Global Warming Speed Imperils Habitats

| 6/28/2013 3:27:00 PM

Atlantic CodHaving global temperatures at levels not seen in humanity’s lifetime is scary enough, but the worst news may be how fast the globe is warming. That is truly unprecedented.

Previous major temperature swings took place over tens and hundreds of thousands of years – we’re doing ours in a mere hundred. That means that with previous temperature swings, the planet and every living thing on it had plenty, plenty of time to adjust. This time, we don’t.

A warming planet means that habitat zones are shifting, usually either more toward the poles, or upward. That means if you’re adapted to living in the climate that normally exists at the base of the Rocky Mountains in California, you’re going to have to start moving up the slopes, or north to Canada. Naturally, there’s physical limit to how long this strategy will work! In Australia, they’ve monitored species that have moved southward (toward to pole) as that subcontinent has warmed, until they’ve run up against its edge. As the climate continues to shift, they’ll have no place left to move and will die out.

A couple of recent studies highlight the issues:

1. At the current pace of change, 57 percent of plants (which have a harder time “moving”) and 37 percent of animals are likely to see a 50 percent reduction in their habitats by 2080. Which is not far away in a species migration time frame. (source: Nature Climate Change)

2. Worse, as the temperature rises, the pace of habitat shifting actually accelerates, which means that the above figures are understatements. (source: Nature Climate Change)

6/30/2013 8:30:21 AM

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