Monday, August 24, 2015

The American Meteorological Society Published Egregious Half-Truths

A stunning example of how Warmism corrupts science

By Jim Steele

Background: In 2000, the Bulletin of the Meteorological Society published “Impacts of Extreme Weather and Climate on Terrestrial Biota" by Camille Parmesan, Terry Root, and Michael Willig. The paper introduced to the peer-reviewed literature analyses by Parmesan that extreme weather events had caused an extinction event in California’s Sierra Nevada and advocated the extreme weather was the mechanism by which global warming was driving animals northward and upward as Parmesan claimed in her first controversial paper discussed here. According to Google Scholar, the BAMS paper has been cited by 324 consensus articles. Thomson Reuter's Essential Science Indicators  report that by December 2009, Parmesan went on to be ranked #2 among highly cited authors for papers devoted expressly to global warming and climate change.

Below is a map of Parmesan's study site first published in Singer, M., and C. D. Thomas (1996) Evolutionary responses of a butterfly metapopulation to human and climate-caused environmental variation. American Naturalist, vol. 148, p. S9–S39. I have added call out boxes.

Notice how surgically "climate change" supposedly killed individuals on the annual plant Collinsia (Xs) in the logged clearing while just a few feet away the same species was originally reported to be thriving on its normal host plant in undisturbed habitat. The observations of those thriving populations were later "amputated" from Parmesan's extinction story that she spun in “Impacts of Extreme Weather and Climate on Terrestrial Biota

Parmesan et al biased their conclusion by omitting observations that all other individuals in the surrounding natural habitat had survived better than had ever been observed during the same weather events. Only the butterflies that had recently colonized a novel plant species in a highly disturbed logged area had been extirpated.

If all observations were honestly presented, it would have been both an example of nature’s resilience and an example of the effect of landscape changes on microclimates. By omitting half of the data, their paper manufactured an illusion of extreme climate catastrophe as discussed here. So I requested an official retraction. It was no more honest than Enron officials leaving half the data off their books.

Nonetheless, Parmesan’s illusion was immediately adopted by top climate scientists David R. Easterling, Gerald A. Meehl, Stanley A. Changnon, and Thomas R. Karl who immediately invited Parmesan to co-author the paper Climate Extremes: Observations, Modeling, and Impacts published in the journal Science. The bulk of that paper showed there was no increase in heat waves, droughts or other catastrophic events, but they then offered Parmesan’s half-truths to suggest just few extreme events related to climate change will cause grave ecological disruptions writing “In wild plants and animals, climate-induced extinctions, distributional and phenological changes, and species’ range shifts are being documented at an increasing rate.”

However that paper’s only example of “climate-induced extinctions” were Parmesan’s butterflies and amphibian extinctions at Monte Verde as discussed in the unsupported story of the Golden Toad discussed here. This new paper, according to Google Scholar, was then cited by over 1790 consensus articles.

In light of the rightful objections that “pal-review” can create a false illusion of a paper’s scientific objectivity (that resulted in Copernicus Publishing terminating the skeptical journal Pattern Recognition in Physics), I encourage climate scientists James Annan, Gavin Schmidt and others who objected to “pal-review” to join me in asking the American Meteorological Society to reprimand and retract papers that knowingly omit data that undermine scientific integrity.

I encourage readers to respectfully email the American Meteorological Society or and share your opinion about whether or not their reasons for not retracting the paper were valid and in the best interest of science. Dr. Rosenfeld at was the editor with whom I was communicating, but he mentioned having some health issues, so to be kind I suggest your opinions be sent to the first two email addresses.

The AMS refused to retract -- using very specious justifications. Jim Steele wrote back, noting very serious implications:

In “An Information Statement of the American Meteorological Society?(Adopted by AMS Council 20 August 2012)” the society argued,  “Evidence for warming is also observed in seasonal changes across many areas, including earlier springs, longer frost-free periods, longer growing seasons, and shifts in natural habitats and in migratory patterns of birds and insects.” Parmesan papers have been essential in creating the impression that rising CO2 has shifted natural habitat. But as demonstrated in the paper under discussion, if the whole truth was told, a much different story would emerge and fears of ecological climate catastrophe would give way to more rational analyses of landscape change and natural cycles.

The AMS’ climate change statement also argued “Climate is always changing. However, many of the observed changes noted above are beyond what can be explained by the natural variability of the climate.”  But in truth the extinction of this local butterfly population was much better explained by natural variability and landscape changes, and that again contradicts the AMS’s claim that natural variations can not explain current events.

