Climate Change Led To Decline Of Ice Age Trees: Study

Jun 11th, 2013 | By | Category: Advocacy, Biodiversity, Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Global Warming, Information and Communication, Lessons, Research

Elephants_in_Mudumulai_biodiversity_reserveOne World SA: Sustained global warming will wipe out an uncountable number of plant and animal species, says a new report based on a path-breaking study of similar climatic changes through the ice age.

In a study that could show how rapid changes in climate could devastate global ecosystems, a group of British scientists have discovered that short, sharp fluctuations in the Earth’s climate throughout the last ice age stopped trees from establishing themselves in Europe and northern Asia. “The warm events were so short-lived that ecosystems weren’t able to respond in full,” said Professor Brian Huntley, of Durham University, who led the study.

“At the end of the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, when temperatures rose at a sustained level of 5 Degree Celsius or so, whole ecosystem patterns shifted, trees became established and a large number of species became extinct,” he said. If warming continues as it has been in recent decades, we could experience a similar shift to a new ecological state resulting in a similar catastrophic loss of species, researchers said.

“However, if we can ensure 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,” said Huntley.

The scientist and his team created a new computer model that takes into account abrupt fluctuations in the Earth’s climate, lasting for just hundreds of years, called Heinrich events, which are believed to have caused armadas of icebergs to break 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, the computer models begin to agree with the fossil record, said Huntley. Without trees to contend with, smaller plants and shrubs would have thrived, providing an ideal diet for large mammals.

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