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 3, Day 16: I Guess I’ll Go Hang Out With Quinn The Eskimo

For the full flavor of this article on climate change’s effects in our national park system, I recommend visiting and reading the comments. Oy. Anyway, here’s the gist of the piece:

CODY — Summer visitors to the Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone National Park could benefit from a warming climate, though fires would likely increase, water would run short by season’s end, and some species could vanish from the landscape.

Those are predictions of a new study released by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. The report looks at the impacts that climate change would have on the Shoshone and the consequences to the surrounding ecosystem.

Janine Rice, lead author of the study from the University of Colorado, found that climate records over the past 100 years indicate a 2-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperatures on the Shoshone during the summer and fall, and a 4-degree increase in winter and spring.

The report suggests that more warming has taken place at higher elevations than lower elevations. If the trend continues, temperatures across the forest could rise between 2 and 10 degrees in this century.

But Al Gore is fat. Sent March 16:

The Rocky Mountain Research Station’s new study on the effects of climate change takes on very powerful meaning when it’s understood in a larger context. To be sure, even relatively minor warming for Shoshone and Yellowstone National Parks will trigger profound consequences — there’s nothing trivial about more fires, less water, and an increase in regional extinctions.

But to really grasp the import of this study, it’s necessary to remember that climate change’s impacts aren’t restricted to a few beautiful pieces of parkland. Those wildfires will burn all over the West, not just in the sagebrush of Shoshone — and the water to extinguish them will be unavailable everywhere in the region.

There aren’t enough scientists to do predictive studies on every ecological niche on the planet. Those few areas which get investigated are the canaries in the coal mine for the rest of us. We need to pay attention.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 3, Day 13: The Pelicans In The Coal Mine

The Marin Independent Journal (CA) runs an article on a study detailing the threat posed by climate change to a great many local bird species:

Several bird species in Marin and around the state are at risk because of climate change as the sea level rises and affects habitat, according to a new study.

The brown pelican, western snowy plover and California clapper rail are among the species in Marin that could be affected by changing temperatures, states the report issued by PRBO Conservation Science and the Department of Fish and Game. The study was published last week in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study found that wetland species are more vulnerable than other groups of birds because they are in specialized habitats along bay areas. Those habitats will be threatened as ice caps melt and the sea level rises, which could affect the California black rail, seen along Tomales Bay.

Written in a Boston restaurant close to New England Conservatory; I’m on my way to sing a raga-ized adaptation of “Barbara Allen” at an NEC concert. Sent March 7:

Marin county’s shorebirds are a microcosm of the countless varieties of Earthly life that are threatened by the effects of global warming. Tragically, human beings often seem unable to grasp the gravity of the situation. And no wonder, for what’s needed is a form of wisdom that is in very short supply. Few of us can imagine anything outside our own regional environments, or beyond the timespan of our own limited lives — and climate change is both larger and longer than anything we recognize.

It’s useful to keep this in mind when reading the derisive comments of climate-change denialists, who are increasingly grasping at straws to maintain their locally-based illusions, while the scientific evidence confirming the greenhouse effect’s human origin accumulates. They may use the argument from incredulity (an inability to imagine any human actions affecting the entire planet), the argument from incomprehension (an inadequate grasp of basic science), or the argument from selfishness (unwillingness to give up a convenient and comfortable lifestyle). All the snide put-downs of Al Gore, attempts to resurrect the long-debunked “climategate” non-scandal, cherry-picked temperature measurements, irrelevancies and red herrings — all of these represent failures of imagination, understanding, or morality.

If losing a few species of bird to a changing climate seems no great tragedy, it is because we have chosen to ignore that what is happening in Marin is happening everywhere around the world. Whether we know it or not, our lives are impoverished thereby.

Warren Senders