 The AMS’ climate change statement claims the “AMS Information Statement intended to provide a trustworthy, objective, and scientifically up-to-date explanation of scientific issues of concern to the public at large.” Perhaps the AMS fears that retracting a faulty paper would call attention to the possibility that there may be more peer reviewed papers that are not so trustworthy, papers that demand more skeptical scrutiny. By not retracting a paper that so blatantly manipulated the data presentation, you bite off your nose to save your face. The justifications used to avoid retracting the paper suggests the AMS editorial policy strayed from being  “objective, nor scientifically up-to-date”.

 That the AMS would justify publishing half-truths based on technicalities and spurious precedents taints the rest of the scientific community who strive to uphold science’s highest standards. It undermines the public’s trust in environmental science, making it much more difficult for us to convince others about cases where we truly need better environmental stewardship.  Good environmental stewardship demands unadulterated science to guide our policies, not the half-truths the AMS now condones.


Cui bono?

What lies behind all the Warmist lies and deceptions?  Who benefits?  Paul Driessen says below that the Larry Bell book explains how profiteers of climate doom keep the money flowing

No warming in 18 years, no category 3-5 hurricane hitting the USA in ten years, seas rising at barely six inches a century: computer models and hysteria are consistently contradicted by Real World experiences.

So how do White House, EPA, UN, EU, Big Green, Big Wind, liberal media, and even Google, GE and Defense Department officials justify their fixation on climate change as the greatest crisis facing humanity? How do they excuse saying government must control our energy system, our economy and nearly every aspect of our lives – deciding which jobs will be protected and which ones destroyed, even who will live and who will die – in the name of saving the planet? What drives their intense ideology?

The answer is simple. The Climate Crisis & Renewable Energy Industry has become a $1.5-trillion-a-year business! That’s equal to the annual economic activity generated by the entire US nonprofit sector, or all savings over the past ten years from consumers switching to generic drugs. By comparison, annual revenues for much-vilified Koch Industries are about $115 billion, for ExxonMobil around $365 billion.

According to a 200-page analysis by the Climate Change Business Journal, this Climate Industrial Complex can be divided into nine segments: low carbon and renewable power; carbon capture and storage; energy storage, like batteries; energy efficiency; green buildings; transportation; carbon trading; climate change adaptation; and consulting and research. Consulting is a $27-billion-per-year industry that handles “reputation management” for companies and tries to link weather events, food shortages and other problems to climate change. Research includes engineering R&D and climate studies.

The $1.5-trillion price tag appears to exclude most of the Big Green environmentalism industry, a $13.4-billion-per-year business in the USA alone. The MacArthur Foundation just gave another $50 million to global warming alarmist groups. Ex-NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chesapeake Energy gave the Sierra Club $105 million to wage war on coal (shortly before the Club began waging war on natural gas and Chesapeake Energy, in what some see as poetic justice). Warren Buffett, numerous “progressive” foundations, Vladimir Putin cronies and countless companies also give endless millions to Big Green.

Our hard-earned tax dollars are likewise only partially included in the CCBJ tally. As professor, author and columnist Larry Bell notes in his new book, Scared Witless: Prophets and profits of climate doom, the U.S. government spent over $185 billion between 2003 and 2010 on climate change items – and this wild spending spree has gotten even worse in the ensuing Obama years. We are paying for questionable to fraudulent global warming studies, climate-related technology research, loans and tax breaks for Solyndra and other companies that go bankrupt, “climate adaptation” foreign aid to poor countries, and much more.

Also not included: the salaries and pensions of thousands of EPA, NOAA, Interior, Energy and other federal bureaucrats who devote endless hours to devising and imposing regulations for Clean Power Plans, drilling and coal mining bans, renewable energy installations, and countless Climate Crisis, Inc. handouts. A significant part of the $1.9 trillion per year that American businesses and families pay to comply with mountains of federal regulations is also based on climate chaos claims.

Add in the state and local equivalents of these federal programs, bureaucrats, regulations and restrictions, and we’re talking serious money. There are also consumer costs, including the far higher electricity prices families and businesses must pay, especially in states that want to prove their climate credentials.

The impacts on companies and jobs outside the Climate Crisis Industry are enormous, and growing. For every job created in the climate and renewable sectors, two to four jobs are eliminated in other parts of the economy, studies in Spain, Scotland and other countries have found. The effects on people’s health and welfare, and on overall environmental quality, are likewise huge and widespread.

