More uncertainty about warming – Study: Impact of warming climate doesn’t always translate to streamflow

Streamflow_changes_along_upper_Peace_River,_Fl_2

Streamflow on Upper Peace River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From an OSU press release:

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An analysis of 35 headwater basins in the United States and Canada found that the impact of warmer air temperatures on streamflow rates was less than expected in many locations, suggesting that some ecosystems may be resilient to certain aspects of climate change.

The study was just published in a special issue of the journal BioScience, in which the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network of 26 sites around the country funded by the National Science Foundation is featured.

Lead author Julia Jones, an Oregon State University geoscientist, said that air temperatures increased significantly at 17 of the 19 sites that had 20- to 60-year climate records, but streamflow changes correlated with temperature changes in only seven of those study sites. In fact, water flow decreased only at sites with winter snow and ice, and there was less impact in warmer, more arid ecosystems.

“It appears that ecosystems may have some capacity for resilience and adapt to changing conditions,” said Jones, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Various ecosystem processes may contribute to that resilience. In Pacific Northwest forests, for example, one hypothesis is that trees control the stomatal openings on their leaves and adjust their water use in response to the amount of water in the soil.

“So when presented with warmer and drier conditions, trees in the Pacific Northwest appear to use less water and therefore the impact on streamflow is reduced,” she added. “In other parts of the country, forest regrowth after past logging and hurricanes thus far has a more definitive signal in streamflow reduction than have warming temperatures.”

LTER sites were established to investigate ecological processes over long temporal and broad spatial scales throughout North America, including the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon, as well as sites in Alaska, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Antarctica and the island of Moorea. Not all were part of the BioScience study.

In that study, warming temperatures at some of the headwater basins analyzed have indeed resulted in reduced streamflow due to higher transpiration and evaporation to the atmosphere. But these changes may be difficult to perceive, Jones said, given other influences on streamflow, including municipal and agricultural water usage, forest management, wildfire, hurricanes, and natural climate cycles.

“When you look at an individual watershed over a short period of time, it is difficult to disentangle the natural and human-induced variations,” Jones said, “because hydrologic systems can be quite complex. But when you look at dozens of systems over several decades, you can begin to gauge the impact of changing vegetation, climate cycles and climate trends.

“That is the beauty of these long-term research sites,” she said. “They can provide nuanced insights that are crucial to effective management of water supplies in a changing world.”

Jones said the important message in the research is that the impacts of climate change are not simple and straightforward. Through continuing study of how ecosystems adapt to changing conditions, resource managers may be able to adapt policies or mimic natural processes that offer the most favorable conditions for humans and ecosystems to thrive.

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About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: CEOAS is internationally recognized for its faculty, research and facilities, including state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to support real-time ocean/atmosphere observation and prediction. The college is a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system, providing scientific understanding to address complex environmental challenges

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39 thoughts on “More uncertainty about warming – Study: Impact of warming climate doesn’t always translate to streamflow

  1. “Jones said the important message in the research is that the impacts of climate change are not simple and straightforward. Through continuing study …….”

    aka – Throw good money after bad. gimme gimme.

  2. “Lead author Julia Jones, an Oregon State University geoscientist, said that air temperatures increased significantly at 17 of the 19 sites that had 20- to 60-year climate records, but streamflow changes correlated with temperature changes in only seven of those study sites.”

    Perhaps because most of those sites were probably in cities and the temperature increase was caused by localized UHI? I seriously doubt they had thermometers along forest streams for 60 years.

  3. said that air temperatures increased significantly at 17 of the 19 sites that had 20- to 60-year climate records
    ==================================
    I want to know exactly how much significant temperature increase she is talking about……..

    ….no one in their right mind would call less than 1 degree………….significant

  4. Excellent article and extremely useful information. The authors accurately underscore the delicate nature of ecosystems and their relationship to all life. Obviously we have only minimal and indirect control over natural variability, but we certainly have a profound responsibility to manage (control) our behaviour on the landscapes. To achieve this we need accurate computer models to more accurately understand the cumulative impacts of all landscape changes resulting from industrial, agricultural, recreational and other uses.

  5. Professor Jones says:

    “In other parts of the country, forest regrowth after past logging and hurricanes thus far has a more definitive signal in streamflow reduction than have warming temperatures.”

    So land use changes are more important than climate change? That appears to be the case. Notify Pielke, Sr. And notice that she does not attempt to assign a number to the effects of climate change caused by human created CO2.

