10 April 2010

Climate Change and Birds Audubon Presentation

Retired meteorologist John Pollock gave a presentation on climate change and how it may affect birds at the April 8th monthly meeting of the Audubon Society of Omaha.

The talk - Climate Change: It's Not for the Birds - was based on his recent investigations into climate change, and the hour-long presentation gave detailed information depicting how climate change is known to be occurring.

His presentation was well presented and vividly conveyed how science is being used to understand dramatic changes to the global climate. Slides included many graphs and figures, essential to showing the climatic situation.

Especially useful examples included these specifics:

  • Changes in global temperatures since the early 1800s.
  • Changes in the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere: the atmospheric level was about 315 ppm in 1958, 385 ppm in 2007 and based on projections may exceed 500 ppm before A.D. 2100. The levels of this gas, have a huge impact on weather and temperature, according to solid scientific studies.
  • Climatic change depicted by research on conditions thousands of years in the past, including studies of ice cores and tree rings.
  • How biome shifts will change as climatic conditions differ; this would include shifts in elevation for plants or animals, changes to the conditions of islands due to differences in sea levels, how refugia for species can be altered, and the dramatic influence of global scale differences caused by changes in ice sheets or glacial conditions.

The influence of volcanic eruptions was also a topic of discussion.

Based on the research their is the possibility "twenty-first century CO2 levels resemble the early Miocene period," of about 3.2 million years ago, Pollock mused during the discussion among the more than 35 people attending.

Illustrated during the presentation were results from long-term studies indicating dramatic fluctuations in climatic conditions.

As climates change - with variable temperatures and precipitation - vegetation adapts and will significantly respond to the growing conditions, which can alter the range suitable for animal species dependent on particular vegetation for their survive.

Most of the details he presented to the members of the local conservation group were about the climate, but Pollack finished up with some details pertinent to birds.

Shifts in the ranges of birds can occur for several reasons, Pollock indicated, including changes in the distribution of vegetation, habits of birds which may pioneer into new areas and change the known range of a species, new behavioral strategies, to cite some examples.

Negative influences of a warming climate apparent to Pollock were: vanishing islands, inundated deltas of rivers at the sea coast, influences of invasive species, impacts from large regions of human disturbance, shrinking or vanishing biomes.

"Changes are probably on the way," Pollack said. "We don't know when drastic climate changes will take place," but they can be expected.

Pollock urged some conservation strategies to help lessen the impacts to birds because of differences in habitat as the climate changes. He also did not expect to see efforts made to address this issue, and pondered if a climatic disaster was necessary to change the political climate enough for people to become concerned with the issue to make the changes necessary to reduce the human impact on the environment.

Pollack plans to continue his efforts to educate people about climate change. He retired early in 2009, after working for the National Weather Service since 1978 and now gives particular attention to researching climate change. Before he started his career, John Pollack received a B.S. and M.S. degree in meteorology.

The 2010 State of the Birds report was recently released, with its entire content a discussion of climatic influences on wild birds. The report "shows that climate changes will have an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats, with oceanic and Hawaiian birds in greatest peril."

"Climate Science Centers will help support a network of new Landscape Conservation Cooperatives that will engage federal agencies, tribal, state, and local governmental and non-governmental partners, and the public in crafting practical, landscape-level strategies for managing climate change impacts on land, natural, and cultural resources within the eight regions."

The 32 report includes key findings and was a cooperative project by numerous agencies and NGO's involved with bird conservation.

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