But all these adverse effects are studiously ignored by Climate Crisis profiteers – and by the false prophets of planetary doom who manipulate data, exaggerate and fabricate looming catastrophes, and create the pseudo-scientific basis for regulating carbon-based energy and industries into oblivion. Meanwhile, the regulators blatantly ignore laws that might penalize their favored constituencies.

In one glaring example, a person who merely possesses a single bald eagle feather can be fined up to $100,000 and jailed for a year. But operators of the wind turbine that killed the eagle get off scot-free. Even worse, the US Fish & Wildlife Service actively helps Big Wind hide and minimize its slaughter of millions of raptors, other birds and bats every year. It has given industrial wind operators a five-year blanket exemption from the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Birds Treaty Act and Endangered Species Act. The FWS even proposed giving Big Wind a 30-year exemption.

Thankfully, the US District Court in San Jose, CA recently ruled that the FWS and Interior Department violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws, when they issued regulations granting these companies a 30-year license to kill bald and golden eagles. But the death tolls continue to climb.

Professor Bell’s perceptive, provocative, extensively researched book reviews the attempted power grab by Big Green, Big Government and Climate Crisis, Inc. In 19 short chapters, he examines the phony scientific consensus on global warming, the secretive and speculative science and computer models used to “prove” we face a cataclysm, ongoing collusion and deceit by regulators and activists, carbon tax mania, and many of the most prominent but phony climate crises: melting glaciers, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, disappearing species and declining biodiversity. His articles and essays do likewise.

Scared Witless also lays bare the real reasons for climate fanaticism, aside from lining pockets. As one prominent politician and UN or EPA bureaucrat after another has proudly and openly said, their “true ambition” is to institute “a new global order” … “ global governance” … “redistribution of the world’s resources” … an end to “hegemonic” capitalism … and “a profound transformation” of “attitudes and lifestyles,” energy systems and “the global economic development model.”

In other words, these unelected, unaccountable US, EU and UN bureaucrats want complete control over our industries; over everything we make, grow, ship, eat and do; and over every aspect of our lives, livelihoods, living standards and liberties. And they intend to “ride the global warming issue” all the way to this complete control, “even if the theory of global warming is wrong” … “even if there is no scientific evidence to back the greenhouse effect” … “even if the science of global warming is all phony.”

If millions of people lose their jobs in the process, if millions of retirees die from hypothermia because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly, if millions of Africans and Asians die because they are denied access to reliable, affordable carbon-based electricity – so be it. Climate Crisis, Inc. doesn’t care.

Free market principles do not apply, and free marketers need not apply. The global warming industry survives and thrives only because of secretive, fraudulent climate science; constant collusion between regulators and pressure groups; and a steady stream of government policies, regulations, preferences, subsidies and mandates – plus taxes and penalties on its competitors. CCI gives lavishly to politicians who keep the gravy train on track, while its attack dogs respond quickly, aggressively and viciously to anyone who dares to challenge its orthodoxies, perks, power and funding.

Climate change has been “real” throughout Earth and human history – periodically significant, sometimes sudden, sometimes destructive. It is driven by the sun and other powerful, complex, interacting natural forces that we still do not fully understand … and certainly cannot control. It has little or nothing to do with the carbon dioxide that makes plants grow faster and better, and is emitted as a result of using fossil fuels that have brought countless, wondrous improvements to our environment and human condition.

Climate Crisis, Inc. is a wealthy, nasty behemoth. But it is a house of cards. Become informed. Get involved. Fight back. And elect representatives – and a president – who also have the backbone to do so.

Via email

Study shows Pacific island reefs can match rising sea levels

Coral reefs are a lot more resilient than previously thought. At least according to a new study published yesterday that showed Pacific island coral reef can grow fast enough to match rising sea levels, even with increased ocean temperatures. coral reefs

Because they grow vertically on shallow reef flats, researchers observed that Porites microatolls coral is keeping pace with current sea level rise, but may have trouble under the worst-case IPCC scenarios. The Porites microatoll, whose growth is largely lateral and limited by exposure to air, is named for its resemblance to island atolls (see picture).

Researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology, who published their study in the Royal Society Open Science, say their findings provide the first evidence that "well-managed reefs will be able to keep up with sea-level rise through vertical growth." However, if CO2 emissions rise past 670 parts per million (ppm), which may cause ocean temperatures to increase 2.2 degrees Celsius, reefs will have a hard time keeping up with the projected sea level rise.

