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Rapid climate change ruled out ice age trees

17 May 2013, by Alex Peel

Short, sharp fluctuations in the Earth's climate throughout the last ice age may have stopped trees from getting a foothold in Europe and northern Asia, scientists say.

Birch trees on the tundra

According to a new study, warm spells were so brief that trees were unable to establish themselves before the temperature shot back down again.

'The warm events were so short-lived that ecosystems weren't able to respond in full,' says Professor Brian Huntley, of Durham University, who led the study.

'But at the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, when temperatures were sustained at 5°C or so warmer, whole ecosystem patterns shifted, trees became established and a large number of species became extinct,' he adds.

The research, published in PLoS ONE, could give clues about how rapid changes in today's climate will affect the world's ecosystems.

'If we can make sure that it's just a blip, by bringing temperatures back down quickly, perhaps within a century or two, maybe the consequences for ecosystems won't be so awful'
Prof Brian Huntley,
Durham University

'If warming is sustained, then it could result in a shift to a new ecological state, and then we can expect a similar loss of species,' says Huntley.

'But if we can make sure that it's just a blip, by bringing temperatures back down quickly, perhaps within a century or two, maybe the consequences for ecosystems won't be so awful.'

Previous computer simulations of vegetation during the last ice age had suggested that trees may have persisted in ice-free areas of Europe and northern Asia. But, curiously, there has never been any sign of trees in fossils from the region.

In an effort to solve the puzzle, Huntley and his team created a new computer model, for the first time taking account of abrupt fluctuations in the Earth's climate, lasting for just hundreds of years, called Heinrich events.

Heinrich events are thought to have been caused as armadas of icebergs broke from away from a vast northern ice sheet, dumping cold, fresh water into the North Atlantic and disturbing the ocean currents that today wrap Britain in a blanket of warm seas.

When you take those rapid events into account, explains Huntley, the computer models begin to agree with the fossil record.

Without trees to contend with, smaller plants and shrubs would have thrived, providing an ideal diet for large, charismatic mammals.

'There would have been many productive herbaceous and fruiting plants,' says Huntley. 'These would have been able to support large numbers of big mammals like mammoths and woolly rhinos.'

Huntley B, Allen JRM, Collingham YC, Hickler T, Lister AM, 'Millennial Climatic Fluctuations Are Key to the Structure of Last Glacial Ecosystems, PLoS ONE, 2013, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061963

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Your comments

One or two hundred years to redress climate comes with the news of an oil and gas glut, announced to last a good 50 to 100 years, by AIE and others..
The opposite of what has been announced since 1973 when Sheik Yamani told us to pay for oil.
Alternative energies will suffer this renewed competition, and "classic" American econmy is bound to surge.
2017 oil trades at $90
America will be very strong, so will China.

CO2 is bound to increase, with it global warming

There is, and there will be less doubt....

The question is: Will the Living Capital better managed?

See a new tool :
The new multidimentional index created for and adopted by the UN (2010-2011)

Best and friendliest,
Superdog barks for danger....


Superdog, 18249
Sunday, 19 May 2013 - 17:56

One word: Geoengineering.
Google it, read about it, decide for youself.

Try geoengineeringwatch[dot]org

Macki, UK
Monday, 20 May 2013 - 14:17

Many conifers adapted themselves during the Ice Age. That is the reason why conifers, such as the dawn redwood and larch loose their needles in autumn. To conserve energy during the cold spell. With climatic change, these may not be able to adapt. While the ice ages were a slow and gradual process, climatic change is a rapid process, which does not allow species time to gradually adapt.

Tim Upham, United States
Monday, 20 May 2013 - 18:01


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