Year 4, Month 9, Day 30: Break Your Heart and Leave You To Sing

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on an ichthyologist who’s noticing stuff:

On a dark night in the middle of a wide marsh near Tuckerton, N.J., a team of Rutgers University researchers lowered a net over the railing of an old wooden bridge. Then they turned off their flashlights and waited.

Below, in Little Sheepshead Creek, the incoming tide was washing hundreds of tiny fish larvae into the net.

By now – 24 years after these weekly surveys began – Rutgers ichthyologist Ken Able is seeing the unmistakable effects of warming oceans and climate change. Especially in the last decade, the researchers have been seeing more southern species, including the larvae of grouper, a fish common in Florida. At the same time, they’ve been capturing fewer northern species, such as winter flounder.

The changes Able is recording at Little Sheepshead Creek, near Great Bay, are reflected along the East Coast and worldwide. They have the potential not only to alter ecosystems, but also to change the seafood on our dinner plates. Out on Jersey’s beaches, where Atlantic croaker catches used to be a rarity – this was considered the northern end of the fish’s range – anglers now commonly reel them in.

Have a beer. September 22:

The dramatic relocation of fishes to more hospitable locales isn’t the only example of climate change’s effects on the interdependent systems of Earthly life. As the greenhouse effect intensifies, more and more plants and animals will be forced from endangered regional ecosystems into new territories, with unpredictable consequences not just for our meals, but for the other species they encounter. When human beings are forced from their homes by drought, extreme storms, or rising sea levels, we call them “climate refugees,” and the term is as accurate for Atlantic Croakers and other displaced fish as it is for members of our own species.

For fish to relocate to cooler water doesn’t sound like such a big deal — but it could easily be catastrophic for many other species struggling for survival in a complex, symbiotic oceanic environment. An unraveling web of life ultimately leaves us all uprooted and unsupported.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 7, Day 7: Looking Pale And Interesting

Well, that certainly sucks. WaPo:

At the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the tiny bodies of Arctic tern chicks have piled up. Over the past few years, biologists have counted thousands that starved to death because the herring their parents feed them have vanished.

Puffins are also having trouble feeding their chicks, which weigh less than previous broods. When the parents leave the chicks to fend for themselves, the young birds are failing to find food, and hundreds are washing up dead on the Atlantic coast.

Biologists worry that birds such as Arctic terns are starving, as climate change is leading to food shortages.

What’s happening to migratory seabirds? Biologists are worried about a twofold problem: Commercial fishing is reducing their food source, and climate change is causing fish to seek colder waters, according to a bulletin released Tuesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We’ve seen a 40 percent decline of Arctic terns in the last 10 years,” said Linda Welch, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist at the refuge. Arctic tern pairs in Maine have fallen from 4,224 pairs in 2008 to 2,467 pairs last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Biologists at the Maine refuge are not sure whether herring sought colder waters elsewhere or went deeper, but they are no longer on the surface, from which Arctic terns pluck them. While other birds can dive deep for food, Arctic terns cannot.

Fuck it. I’m going out to weed the garden. June 20:

As the Anthropocene Epoch lurches into full view, we humans won’t be able to avert our eyes from the consequences of our actions. While it’s hardly intuitive that industrial CO2 emissions may be at the head of a causal sequence resulting in the deaths of countless thousands of migratory birds, it’s no less improbable than the notion that we power our cars, heat our houses, and propel our civilization with the liquid fossilized remains of dinosaurs and prehistoric plant life.

The grim fact is that our consumerist culture is working exactly as advertised: we modern humans devour everything, heedless of the consequences. Ultimately, there is one true economy — the natural resources upon which all Earthly life depends — and we’re overdrawing our environmental bank account several times over. Through no fault of their own, those Arctic Terns are paying a hard price for our profligacy. Will we follow them?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 10: I, For One, Welcome Our New Blattarian Overlords

The Christian Science Monitor (which has never yet printed one of my letters, but a boy can dream, can’t he?) notes the work of a Dr. Mark Urban, who has some bad news for lovers of our Earthly flora and fauna:

As climate change progresses, the planet may lose more plant and animal species than predicted, a new modeling study suggests.