Currently CO2 levels worldwide are 400 ppm (.o4 percent), but once they cross the 670 ppm threshold, the corresponding rise in ocean temperatures may hamper even a healthy reefs ability to survive. "Reefs will continue to keep up with sea-level rise if we reduce our emission of greenhouse gases," said Florida Tech’s Rob van Woesik, a professor at FIT's Department of Biological Sciences and the study's lead author. "If reefs lose their capacity to keep up with sea-level rise they will drown."

The study, which focused on Palau island in the western Pacific Ocean, was also co-authored by researchers from the University of Queensland and the Palau International Coral Reef Center. Palau is an island country that is part of the larger Pacific island group of Micronesia and relies on the reef system to break apart storm waves.

The researchers measured "570 reef-flat Porites microatolls (a type of coral) at 10 locations around Palau, which revealed recent vertical skeletal extension (78±13 mm) over the last 6–8 years," consistent with the observed increase in sea level. The study's authors then used the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) greenhouse-gas concentration trajectories from its 2014 fifth Assessment Report to model four different outcomes for the Porites microatolls. It showed that under the low- to mid-RCP scenarios, reef-coral growth will keep up with sea-level rise."

These IPCC's RCP pathways are primarily used for climate modeling and research and "describe four possible climate futures," depending on how much greenhouse gases are emitted in the future.

However, under the IPCC's worst-case RCP scenario, where "greenhouse gas concentrations exceed 670 ppm atmospheric CO2 levels with a concomitant increase of 2.2 degree Celsius in sea-surface temperatures by 2100," their "predictions indicate that Poritesmicroatolls will be unable to keep up with projected rates of sea-level rise."

CO2 levels have increased at a rate of approximately 2 ppm/year since recordkeeping began. That means if current trends continue, CO2 levels will have increased only 170 ppm by the year 2100, much less than the 670 ppm or higher needed to affect the reef systems described in the study. There is also an annual fluctuation of about ~10 ppm that is negatively correlated with the Northern Hemisphere's growing season (plants absorb CO2 during the spring/summer/early fall).

As reported here, other studies have also shown coral reefs are far more resilient then previously estimated. One 13-year study of coral reefs showed "them spontaneously recovering," refuting the "often doomsday forecasts about the worldwide decline of the colorful marine habitat." Tom Frazer, professor of aquatic ecology at the University of Florida and part of that study, told Reuters, "People have said these systems don't have a chance. What we are saying is: 'Hey, this is evidence they do have a chance.'"

Another study—funded by NOAA—showed that coral reefs can also adapt to warmer ocean temperatures through a variety of processes. Even after the great coral die-off in 1998 from a particular brutal El Niño, most of the coral reefs across the planet rebounded to their original numbers. Coral can also perish from a variety of issues: environmental stressors, such as elevated temperature; changes in salinity; high solar radiation; pollutants; and/or diseases.

This latest study from the Florida Institute of Technology will be good news to the thousands of people who populate these Pacific islands and rely on the intricate reef system for protection and tourists.


Making Environmentalism Divisive

In May, Murray Energy, which sits along the old National Pike here in eastern Ohio, told nearly 1,500 workers at five of its West Virginia mines that their jobs were eliminated.

In Ohio, 249 Murray jobs were gone; nearly 170 employees were out of work in Illinois.

The announcement wasn't an isolated one. Mines are being boarded up and thousands of coal jobs are vanishing across America, in part because of competition from abundant natural gas but in larger part because of new federal regulations limiting carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.

One month later, Murray filed two lawsuits against the U.S. EPA to halt its rewriting and expanding of the definition of "waters of the United States."

The energy company said the change is unconstitutional and not only reflects an unprecedented expansion of federal regulatory authority but also is one of the largest federal land grabs in history.

According to the Obama administration's EPA, any area that is wet, or has the potential to be wet, would be subject to the Clean Water Act.

When Congress adopted the Clean Water Act in 1972, it never intended to allow room for regulatory creep. Certainly the act was not put in place to divide the country politically; in fact, it was supported by congressional Democrats and Republicans alike.

Caring about the environment was an American thing back in the 1960s and '70s, when pollution clogged our rivers and streams and litter piled up on our highways and streets; you felt patriotic about it.

Today's environmentalists - the kind who look at "climate change" as a religion preaching that non-believers will burn in hell - have won; Appalachian jobs, people, communities and families have lost.

