Who knew? Plants are ‘heavy water’ rain gauges

Deuterium Oxide aka “molecular rain gauge”

From the GFZ GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Helmholtz Centre  and the Varved D2O department:

The water cycle amplifies abrupt climate change

The role of the hydrological cycle during abrupt temperature changes is of prime importance for the actual impact of climate change on the continents. In a new study published in Nature Geoscience online (January 19, 2014) scientists from the University of Potsdam, Germany and the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences show that during the abrupt cooling at the onset of the so-called Younger Dryas period 12680 years ago changes in the water cycle were the main drivers of widespread environmental change in western Europe.

The team of scientists analyzed organic remains extracted from Meerfelder maar lake sediments from the Eifel region, western Germany, to reconstruct changes in precipitation patterns in unprecedented detail. They were able to show that the intrusion of dry polar air into western Europe lead to the collapse of local ecosystems and resulted in the observed widespread environmental changes at that time.

Organic remains of plants from lake sediments as molecular rain gauges

The exact sequence of events during abrupt climate changes occurring over only a few years is one of the great unknowns in paleoclimate research. The new results presented here were obtained by using a novel method, where molecular organic remains derived from plant fossils were extracted from precisely dated annually laminated lake sediments. The ratio of the heavy Deuterium to the light Hydrogen isotopes in these biomarkers can be used to reconstruct changes in precipitation regime and moisture sources with unprecedented detail.

The Younger Dryas period was the last major cold period at the end of the last glaciation with a duration of about 1100 years, when an abrupt change in the pathway of westerly wind systems over Europe lead to massive environmental change within a few years, as GFZ scientists showed in an earlier study. Dirk Sachse, the head of the workgroup at the Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the Potsdam University explains: “In our new study we can show for the first time that this change in the pathway of westerly wind systems brought dry polar air into western Europe and this was the ultimate cause for the widespread disappearance of forests in the area.”

Changing westerly wind pathways bring dry polar air into western Europe

With these new results, the group also supports the hypothesis that this change in atmospheric circulation patterns over western Europe took place 170 years after the onset of cooling, as observed in the Greenland Icecores. The authors attribute this delay to the subsequent southward expansion of sea ice in the North Atlantic following the onset of cooling. This lead to a southward shift of the polar front channeling dry polar air into western Europe. “Our results also show that abrupt climate and environmental change may not be coeval on large regional scales, but can take place with substantial regional and temporal delays” explains Prof. Achim Brauer from the GFZ German Research Centre for the Geosciences.

The results of this study, which was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through its Emmy-Noether Programme and the Helmholtz Climate Initiative REKLIM, do not only show unequivocally that temperature changes can have regionally different impacts, but also that the water cycle acts as amplifier of change with potentially severe effects on continental ecosystems. As such, the regional impacts of future climate changes can be largely driven by hydrological changes, not only in the monsoonal areas of the world, but also in temperate areas, such as western Europe. The results of this study contribute to the development of higher spatially resolved regional climate models, which will allow for a better prediction of the regional impacts of future climate change.

###

contact: Dr. Dirk Sachse, E-mail: dirk.sachse(at)geo.uni-potsdam.de

Prof. Dr. Achim Brauer, E-mail: brau(at)gfz-potsdam.de

Internet: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2053

Rach, Oliver; Brauer, Achim; Wilkes, Heinz; Sachse, Dirk (2014): “Delayed Hydrological Response to Greenland Cooling at the onset of the Younger Dryas in Western Europe”, Nature Geoscience, Advance Online Publication, Jan. 19, 2014; doi:10.1038/ngeo2053

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32 thoughts on “Who knew? Plants are ‘heavy water’ rain gauges

  1. So if things really get bad 170 years after the world cools, we better protect our grandchildren by pumping as much CO2 as possible into the atmosphere.

  2. Some dust from a lake bed in Germany and an ice core from Greenland and suddenly they can conclude that:

    With these new results, the group also supports the hypothesis that this change in atmospheric circulation patterns over western Europe took place 170 years after the onset of cooling, as observed in the Greenland Icecores. The authors attribute this delay to the subsequent southward expansion of sea ice in the North Atlantic following the onset of cooling. This lead to a southward shift of the polar front channeling dry polar air into western Europe.

    Seriously? We’ve got satellite data for over 30 years and weather station data for over a century from much of the planet and we can’t figure out exactly how these exact same things work. But these guys know what happened, in what order, in what region from one ice core record, and one lake bed.

    LOL.