This is because current predictions overlook two important factors: the differences in how quickly species relocate and competition among species, according to the researchers, led by Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut.

Already evidence suggests that species have begun to migrate out of ranges made inhospitable by climate change and into newly hospitable territory.

“We have really sophisticated meteorological models for predicting climate change,” Urban said in a statement. “But in real life, animals move around, they compete, they parasitize each other and they eat each other. The majority of our predictions don’t include these important interactions.”

Ahhh, yes — but has he taken into consideration the effect of hybrid sharks?

Sent January 6:

It’s inevitable: the results of the University of Connecticut study will be used to reinforce the notion that since scientists’ work on planetary climate change is often affected by error, the problems of global warming have been rendered nugatory. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As anyone who’s worked on a committee can confirm, consensus-driven documents are inherently more conservative than the views of the individual authors. Conversely, lone specialists or unidisciplinary teams may apply deep levels of insight to their research while neglecting contributing factors that lie outside their areas of expertise. Both problems are common in published work on climate change, and lend fuel to a “don’t worry, be happy” interpretation that fixates on the existence of errors without noting the simple fact that almost without exception, climate scientists have erred by being too timid. As Dr. Urban’s study confirms, the problem is worse than we thought.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 8: There Is Grandeur In This View Of Life

The Columbus, IN Republic prints an article from the Hartford Courier on evolutionary processes triggered by climate change:

HARTFORD, Conn. — Numerous species already have enough to contend with as climate changes drive them out of their natural habitats; a new study shows that they also have to compete with each other in outrunning those changes.

The University of Connecticut study, to be published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, suggests that the effects of climate change on wildlife are a good deal more complicated than previously thought.

Mark Urban, an assistant professor of ecology and environmental biology who led the new research, said many studies conducted on climate change and its potential impact on wildlife feature complex meteorological models to predict changes in climate.

What they don’t feature, he said, are equally complex models of how wildlife will react to those climate changes. Real-world factors — the different rates at which animals migrate, how they prey on each other and how they get in each other’s way — need to be included for a more accurate picture.

Killing two bird-brains with one stone, eh? Sent January 4:

Darwin-deniers are overwhelmingly likely to be climate-change deniers, and vice-versa; both groups can expect significant learning experiences during the coming century, as global warming pushes countless animal species out of their accustomed ecological niches and into intense evolutionary competition with one another.

However, both groups share the habit of ignoring evidence and embracing dogma, so it’s anyone’s guess how long their entrenched ideological positions will hold out in the face of rapid extinctions, extreme weather events, unexpected crossbreeds (like the new species of hybrid shark recently found off the coast of Australia), droughts, floods, and all the other epiphenomena of a runaway greenhouse effect.

Yes, biological evolution makes some people uncomfortable; yes, the notion that a century spent pumping carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere might eventually have some negative effects is disturbing. But “uncomfortable” and “disturbing” won’t even begin to describe the future that awaits us should we continue on our carbon-burning, fact-phobic path.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 5, Day 7: Sawing Off The Branch We’re Sitting On

A very depressing article in the Sydney Morning Herald about worldwide mass extinctions. Some days this letter-writing thing is no bloody fun at all.

Sent April 28:

As the slow-motion catastrophe of climate change triggers countless extinctions across the globe, it becomes increasingly apparent that our anthropocentric worldview is an essentially destructive one. No living thing on the planet exists in isolation; everywhere we find greater and lesser synergies between different forms of life, each depending on the other for nourishment, for reproduction, for its very survival. Yet in the newly minted Anthropocene Epoch, our species fails to acknowledge the many and varied webs of interdependence that bind us to the rest of creation, as we heedlessly rend the intricate fabric of earthly life. Let us paraphrase John Donne, and recognize that “no living thing is an island, every living thing is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Humanity risks its own survival; unless we change our ways, we will learn too late that the bell tolls for all of us.

Warren Senders