We all used to be in this together, cleaning up pollution and litter, punishing companies that did bad things in the night - but retaining the industries that provided jobs that kept generations of families together in the communities where they lived.

Growing up, there wasn't a kid I knew who wasn't impacted by the "crying Indian" ad of 1971, in which an American Indian paddled his canoe on a river past gritty smokestacks and floating pollution. As he stepped onshore, he was pelted with a bag of garbage that landed at his feet. A close-up of his face showed a single tear, as an announcer intoned: "People start pollution, people can stop it."

Today, liberal elites, academics and coastal progressives believe they are the only ones who can speak with authority about the environment, and are the only purists on that issue.

Stuck in their "green movement" ivory towers, they do not understand that the things they preach have long been part of our culture; instead, they use those as wedge issues to drive up votes in elections.

Republicans take the biggest hit on environmentalism, which is interesting because conservatism means to conserve permanent things; evangelicals, one of the GOP's biggest voting blocs, believe they have a duty to conserve, preserve, and restore Creation until Christ returns.

The blame for turning environmental stewardship into a politically poisoned well rests with Al Gore; he has pushed people needlessly further to each of the extreme sides of the issue, ruining any serious discussion or an exchange of ideas from which all of us could benefit.

A couple of years ago I was waiting for my kids to finish whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle when I decided to shop for some family gifts at a local shop. The bill was more than $200, a nice sum for a small business.

The young lady ringing up the sale proceeded to place my purchases in a used bag that had a huge hole in it. When I asked her if I could have another bag without a hole, she launched into a loud tirade - including finger-pointing - about how I was one of "those people" who don't believe in "the movement" and how I must clearly "hate the Earth."

There were no purchases made that day. And I felt badly for the young lady, not just because she lost her commissions but because she suddenly had a personal glimpse into how it feels to have your wallet impacted by politically correct environmentalism.


US Gives Shell Final Nod to Drill for Oil in Arctic

After years of delay and almost endless restrictions

The Obama administration on Monday granted Royal Dutch Shell the final permit to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic for the first time since 2012, a move environmentalists vowed to fight.

The Interior Department gave Shell the final permit to drill into the oil zone in the Chukchi Sea off northern Alaska after the Fennica, an icebreaker the company leases that carries emergency well-plugging equipment, was repaired after suffering a gash in its hull.

The permit was expected as the department had previously approved Shell's exploration program before the Fennica hit uncharted shoals in southern Alaska.

Shell obtained the leases in the Chukchi during the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Shell has spent about $7 billion on exploration in the Arctic. It has not explored in the region since 2012, when the company suffered a series of mishaps in region, including losing control of an enormous rig, from which the Coast Guard had to rescue 18 workers.

The Arctic is home to what the U.S. government estimates is 20 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.

Shell's determination to drill there has spawned funding drives and a wave of protests by environmentalists who want to protect whales, walruses and polar bears in a vulnerable region that scientists say is changing rapidly due to global warming.

Curtis Smith, a Shell spokesman, said the company "looks forward to evaluating what could potentially become a national energy resource base." Shell said it was possible it could complete a well this summer, but it is not releasing a timeline for the drilling.


Warmist lies about walruses

The walrus is another example of improving environmental stewardship. Valued for its oil and ivory tusks, the Pacific walrus was subjected to intense commercial slaughter in the mid 1800s, and by the early 1900s, many worried they would soon go the way of the dinosaurs. Although population estimates have always been highly uncertain, as hunting was progressively limited, Pacific Walrus populations “increased from 50,000 to 100,000 animals in the late 1950s to more than 250,000 animals by 1985,” and they are believed to have now reached their maximum carrying capacity.557 As walrus numbers rebounded, they have crowded together at historic coastal haul-outs (Haul-outs are land locations where walruses congregate when not swimming). However some advocates are using the walrus’ recovery as evidence of ecological disruption caused by global warming and the loss of sea ice. But their fears would vanish if they had a more historical perspective.

In 1923 Captain Joseph Bernard published an account in the Journal of Mammalogy about the inspiring conservation efforts he had observed in the village of Ingshong on the Siberian coast.558 There the wisdom of walrus conservation, dressed in the trappings of shamanic beliefs, had fostered a dramatic comeback in local walrus abundance.

