Whale songs and war: the less talked-about climate im­pacts

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - SETH BORENSTEIN

WASH­ING­TON — Near Antarc­tica, whales are singing in deeper tones to cut through the noise of melt­ing ice­bergs. In Cal­i­for­nia, a big col­lege foot­ball ri­valry game was post­poned un­til Satur­day be­cause of smoky air from wild­fires. And Alaskan shell­fish were struck by an out­break of warm wa­ter bac­te­ria.

That’s global warm­ing in ac­tion. Climate change is more than heat waves, hur­ri­canes, floods, droughts, sea level rise, melt­ing ice and ever-in­creas­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Some­times, global warm­ing has a hand — di­rectly or in­di­rectly — in some­thing quirky, such as the pitch change in five baleen whale pop­u­la­tions in the South­ern Ocean. It can be an­noy­ing, such as hav­ing to resched­ule the Big Game be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Stan­ford, or see­ing plants bloom too early in the spring.

More of­ten the in­flu­ence of climate change is omi­nous, like oceans be­com­ing more acidic and eat­ing away at clam shells and coral reefs, which al­ready got bleached by warmer wa­ters.

Or even out-of-place and dan­ger­ous, like the Vib­rio bac­te­ria out­break in Alaska or once-trop­i­cal, dis­ease-car­ry­ing mosquitoes ar­riv­ing in Canada.

It could be a bit un­ex­pected, like a study link­ing warmer climate to a rise in win­ter crimes in the United States. North­east­ern Univer­sity crim­i­nol­o­gist James Fox says that makes sense be­cause more peo­ple out­side means more op­por­tu­nity for foul play.

And climate change has al­tered global pol­i­tics. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have said it was a fac­tor in record-set­ting drought in Syria — one of sev­eral causes of the coun­try’s civil war that trig­gered a mas­sive refugee cri­sis.

The mil­i­tary calls this a mul­ti­plier ef­fect. Prob­lems com­bine, pile up and worsen each other. Climate change does that, even in mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity, said Richard Al­ley, a climate sci­en­tist at Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity.

“Climate change didn’t cause the Syr­ian civil war,” but in a place that’s un­happy, a drought ar­rives, farm­ers move to an over­crowded city and prob­lems mul­ti­ply and lead to war, Al­ley said.

Con­flict over climate change im­pacts is not con­fined to Syria, says Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa me­te­o­rol­ogy pro­fes­sor Re­nee McPher­son. It also ap­plies to thou­sands of Nige­ri­ans “killed in con­flicts be­tween farm­ers and cat­tle herders who are com­pet­ing for di­min­ish­ing wa­ter sup­plies and fer­tile lands,” she said.

“It’s like a domino ef­fect,” said Univer­sity of Hawaii ge­og­ra­pher Camilo Mora. “You go three steps back­ward and you re­al­ize that climate change was part of the equa­tions.”

Mora scoured sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture to see how of­ten global warm­ing in­flu­enced some of so­ci­ety’s ills and came up with 467 ex­am­ples. Aus­tralian un­der­ground elec­tri­cal trans­mis­sion wires, for ex­am­ple, short­cir­cuited be­cause of heat and planes were grounded in Ari­zona be­cause hot­ter air is thin­ner, mak­ing take­offs and land­ings more dif­fi­cult.

A chang­ing planet has messed with the tim­ing of na­ture.

In Eu­rope, for in­stance, oak trees now leaf ear­lier. Cater­pil­lars hatch and eat leaves ear­lier. But birds mi­grate based on hours of day­light while in­sects emerge ac­cord­ing to tem­per­a­ture, said climate sci­en­tist Jen­nifer Fran­cis of the Woods Hole Re­search Cen­ter. So, the birds show up late for din­ner and may have lit­tle to eat.

And global warm­ing has changed how some male whales at­tract fe­males.

Jean-Yves Royer, a geo­physi­cist at the French Na­tional Cen­tre for Sci­en­tific Re­search, and col­leagues com­pared male baleen whale songs from 2002 to 2015 and found the sound fre­quency changed in ar­eas where ice­bergs melt due to warmer wa­ter and air. When ice­bergs melt, that’s the loud­est sound around, he said. So, the whales deepen their song, Royer said, to pen­e­trate through the sound of melt­ing ice.


Cro­cuses, cherry trees, mag­no­lia trees were bloom­ing sev­eral weeks early in Wash­ing­ton be­cause of an un­usu­ally warm Fe­bru­ary in 2017.

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