    “But these changes may be difficult to perceive, Jones said, given other influences on streamflow, including municipal and agricultural water usage, forest management, wildfire, hurricanes, and natural climate cycles.”

    So, the effects of climate change are a needle in the haystack of local human uses of the watershed?

    “Lead author Julia Jones, an Oregon State University geoscientist, said that air temperatures increased significantly at 17 of the 19 sites that had 20- to 60-year climate records, but streamflow changes correlated with temperature changes in only seven of those study sites. In fact, water flow decreased only at sites with winter snow and ice, and there was less impact in warmer, more arid ecosystems.”

    So, she found a correlation between rising temperatures and stream flow changes at only seven of 19 sites? And water flow decreased only at sites where snow melt was an input?

    Hasn’t she falsified the AGW hypothesis to within the capabilities of her research?

  6. “Jones said the important message in the research is that the impacts of climate change are not simple and straightforward. Through continuing study of how ecosystems adapt to changing conditions, resource managers may be able to adapt policies or mimic natural processes that offer the most favorable conditions for humans and ecosystems to thrive.”
    =====================
    A reasonable statement, that has something for everyone.
    I did, though, miss the “settled” part.

  7. Wonder how much REAL improvement in water could have been done with the same money? How much desalination capacity could be built in California, easing the burden on the Colorado watershed?

  8. As usual these people seem to cease on the obvious. Anyone who cares to look at almost any stream system east of the Cascade’s western slope realizes present stream fllows are nothing like those in the distant past. The situation was the same 60 years ago and will be them 60 years from now to.

  9. polistra says:
    April 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm
    Wonder how much REAL improvement in water could have been done with the same money? How much desalination capacity could be built in California, easing the burden on the Colorado watershed?
    __________

    As a ‘real’ environmental scientist fighting the ‘real’ pollution battle on the ground (and in the air) for over 25 years, the answer is……. a HECK of a lot.

    Frustrating. grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr……. : )

  10. “Bafflegab, replete with buzzwords. Who are these people writing for?”

    Grant committees.

  11. but streamflow changes correlated with temperature changes in only seven of those study sites. out of 19.

    Which says to me that the overall correlation was probably negative. But anyone who values their career, doesn’t dare publish findings that contradict the IPCC and its AGW narrative.

  12. Hugh Pepper says:
    April 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    …The authors accurately underscore the delicate nature of ecosystems…

    Hugh…do you write press releases for a living or did you just cut and paste your comment from one who does? Was your post sarcasm? If so, please give it a /sarc tag.

    The modern environmental movement is founded on several myths that are obviously false. One of them is that the environment is fragile, delicate or in some kind of sacred ‘balance’. The primary finding of this study is that the environment seems to have the ability to adapt to changing climate systems. It is not delicate, but adaptable. Of course the environment has been doing this for billions of years, and the fact that it is a ‘surprise’ to some people is just a testament to how out of touch with reality they really are.

    If you have any desire for accuracy, change your sentence to “The authors accurately underscore the robust nature and adaptability of ecosystems.” Leave off that part about “…and their relationship to all life.” That is redundant, as life is a part of the ecosystems.

  13. My favorite line? From the Department of the Blindingly Obvious, we have:

    It appears that ecosystems may have some capacity for resilience and adapt to changing conditions …

    Ya think?? Ecosystems can adapt? Who would have guessed?

    w.

  14. From the “Hugh Pepper” auto-script on April 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm:
    Excellent article and extremely useful information.
    Indicates article was not critically read, if technically “read” at all.

    The authors accurately underscore the delicate nature of ecosystems and their relationship to all life.
    Initial keying from “streamflow” in page title. “Stream” with “water” likely refers to ecosystems, “trees” were also mentioned, thus “ecosystems” was identified as reply subject. “Water” by itself could be many climate-type topics, “water” with “stream” could be glacier melt, for example. All three terms selected “ecosystems” specifically.

    Obviously we have only minimal and indirect control over natural variability, but we certainly have a profound responsibility to manage (control) our behaviour on the landscapes.
    With the acknowledgment of “natural variability” this goes against standard “warmist” responses. The entire line though is as would be expected as selected from the “ecology” subset of reply material, mentioning “responsibility” for while invoking “respect for the environment”.

    To achieve this we need accurate computer models to more accurately understand the cumulative impacts of all landscape changes resulting from industrial, agricultural, recreational and other uses.
    “Models” are not mentioned in original article or comments before this reply. But disparaging of computer models is expected on this site, as support of computer models is expected of “warmist” sites, thus such concerning models would be default settings. Likewise “landscape” was not mentioned, but warming due to land use changes is often discussed, thus mentioning of “landscape changes” and their effects may be expected, also such changes are frequently mentioned when discussing the environment and effects on “streams” and “trees”, etc.