In 1925 Bernard again wrote in the Journal of Mammalogy, advocating for walrus sanctuaries in Alaska to the south of Barrow.559 He contrasted the more conservation-minded village of Ingshong to the settlement of Point Hope on the Alaskan Coast. Thirty years before, the walruses had hauled out by the thousands and some would even wander into town. However the traders, whalers, and Inuit of the settlement were all too quick to shoot any weary walrus coming ashore. Subsequently, for the last twenty years live walruses had become a rare sight on that beach.

The European settlers of that time had embarked on a withering onslaught, motivated by a lucrative ivory market. In just a few decades the only surviving walruses were the ones that had learned to avoid coastal haul-outs, finding greater safety on the ice floes or more remote islands. Nomadic Inuit hunters showed no greater restraint than the Europeans. They followed the wary walrus herds out onto the ice floes. Although walrus meat was highly valued, ivory tusks brought much greater returns. Along the 200 miles of shoreline near Pt Barrow, Alaska, Bernard counted 1000 walrus corpses washed ashore.

One third of the corpses still retained their tusks; although shot, they had managed to slip into the waters before the hunters could cleave their tusks. The nightmare was likely far greater than evidenced by mere shoreline counts. If Bernard counted 1000 rotting carcasses washed ashore by the westerly winds, how many more were carried by the currents out to the Arctic Ocean, or to other distant beaches?

From 1900-1930, the annual harvest of Pacific walrus averaged 5000 per year. Despite growing concerns voiced by Bernard and others, that figured doubled to 10,000 per year between 1930 and 1950. The Pacific walrus was seemingly headed for extinction. Fearing this may be the last chance to observe living walruses, Francis Fay began compiling one of the most complete accounts of the ecology and biology of the Pacific Walrus for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. After more than two decades of research, “The Ecology and Biology of the Pacific Walrus” was published in 1982.560

The 1950s were the 20th century’s nadir of walrus abundance. Over-hunting of whales and walruses had been so severe, the native Yupik of the St Lawrence Island found themselves on the verge of starvation. The Yupik had dodged an earlier threat of extirpation in 1879 when disease was introduced by visiting whalers. When John Muir and a Smithsonian naturalist visited the island they were horrified to find huts strewn with hundreds of dead bodies. There were few survivors. Although the Yupik population had only rebounded to just one-third of their pre-epidemic population, the slaughter of whales and walruses now denied the surviving Yupik adequate sustenance. According to Fay, “If remedial food supplies had not been provided by Federal and State governments, the islanders probably would have been afflicted again by starvation and death in 1954-55.”

When the walrus were plentiful in the 1800s, they had hauled out in great numbers on beaches. Fay reported that of “numerous coastal hauling grounds that were used on the Siberian coast in the early part of the century, only three remained in use by the mid-1950’s.” There were just too few Tenastze to guard the walruses. Thanks to hunting restrictions, the walrus rebounded. As populations returned to historical peak abundance, they began returning to former coastal haul-outs.

Most recently walruses returned to an Alaskan beach about 140 miles southwest of Barrow. It was the general location that Captain Bernard wanted protected as a walrus preserve, and news of the walruses’ return would have certainly caused the good captain to celebrate. But not the global warming advocates. A stampede, most likely provoked by a hunting polar bear, left several trampled walruses. Although historically tramplings had been associated with great abundance, advocates spun it as proof of deadly CO2.

The Huffington Post published the following: “ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Trampling likely killed 131 mostly young walruses forced onto the northwest coast of Alaska by a loss of sea ice, according to a preliminary report released Thursday.” “Obviously it's a real tragedy, and it's one we're going to see repeated more and more as the climate warms and the sea ice melts," said Rebecca Noblin, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD had petitioned to list walrus as threatened or endangered because of increased CO2 levels. The article makes the bold claim, "Were it not for the dramatic decline in the sea ice, the young walruses at Icy Cape most likely would be alive on the ice and not dead on a beach," said WWF [World Wildlife Fund] biologist Geoff York.”

