite John constantly saying “I’m just not that interesting” I eventually managed to get him in front of the camera:

This video is longer than usual and is right at the limit of how long I make my videos. But the story of Skeptical Science is an interesting one with a lot of anecdotes of how the team came together and how the website evolved. Well worth your time if you want to know the history of Skeptical Science (plus there’s a fun little bonus if you watch the video till the end).

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2 comments


New Video: The Trouble at Totten Glacier

Posted on 17 April 2015 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Peter Sinclair at Climate Crocks

The latest “This is Not Cool” video is the third in a trilogy of very important, and sobering, pieces I’ve posted over the last year. I didn’t start with a trilogy in mind, but the developments of the last few months have been jarring and momentous.

Chris Mooney wrote recently in the Washington Post, “A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.”
He added, “Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again.”

The decades-long unfolding of this story – that vast areas of ice once thought to be invulnerable on time scales meaningful to humans, may in fact already be in the process of disintegration – is one that that the vast majority of humanity still does not understand, and that the media has been unwilling to track.  It’s a realization that, one top expert told us, even seasoned ice sheet veterans find “shattering”.

For this video I used in-person interviews from December’s AGU conference, as well as a skype chat with Jamin Greenbaum of the University of Texas, whose recent research on East Antarctic vulnerability has been widely reported. Jamin pointed me to some Australian research from the same area.  There was a huge volume of material, not all of which made it into this video, but which I’ll be posting in coming weeks to flesh out the picture.
The overriding message: we have a problem.

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4 comments


Western Canada’s glaciers could shrink by as much as 95% by 2100, study finds

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from Robert McSweeney at Carbon Brief

The Canadian Rockies, which sit as a backdrop to many a stunning vista, could be almost entirely devoid of glaciers by the end of the century, a new study suggests.

Researchers modelled the impact of rising temperatures on glaciers across western Canada.

The results show widespread ice loss by 2050, and ice all but vanishing a few decades later.

Rising temperatures

Around 27,000 square kilometers of Western Canada is covered by glaciers, an area similar in size to the amount of ice in the Himalayas or the whole of South America.

For the new study, published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers developed a model to see how rising temperatures will affect the volume and area of glaciers in three regions in western Canada. These regions are shown in the map below: the coast (green sections), the interior (pink) and the Rockies (blue).

Clarke Et Al Fig1

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4 comments


2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #16A

Posted on 15 April 2015 by John Hartz

Britain's fish 'n' chip favourites could dwindle as North Sea warms

The likes of haddock, plaice and lemon sole could find the North Sea a less comfortable place to live as the world's oceans warm up, according to a new study.

The findings suggest that some of our favourite fish species could become less common as they struggle to cope with warming conditions, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Britain’s fish ‘n’ chip favourites could dwindle as North Sea warms by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, Apr 13, 2015


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Price on carbon key to Canada tackling global warming, say researchers

Posted on 15 April 2015 by dana1981

65 researchers from provinces across Canada have published a report, Acting on Climate Change, that details how the country can successfully decarbonize its electric grid to slow global warming.

map

Map of researchers contributing to the Acting on Climate Change report.

The team unanimously endorsed putting a price on carbon pollution as a key strategy. Without a carbon fee, the price of electricity on the market doesn’t reflect its true costs to society. This is a market failure that economists call an “externality,” where the costs associated with a product (in this case, damages incurred via climate change) aren’t captured in its market price. Instead they’re paid by taxpayers in what could be considered a massive subsidy to the fossil fuel industry.

Most economists support putting a price on carbon pollution in order to correct this market failure. Acting on Climate Change notes that this could be accomplished with either a carbon tax or cap and trade system. So far, the province of British Columbia has implemented a highly popular and successful revenue-neutral carbon tax, while the province of Québec has adopted a cap and trade system in coordination with California as part of the Western Climate Initiative, and Ontario has just announced that it will also implement a carbon cap and trade system.

In addition to carbon pricing, some other key policies suggested in the report include,

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Hungarian translation of The Debunking Handbook

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Guest Author

This is a guest post by András G. Pintér who is the vice-president of the Hungarian Skeptic Society.

Thanks to the co-operation of a few enthusiastic people, The Debunking Handbook is now available in Hungarian. Although, the translation project was initiated by the Hungarian Skeptic Society about a year ago, the job itself was completed by a supdbh_hungarianporter of our organization by the name Ilona L'Homme, leaving us with only some polishing work to do on the text before sending it back to author John Cook for the final touches on the design.

Many thanks to the authors and the translator who provided Hungarian skeptics with an important tool for the most difficult challenge we tend to take on: correcting erroneous beliefs and mindsets of other people.

Since it fits perfectly into our actions of skeptical activism (lectures, conventions, shows, blogs and social media presence), we are planning to spread the word and make this booklet known to as many people as possible within the Hungarian skeptical movement (and beyond).

It seems like a small thing to do, but far from it: it is a powerful tool, that's now within reach for even those who happen not to have a very strong conduct of English.

We could not be more grateful for this booklet. Let it be translated to all the languages, so that everyone has the chance to use it for the benefit of all.

Note to other translators:

If you'd like to translate the Debunking Handbook into another language, please download the two-column Word document which has the English text in one column and a blank column where you can add the translated text. Email the complete document back to us, and we'll insert it into the existing design. To ensure that no one else is already working on your language, please contact us first by selecting "Enquiry about translations" from the contact form's dropdown menu.