    As the algorithm likely gauges its “success” based on number of mentions of the “commenter’s” name later on the page, I suggest referring to the “HP script” when discussing this matter.

    And wouldn’t it be a hoot if “HP” was programmed on or running on an HP. Heh.

  15. Good to know that the trees are so altruistic that they go into water conservation mode in order to help out the ecosystem. This would be similar to polar bears going on a diet when seal populations are low?

  16. Nature ISN’T fragile
    From the summary link of the original article:

    Conservationists need to work with development, not condemn it as leading to the end of nature. In truth, nature’s resilience has been overlooked, its fragility “grossly overstated.” Areas blasted by nuclear radiation are bio-diverse. Forest cover is rising in the Northern Hemisphere even as it declines globally.

  17. This shows the complete failure of modern “science”. Obviously they were looking for a connection between “climate change” and streamflow,or whatever. They think the entire universe and every thing, animate or inanimate, must be connected to climate change and they are dumbfounded when there is no connection.
    Next news story “An analysis of 35 athletes in the United States and Canada found that the impact of warmer air temperatures on athletes foot was less than expected in many locations, suggesting that some skin rashes may be resilient to certain aspects of climate change.”

  18. At least the author(s) appear to be scientifically honest, for that they deserve a pat on the back. That is to contrast so many of the current papers steamflowing out every day that are pure trash due to their not-so-hidden white lies in either the data or words, many times by omissions of known conflicts.

  19. Most of the senseless discussion on this blog stems from an outmoded concept of science. I have been suffering from this error myself. I thought that science was the application of an ancient concept that was known as “The Scientific Method”. Of course this is bollocks.

    Modern science is based on consensus, concern and social justice. The conclusion is formed first, then observations are found to confirm it. Much more efficient. H Pepper knows this. Get with the program guys!

  20. Climate is a much more complex concept than a temperature change of some small magnitude. Surely they did not define climate as just an average warmer temperature. Did they? What about first to last frost? Growing degree units? Precipitation during the high sun or low sun season? Oh well – probably not.

  21. Re: dcb283 says:
    April 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    ” ‘Lead author Julia Jones, an Oregon State University geoscientist, said that air temperatures increased significantly at 17 of the 19 sites that had 20- to 60-year climate records, but streamflow changes correlated with temperature changes in only seven of those study sites.’ ”

    “Perhaps because most of those sites were probably in cities and the temperature increase was caused by localized UHI? I seriously doubt they had thermometers along forest streams for 60 years.”

    There are rural watersheds with somewhat long-term records. For example see Hanson 2001:
    ftp://ftp.nwrc.ars.usda.gov/publicdatabase/reynoldscreek/documents/wrr_climate.pdf

    This paper refers to the Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in Idaho with records that go back to 1964. Hanson 2001 refers to his 1991 investigation into whether time of observation (TOB) had an effect on average daily temperature. The investigation referred to Hanson 1991 which I had mentioned in WUWT:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/10/22/a-preliminary-assessment-of-bests-decline/

    Neil Jordan says:
    October 22, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    A 1991 paper published in Northwest Science “The Effect of Observation Time and Sampling Frequency on Mean Daily Maximum, Minimum and Average Temperature” at

    https://research.wsulibs.wsu.edu:8443/xmlui/handle/2376/1631

    provides cautions regarding sampling and averaging of daily temperature. From the abstract: “The use of long-term temperature data for climatic, ecohydrologic and other studies must be scrutinized carefully because of the average daily differences due to time of observation (TOB). . . The significance of our findings is that studies which require historical temperature records and where only small changes in temperature are expected, such as climate change modeling, will be difficult to verify. Also, mean daily temperature will change at locations when several readings are used to compute mean daily temperature rather than computing mean daily temperature from the daily maximum and minimum temperatures.”

    Hanson 1991 is also archived at:

    http://research.wsulibs.wsu.edu/jspui/handle/2376/1631

    http://research.wsulibs.wsu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/1631/v65%20p101%20Hanson.PDF?sequence=1

    The OSU press release isn’t clear as to whether Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed was included. If this watershed, or a similar watershed, was included, Hanson 2001 would apply: “No consistent differences between sites were found; however, in the spring and fall, average daily temperatures differed by as much as 1 deg C between 0600 and 1600 TOB. Average daily temperatures computed from 10 min interval data, ending at TOB, were as much as 0.8 deg C less than the average computed from daily maximum and minimum values for 0800 through 1900 TOB.”

