Climate and the Beetle

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 7:08 PM GMT on June 22, 2009

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Climate and the Beetle

This is the second in a series of blogs on the pine beetle, western forests in the U.S. and Canada, and their relation to climate change. There have been many discussions on the relationship of the pine beetle infestation and climate change. The analysis of the relationship of infestations of this type to climate change is very difficult. I give a set of links to primary references below.

Logan and Powell (2001) describe a model that represents the population of the pine beetle. There are many environmental parameters that affect the population, but in the end, temperature is one of the most important. They point out that within the “normal” range of variability the population is relatively stable. However, outside of this normal range, warmer or cooler, the population is very sensitive. What is normal? Perhaps, in this case it is the temperature range to which the pine beetle has adapted. When it gets very cold, about – 40 C, there is 100% mortality.

Logan and Powell estimated the expansion of the pine beetle, and they found that extension of the range 7 degrees of latitude northward was likely. This projection used climate predictions models were available in 2000 and investigate the impact of an average temperature rise. Both observations and predictions show that the northern high latitudes temperature increases are higher than the global average. Therefore, as far as temperature is concerned, Logan and Powell have likely underestimated the increase in latitudinal range of the pine beetle.

The recent changes in the pine beetle range and death of pine trees is consistent with the signal of global warming – extension northward and to higher altitudes. There is history, however, of infestations in the past. In fact, during the 1930s there was a documented infestation. The 1930s is a period, where readers of this blog know, when it was warm. The history of infestations and remissions and the sensitivity to parameters other than temperature make it difficult to directly attribute the current infestation to global warming.

While it might be a challenge to attribute the current outbreak of pine beetles to global warming, it is less challenging to document the impact on global warming of the pine beetle. As the forests are killed, they change from removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In a 2008 paper in Nature, Kurz and co-authors document the carbon release from a study area that covers the now-historic pine beetle outbreak in British Columbia. This release is found to be 75% of the 1959-1999 average release of carbon dioxide from all Canadian forest fires. This rapid, large release stands in contrast to the slow, steady take up of carbon dioxide by a growing forest. Because the uptake of carbon dioxide by trees is relatively slow, any recovery of the infested forest will take many years.

This weekend I was watching a candle burn. It was a tall, conical candle with its point at the top. As the wick burned into the widening candle it built a pool of wax. This pool threatened to put out the flame. As the flame approached extinction, there was a breach in the wall of solid wax that held the pool. The liquid wax poured down the side of the candle. The wick was exposed to air and burned rapidly. The breach was such that all the new wax that melted flowed down the side. The wick continued to burn rapidly. It is this sort of change, one caused by rapid transitions that the pine beetle infestation represents. Forests are not wholly represented by slow, steady changes and gradual adaptation to a new environment. In fact, episodic, rapid proesses are often the mechanism of irreversible change.


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Damage from the Mountain Pine Beetle, Boreas Pass Road, Colorado, 2009. (R. Rood)



Primary References:

Kurz et al., Nature, 2008

Logan and Powell, American Entomologist, 2001

Climate Change and Forest Disturbances: Dale et al. 2001 class readings

Effects of Climate Change on Range of Pine Beetles: Carrol et al. 2003

Pine Beetle Symposium 2003

Mountain Pine Beetle: US Forest Service, Amman et al. 1990.


Previous Pine Beetle Blogs:

Beetles and the Climate


Previous Blogs on Phenology and Ranges of Trees

Series of Blogs in 2008 of Spring Coming Earlier

Trees Moving North


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16. biff4ugo
12:17 PM GMT on July 01, 2009
Quoting Snowfire:
Re 9:

If these trees fell down and were buried, But what will happen instead is that they will either rot or burn, returning almost all the carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

This seems like a huge opportunity to sequester Carbon. Are there efforts undeway to charcoal this huge amount of dead timber? Is there anything being done to swing the processes toward sequestration rather than carbon liberation?