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3 comments


Andy Lacis responds to Steve Koonin

Posted on 13 April 2015 by Guest Author

This is a re-post from And Then There's Physics

I know Eli’s already posted Andy Lacis’s response to Steve Koonin on Judith Curry’s blog, but I thought it worth repeating. It’s a pretty impressive comment in terms of what it covers, so it’s worth reading in it’s own right. I do find myself amazed at what Steve Koonin has been willing to say. Ignoring that much of what he says suggests a woeful lack of understanding of the topic itself, that anyone of his supposed intellectual calibre would construct an argument that essentially goes “look, this number is small, nothing to worry about” is remarkable, and not in a good way. It’s one thing to suffer from hubris, but it’s hard to see why if one’s argument is so obviously silly. Maybe Eli’s right that the best description is beyond contempt.

credit : xkcd

credit : xkcd

Anyway, Andy Lacis’s comment is below (bolds mine).

Physicists should take the time to understand their physics better (Comment: some of us are trying :-) )

Only 1% to 2% . . . that may sound small and insignificant . . . but it isn’t.

It is well known that the normal human body temperature is about 310 K. Furthermore, it is also well known that a seemingly small change (up or down) in absolute body temperature by only 1% (3.1 K, or 5.6 F) would make one sicker than a dog, and, that a 2% change in body temperature (up or down by 6.2 K, or 11.2 F) will virtually guarantee a dead body. From this, it should be sufficiently clear that, when viewed in absolute energy terms, the viable margin between life and death in the Earth’s biosphere is remarkably narrow – so much so that a seemingly insignificant 1% to 2% change in the total energy of the global environment will invariably result in serious disruption of the established infrastructure of life in the biosphere.

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2015 SkS Weekly Digest #15

Posted on 12 April 2015 by John Hartz

SkS Highlights

The history of emissions and the Great Acceleration by Andy Skuce generated the highest number of comments of the articles posted on SkS during the past week. Coming in second and third, repectively, were Global warming hiatus explained and it's not good news by Graham Readfearn, and The global warming 'pause' is more politics than science by Dana. 

El Niño Watch

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a 60 percent chance that the El Niño it declared in March will continue all year. An El Niño is a weather pattern “characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.”

There’s A 60 Percent Chance El Niño Could Last All Year by Joe Romm, Climate Progress, Apr 10, 2015 

Toon of the Week

2015 Toon 15 

Hat tip to I Heart Climate Scientists

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7 comments


2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #15B

Posted on 11 April 2015 by John Hartz

California's new era of heat destroys all previous records

The California heat of the past 12 months is like nothing ever seen in records going back to 1895. The 12 months before that were similarly without precedent. And the 12 months before that? A freakishly hot year, too. 

What's happening in California right now is shattering modern temperature measurements—as well as tree-ring records that stretch back more than 1,000 years. It's no longer just a record-hot month or a record-hot year that California faces. It's a stack of broken records leading to the worst drought that's ever beset the Golden State.  

The chart below shows average temperatures for the 12 months through March 31, for each year going back to 1895. The orange line shows the trend rising roughly 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, just a bit faster than the warming trend observed worldwide.

 California Avg. Annual Temps: 1900-2014

12-Month Average Temperature (°F), April-March. Source: NOAA / Bloomberg

California's New Era of Heat Destroys All Previous Records by Tom Randall, Bloomberg, Apr 10, 2015


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New paper shows how sensitive the ocean biosystem is to climate change

Posted on 10 April 2015 by John Abraham

Changes to the climate have had major impacts on the oceans and the biological systems that live there. A new study sheds more light on how fast these systems respond to changes. What the authors find is that short term climate changes can require 1,000 years for recovery. This means the current harm caused to the deep oceans by the changing climate will last for many centuries to come.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Dr. Sarah Moffitt and her colleagues is novel for a number of reasons. The researchers took core samples from ocean floor regions off the coast of California. The location was chosen in part because of the exceptional synchrony between sediment archives from offshore California and ice core records from the Greenland Ice sheet.

Dr. Sarah Moffitt.  Photo credit: Wayne Freedman Dr. Sarah Moffitt. Photo credit: Wayne Freedman

The authors’ method was novel because they sampled many different types of creatures, not merely the single-celled organisms that are most commonly studied. In fact, the authors included Mollusca, Echinodermata, Arthropods, and Annelida samples (approximately 5,000 fossils). There was major “turnover” in these animals with only small changes to oxygen levels.

Using the ocean sediment core, the authors were able to travel back in time to the last deglaciation. They connected cooling and warming events to increases and decreases in the oxygen contained within the waters. Past events of abrupt warming, which occurred in decades to centuries and were accompanied by subsurface oxygen loss, significantly impacted the types and numbers of animals found within the sediments. Recovery from this abrupt, climate-forced disturbance can take 1,000 years.

Among the changes documented are expansions and intensification of oxygen poor regions. These regions, called “Oxygen Minimum Zones” get larger when the oceans warm. As these oxygen poor zones get larger, there is a predominance of animals that thrive in low-oxygen environments. Animals that need higher levels of oxygen suffer and die off.

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