    Latitude at April 6, 2012 at 1:56 pm inquired as to what Professor Jones considered to be a significant temperature increase and suggested that less than 1 deg would not be significant. If the temperature errors noted in Hanson (up to 1 deg C) were also present in the Jones study, then Hanson 1991 bears repeating: “The significance of our findings is that studies which require historical temperature records and where only small changes in temperature are expected, such as climate change modeling, will be difficult to verify.”

  22. “That is the beauty of these long-term research sites,” (Jones) said. “They can provide nuanced insights that are crucial to effective management of water supplies in a changing world.”

    Quite. To understand something, study it. Science.

  23. “It appears that ecosystems may have some capacity for resilience and adapt to changing conditions,” said Jones, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

    Something comes bouncing back after periodic flash fires, floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, bolide impacts, and having gigatons of ice squatting on top of it, and it *may* have some capacity for resilience?

    Gee — ya think?

  24. dcb283 says:

    April 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    “Lead author Julia Jones, an Oregon State University geoscientist, said that air temperatures increased significantly at 17 of the 19 sites that had 20- to 60-year climate records, but streamflow changes correlated with temperature changes in only seven of those study sites.”

    Perhaps because most of those sites were probably in cities and the temperature increase was caused by localized UHI? I seriously doubt they had thermometers along forest streams for 60 years.

    Central England warming is different for each month:
    January showed no warming until th 1980s
    February rose 3°C up to the 1990s then fell 1°C
    March nothing until the 1990s then up 3°C whereas the minimum rose 2.5 then fell back 1.5.
    April a steady climb of 2.5°C
    May rises 2.5°C until the 1990s then fell 2.0°C but the minimum rose 1°C.
    June no rise in mimimum but maximum up 2.5°C
    July no rise at all
    August rises 2°C up to 2002 then falls 2°C
    September rises 3°C up to 2006 then falls 3°C, the minimum didn’t rise.
    October a steady climb of 2°C
    November 0.5°C rise
    December no rise.

    Make sense of that!

  25. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    April 7, 2012 at 6:00 am

    September rises 3°C up to 2006 then falls 3°C

  26. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    April 6, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Simply marvelous! Good I put my coffee down before I started your post!

  27. “So when presented with warmer and drier conditions, trees in the Pacific Northwest appear to use less water and therefore the impact on streamflow is reduced,”

    Surely the “less water” must be reflected in stream flow!! Let’s see… if the “less water” is because the trees are using less and it can then go to the stream, then there is obviously enough for the trees to use more…..something wrong here.

  28. Jones said the important message in the research is that the impacts of climate change are not simple and straightforward.

    Well, yes. Ecosystems are indeed complex, so scientists often say simpler things. This OSU study is an example. Nowhere in this study did anyone suggest that increasing carbon dioxide tends to lower evapotranspiration, because plants tend to keep their stomatal apertures smaller in higher carbon dioxide levels. Over the past few decades, carbon dioxide levels have increased enough to expect some sort of response at the ecosystem level.

    This might have a couple of implications. One is that better water use efficiency can be expected, perhaps leading to less correlation between stream flow and temperature. Another might be that total plant productivity might increase along with the carbon dioxide levels. This is well known to occur in greenhouses, but in open environments, perhaps not so much. Too many other potential limiting factors can intervene.

    This kind of complexity does not discourage scientists from proposing policy implications based on flimsy evidence. A typical example might be this extrapolation from a few dozen plots in a grassland all the way to global policy regarding carbon controls.

    “But our experiment shows that we can’t count on the natural world, the unmanaged world, to save us by pulling down all the atmospheric CO2.” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/12/021206075233.htm

    Ugh. This study did not show much beyond the obvious, which is that plant growth depends upon more than one thing. It certainly did not show anything about the “unmanaged world.” Nor did the relatively short durations in the OSU study.

    The hardest part of studying complicated things is that they are not simple. Rats.

  29. “But our experiment shows that we can’t count on the natural world, the unmanaged world, to save us by pulling down all the atmospheric CO2.”

    The unmanaged world has managed to do that quite nicely for several hundred million years — but now (magically), it’s *different*…

  30. Seven out of 17. That’s easily within the limits of random chance, especially with such a small sample size over such a short time span. I hardly think such a limited study justifies any conclusions. The headline should read: “No, wait a minute! We don’t have any results yet dummy!!”

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