Thank you all for the other comments.
Member Since: December 28, 2006 Posts: 115 Comments: 1591
15. LowerCal
11:44 PM GMT on June 30, 2009
Reappraising aerosols : article : Nature Reports Climate Change
Atmospheric aerosols may be offsetting greenhouse warming to a lesser extent than previously thought, suggests a new study. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change currently estimates, albeit with large uncertainty, that direct cooling from aerosols can counteract almost one-third of the warming caused by carbon dioxide.

But by resolving an existing discrepancy between satellite-derived and modelled estimates of the effect of aerosols, Gunnar Myhre of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research–Oslo finds that the true value is likely to be much lower. Myhre calculated the radiative forcing of aerosols — a measure of their impact on the balance between radiation coming into and going out of the atmosphere — using estimates from both a global model and satellite-derived data. He then reconciled the difference between the two estimates by including some vital information. Assuming that aerosols are globally ubiquitous, he included modelled aerosol data in regions where satellite data is currently unavailable. He also accounted for the substantial change in aerosol optical properties that has occurred since pre-industrial times, which largely results from the disproportionate increase in black carbon.

Myhre's revised estimate suggests that the direct aerosol effect offsets only ten per cent of the warming of greenhouse gases.
Member Since: July 26, 2006 Posts: 58 Comments: 9211
14. Snowfire
4:23 PM GMT on June 26, 2009
Re 9:

If these trees fell down and were buried, wouldn't it be a great carbon sequestration event?

Yes, if that really happened. But what will happen instead is that they will either rot or burn, returning almost all the carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
Member Since: June 29, 2005 Posts: 24 Comments: 309
13. cyclonebuster
4:19 PM GMT on June 25, 2009



TUNNEL TEST! Proof we can send the beetles back South!

a href="" target="_blank">Link
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20417
12. NRAamy
3:13 PM GMT on June 25, 2009
My Local Weather:
John Wayne-Orange County, California
64 °F
Haze
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946
11. atmoaggie
3:05 PM GMT on June 25, 2009
The report shows barrier islands off Louisiana that were washed away after 2005 as an example of climate change. These islands were created by sediment from the Mississippi. That source that reinforces them was diverted by shipping channel dredging and natural river meandering. Without that sediment source they have no way to recover from hurricanes. That is not climate change. It seems like a bad example.

Further, there are at least 4 former Mississippi delta areas that created barrier islands and marsh in our recent geological history. For example, the Chandeleur Islands out in the gulf between the current delta and Mississippi (the state) were created a long time ago when they were part of the delta when the Mississippi River terminated directly east of New Orleans hundreds of years ago. It would not currently be the delta now regardless of what man did and would be eroding away, just as it has been for many hundreds of years (more than 1000?) well before man made any changes. i.e. Ever wonder how/why the Chandeleurs are in a crescent shape?

It is a physical impossibility that the MS river sediment could adequately maintain more than one delta and the marsh and barrier islands that follow.

The erosion around a former delta is entirely natural and has nothing at all to do with man whatsoever. If we allowed the MS river to change from it's current path, the current delta would simply wash away, too.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
10. SteveBloom
2:25 AM GMT on June 25, 2009
Re #9: "Salt marsh is one of the few ecologies that seems to be able to keep up with sea level rise, accreting as sea level increases."

IIRC this is a very limited effect. Bear in mind that rates of SLR later in the century will be much greater than at present.

Re your other comments, if you want responses be clear about where the quote comes from (with page numbers e.g.).
9. biff4ugo
12:16 PM GMT on June 24, 2009
P.S.
Map of sea level rise in Florida in the report above.
Many of the areas along Cape Canaveral and the Everglades that are shown as submerged are salt marsh. Salt marsh is one of the few ecologies that seems to be able to keep up with sea level rise, accreting as sea level increases. Did they take that into account when making those predictions?
(you tube presentation min. 21)

What assumptions were made about the carbon liberated from the dead trees killed by the beetles? If these trees fell down and were buried, wouldn't it be a great carbon sequestration event?
Member Since: December 28, 2006 Posts: 115 Comments: 1591
8. biff4ugo
12:11 PM GMT on June 24, 2009
I'd like to read Ricky's take on the new publication from the White House.
http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts

Tom Carl describes sea level rise as a "tipping point" or it's inundation area. Isn't SLR just a progression that has been accelerating slightly? It doesn't seem like a self regulating or steady state that has changed into a positive feedback loop. If anything, Sea level rise seems more like it has been in a positive feedback cycle since we have been taking measurements so its tipping point would have been the last ice age.(video min 37)

The report compares the years 1901, 1970, and 2008. Why didn't they use an 18 or 30 year average? Individual years can be hot, cold, wet, or dry. Why use a single year?
It shows there was very little difference between 1901 and 2008. That isn't climate change in the Southeast.(page 111)

The report shows barrier islands off Louisiana that were washed away after 2005 as an example of climate change. These islands were created by sediment from the Mississippi. That source that reinforces them was diverted by shipping channel dredging and natural river meandering. Without that sediment source they have no way to recover from hurricanes. That is not climate change. It seems like a bad example.(page 114)
Member Since: December 28, 2006 Posts: 115 Comments: 1591
7. cyclonebuster
5:00 AM GMT on June 24, 2009
Democrats Strike Deal on Massive Climate Bill
The House is expected to take up the legislation on Friday, the first time the chamber will vote on a bill that would impose nationwide limits on the gases blamed for global warming

WASHINGTON -- Key Democrats reached a deal Tuesday that its supporters hope will lead to House passage of the biggest environmental bill in decades, one aimed at slowing the gradual, destructive heating of the planet.

Farm-state Democrats won concessions that will delay the Environmental Protection Agency from drafting regulations that could hamper the ethanol industry and will hand the Agriculture Department oversight of potentially lucrative projects to reduce greenhouse gases on farms.



Link
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20417
6. cyclonebuster
4:22 AM GMT on June 24, 2009
TUNNEL TEST SUCCESS

Link
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20417
5. SteveBloom
3:40 AM GMT on June 23, 2009
The big issue with the beetles is whether the infestation that crossed from BC into Alberta in the last few years will persist long enough to get into the boreal forest and keep spreading east. If it does, that's a real environmental catastrophe.

Sharp enough cold snaps are what stop the beetles, and the hope was that the relatively harsh winter that Alberta just experienced would do the job, but so far the official word is otherwise:

On May 15, Alberta Sustainable Resource Development started its mountain pine beetle overwinter mortality surveys. Over the course of the next month, forest health staff will be surveying sites in mountain pine beetle infested areas throughout the province.

The surveys will help the province%u2019s forest health managers track population trends and develop action plans to address current mountain pine beetle infestations across the province.

The results of these ground surveys will determine what percentage of beetles survived the winter. More than 97.5 per cent of beetles need to die from the cold weather to maintain current beetle populations. Some computer models predict that this winter%u2019s cold snaps were not enough to reach those mortality levels.


The June report should be out very soon, so we shall see. If the beetles get established east of the Rockies, past experience with eradication programs doesn't give much hope that the spread won't continue.
4. cyclonebuster
3:33 AM GMT on June 23, 2009
"Anybody taking bets on the next super volcano?"
I bet one happens in the next 20 million years. Maybe sooner. Yellowstone.
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 127 Comments: 20417
3. SteveBloom
3:14 AM GMT on June 23, 2009
Re #2: A string of absurdities. Comment policy, Ricky?
2. Zeeker
8:42 PM GMT on June 22, 2009
Scientist have been unable to predict the rise and fall of El nino/nina. Why? is it the fact that most Scientists can't 'see' beyond the expertice of whatever branch they became experts at? How does an active Ring of Fire effect the THC? Will the rise of volcanic Islands block or move the THC? Already poeple are talking about how the convergence point near Greenland has moved closer to the North pole. Anybody taking bets on the next super volcano?
1. NRAamy
7:09 PM GMT on June 22, 2009
1st!!

Ha! I beat you, cb....

;)
Member Since: January 24, 2007 Posts: 317 Comments: 31946

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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.