However, by all historical accounts, land haul-outs were very common in a time of abundant sea ice. The lawyers and advocates were ignoring (or ignorant of) Bernard’s 1925 lament that “Thirty or forty years ago in various places along the Alaskan coast walruses were known to haul-out in countless numbers (emphasis added).” 559 It’s also doubtful they had ever read Fay’s mid-century accounts in which death by trampling was listed as one of the “top 3 natural causes of death to walrus calves exceeded only by deaths caused by killer whales and polar bears (emphasis added).” 560

Fay’s research had compiled numerous reports depicting far greater mortality from trampling. Those deadly events happened when animals either hauled out in panic when pursued by killer whales, or when stampeded by attacking polar bears or humans. For example, in 1975, researchers reported a large number of dead animals during a stampede from a traditional hauling ground at Cape Blossom on Wrangell Island. The low-flying aircraft of the researchers had caused that stampede.560

In the heavy ice year of 1979, Fay examined the remnants of the greatest trampling tragedy yet recorded. On Punuk and St Lawrence Island, “At least 537 animals died at one haul-out area,” and approximately 400 other carcasses washed ashore from other locations. Nearly all of the dead were extremely lean, having less than half as much subcutaneous fat as healthy animals examined in previous years.” St Lawrence Island and the Punuk islands lie directly in the migratory path of the walrus’ southward journey from their summer feeding grounds in the Chukchi Sea to their wintering areas in the Bering Sea. The tramplings were spread out over both traditional haul-out locations on the Punuk Islands and in “four other locations on St. Lawrence Island where locals claimed they had not been seen in recent memory.” A more thorough investigation unearthed abundant old carcasses and bones and laboratory dating techniques revealed those “new” haul-outs had been very active in the early 1900’s before hunting pressures decimated their populations.

The Demise of the Atlantic Walrus

All evidence indicates that walruses have always hauled onto land even during the severe ice conditions of the Little Ice Age. It was overhunting that drove walruses from the beaches, and this is clear from historical accounts of the first encounters between walrus and European hunters on the pristine Svalbard archipelago. In archaeologist Robert McGhee’s superb book on the Arctic, The Last Imaginary Place631, he devotes an entire chapter to the “rape of Spitsbergen” (Svalbard’s largest island) and vividly documents the excesses of European harvests and glimpses of previously untouched Arctic wildlife.

Svalbard is located about 180 kilometers to the east of Greenland across the Fram Strait. Each year the Arctic winds remove much of the Arctic’s sea ice through the Fram Strait, sending ice southward to melt in the northern Atlantic. The Arctic ice piles up on the frigid northern half of Svalbard, in contrast to its ice-free southern half. In March, sea ice has reached its maximum extent and thickness, but the warm nutrient-rich waters can keep Svalbard’s south side ice-free. Those nutrient-rich waters once sustained an awe-inspiring profusion of life that has yet to fully recover from overhunting.

Although ancient hunters had reached the Arctic 5000 years ago, they never reached the islands of the Svalbard archipelago. It remained pristine until the Europeans first discovered the islands in the 1500s. In 1596, the Dutch explorer Willem Barents is believed to be the first person to ever set eyes on Svalbard and the Barents Sea now bears his name.

But the news of a stupendous Arctic bounty spread. Eight years after Barents’ discovery, the English Muscovy Company set sail to harvest Svalbard’s abundant meat and furs. Their ships’ logs provide vivid accounts of massive herds of “sea horses” resting on the beaches. From company records, biologists estimate that the Svalbard Archipelago alone supported close to 25,000 walruses before European hunting began. That’s thousands more than currently populates the entire Atlantic sector today. By trapping the walrus on the beaches, within just six hours they butchered six to seven hundred walruses, and filled their boat with tusks and hides. But even more valuable were the 11 tons of oil for cosmetics and oil lamps that were highly prized by Europeans battling the frequent bouts of extreme cold that punctuated the ongoing Little Ice Age. Walruses and even polar bear were boiled to render their oil.631

The walrus survived the first wave of hunters because Europeans quickly turned their harpoons on a far greater source of oil, Svalbard’s whales. The logs from those early walrus hunts spoke of an “endless pool of whales,” as did Henry Hudson’s during his ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage. After the whales were virtually eliminated by the 1800s, hunters again focused on the walrus; the most vivid description of their hunting techniques were preserved in Sir James Lamont’s 1852 Seasons with the Sea Horses:

“On one venture, after discovering a herd of several thousand walrus reposing on the land, four boats carried 16 men armed with lances. They stalked the shoreline in order to place themselves between the walrus herd and the ocean. As the first wave of stampeding walrus tried to enter the water, they were killed or injured creating a row of dead bodies inhibiting the escape of the others. With lance or axe in hand, the crews marched forward and descended on the trapped herd, killing the rest. A total of 900 walrus were killed that day.”631

Several northern European nations rushed to avail themselves of Spitsbergen’s cornucopia of marine life, sending warships to protect the hunters. The frenzied competition led to the destruction of Svalbard’s wildlife.

Although most wildlife had already been eliminated, the 1920 treaty of Spitsbergen finally ended the tragedy of the commons and the “rape of Spitsbergen”. In 1986 when McGhee went to Svalbard to search for any evidence that early Inuit or more ancient Tuniit may have reached the island, he only found evidence of the European overkill. Massive whalebones abounded, and beaches were littered with tusk-less walrus skulls. The birds had returned to the ponds and cliffs, while the reindeer and fox were now more common. But the beaches that once sheltered thousands of walrus were still empty and silent.

Walrus Summer Migration

The notion that walruses only haul-out on land when deprived of ice is a story that would have been laughed at just 30 years ago. Previously it was thought that ice denied walruses access to their hunting grounds. Walrus require shallow seas where they suction the seafloor for shellfish. As late as 1982 scientists stated, “the maximum absence of ice in the Chukchi Sea beneficially influences the population of the Pacific walrus permitting the animals to use vast feeding grounds in the summer and autumn seasons (emphasis added).” 561 Walruses do not require sea ice to hunt. Like Gray whales, they are associated with Arctic sea ice because it covers their food supply, and the current patterns of walrus migration support that view.

Unlike most females, thousands of male walruses never follow the receding ice pack but instead migrate southward to ice-free waters of the southern Bering Sea. Around Bristol Bay, Alaska, walruses readily forage up to 130 kilometers from their nearest haul-out site. The walrus’ main constraint is the water’s depth; they avoid regions where depths exceed 60 meters. Throughout the summer, adult males rest at their land haul-out sites for several days at a time between their offshore foraging trips which last four to ten days.”562 Swimming at normal swim speeds of 10 km/hour, walrus can cover the entire span of most shallow sea shelves in a few days, so there is little need for ice floe transportation. The males that do migrate north generally abandon the sea ice in spring and congregate on land haul-outs along the coasts of Russia and Alaska.562,563

Alarmists suggest the increasing use of land haul-outs is a sign of disaster, caused by the loss of sea ice. However all the evidence argues that as walrus populations increase, so does the use of land haul-outs. It is a sign of the walrus’ successful recovery. When the Pacific walrus was teetering on the edge of extinction, “no walruses were observed along the Alaska Peninsula”, and only about a thousand animals were recorded at Walrus Island in Bristol Bay Alaska.562 By 1960 both Russia and Alaska had instituted protective measures and within 20 years, walrus populations rebounded to pre-exploitation levels. As the numbers grew, they began to reoccupy traditional land haul-outs. By 1980, the numbers of walrus hauling out on Walrus Island in the Pribilofs had grown from 3,000 to 12,000.562

The use of land haul-outs still varies annually and (although poorly studied) is likely due to fluctuations in food supply. Massive herds suctioning the sea floor will eventually deplete a local food supply. Furthermore, regime shifts such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation alter the winds and currents that deliver nutrients. Most likely the productivity of ocean floors also oscillate in approximate 20 year cycles. For example, at Cape Pierce in southern Bristol Bay, more than 12,000 walruses were hauling out on the beaches each summer in the 1980s. Then suddenly most walruses disappeared for over two decades. Recently they have been returning to Cape Pierce and as of 2008, their numbers increased to over 5000.563

The Pacific Walrus is now believed to have recovered fully to its historic population of about 200,000, but surveys have been limited and therefore carry great statistical uncertainty. However in the Atlantic there is no question this subspecies has never recovered from the human quest for blubber and ivory. Large herds had once hauled out on islands and the mainland beaches as far south as Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. All those southern populations were completely exterminated. The early walrus population along the St. Lawrence River alone has been estimated at over 100,000.

In contrast, today the entire Atlantic subspecies is confined to waters further north. No longer migratory, they typically reside in polynya, and their total population is a mere 20,000.565 With such low numbers, stories of trampling are rare from the Atlantic sector. A beach packed with walruses is evidence of better conservation, not global warming doom.



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1 comment:

Slywolfe said...

Maybe it's OCD, or the memories of unpleasant experiences resulting from poorly worded technical specifications, but when I come across sentences like this I become annoyed and distracted from the intended message:

"Because they grow vertically on shallow reef flats, researchers observed that Porites microatolls coral is keeping pace with current sea level rise, but may have trouble under the worst-case IPCC scenarios."

I just do not trust researchers who "grow vertically on shallow reef flats."