  3. Beware The Polar Vortex Sharknado doesn’t Strike Again!

    Oh my gosh, has anyone warned the White House yet?

    “Winter Storm Warning in effect from 7 am to 11 PM EST Tuesday” in Washington D.C. just in time for Obama’s state of the Union Address.

    The forecast is:
    Snow accumulation of 4 to 6 inches. Much cooler with highs in the upper 20s. North winds 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph. Chance of snow near 100 percent. (Wunderground)

  4. From the article:

    “Our results also show that abrupt climate and environmental change may not be coeval on large regional scales, but can take place with substantial regional and temporal delays” explains Prof. Achim Brauer from the GFZ German Research Centre for the Geosciences.

    The results of this study, which was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through its Emmy-Noether Programme and the Helmholtz Climate Initiative REKLIM, do not only show unequivocally that temperature changes can have regionally different impacts, but also that the water cycle acts as amplifier of change with potentially severe effects on continental ecosystems.

    So, does this mean that criticisms of the Little Age Age “is only a European regional effect” or “The Medieval Warming Period is strictly a localized, Euro-Centric-non-worldwide event” are … er, uhm … not worth the carbon dots they are printed with?

    More seriously, it DOES tend to show that a regional warming or cooling event “may not” be equally proved across the whole event “area” … and that not all “regional events” are going to be proved to exist in the same proxies across the whole region. Right?

  5. “prime importance”…”actual impact”…”novel method”…”in unprecedented detail”…”precisely dated [mud]“…”with unprecedented detail”…”massive environmental change”…”the ultimate cause”…”show unequivocally”…”the water cycle acts as amplifier”…

    If it’s all so grandiose, why has my BS detector pegged?

  6. Many climate scientists have made a good living exaggerating what happened in the Younger Dryas.

    To that, I say big farking deal.

    High resolution Temps from Antarctica and Greenland over the period – divide by 2 for global impact.

  7. The new results presented here were obtained by using a novel method, where molecular organic remains derived from plant fossils were extracted from precisely dated annually laminated lake sediments. The ratio of the heavy Deuterium to the light Hydrogen isotopes in these biomarkers can be used to reconstruct changes in precipitation regime and moisture sources with unprecedented detail.

    Great. Now let’s someone apply it to all the other sediment cores that have been obtained and see how their murky results are clarified.

  8. lead to massive environmental change within a few years….
    ..circulation patterns over western Europe took place 170 years after the onset of cooling

    I…don’t….think….so

  9. Obviously Trenberth’s missing heat is being wrapped around the subpolar latitudes by the circumpolar vortex causing it to expand all the way to Key West. That is causing droughts in California, and Guam to get top heavy. The northeast has had killer freezing and England is flooding. Here in Seattle we’ve been seeing zombi manbearpigs in football jerseys with #12 on them cruising 1st Ave in the wee hours. This rarely happens in a ENSO-neutral year. It is far worse than we thought. I’d not be surprised to see the same thing happening in NJ in a week or two.

  10. jorgekafkazar says:
    If it’s all so grandiose, why has my BS detector pegged?

    “… The coriolis illusion occurs when a pilot has been in a turn long enough for the fluid in the ear canal to move at the same speed as the canal. A movement of the head in a different plane, such as looking at something in a different part of the flight deck, may set the fluid moving and create the illusion of turning or accelerating on an entirely different axis. This action causes the pilot to think the aircraft is doing a maneuver that it is not. The disoriented pilot may maneuver the aircraft into a dangerous attitude in an attempt to correct the aircraft’s perceived attitude. For this reason, it is important that pilots develop an instrument cross-check or scan that involves minimal head movement. Take care when retrieving charts and other objects in the flight deck—if something is dropped, retrieve it with minimal head movement and be alert for the coriolis illusion. An effective way to counter these false sensations is to recognize the problem, disregard the false sensations, rely on the flight instruments, and use the eyes to determine the aircraft attitude. The pilot must have an understanding of the problem and the skill to control the aircraft using only instrument indications. …” – FAA Instrument Flying Handbook 2007, Chapter One, “Human Factors”, page 6 (of 256).

    Always trust your instruments.

  11. I think they’re looking for some other area to get funding since it’s not in the cards to keep claiming they know what’s going to happen in two weeks, 2 years or 80 years given the plethora of measurements from real observations. The BS-meter is an apt term here.

  12. To me this sounds like moderately interesting paleoclimatological research being hyped to death. It is quite possible that the onset of Dryas 3 was time-transgressive, but dating in that time interval is notoriously difficult due to the very hydrological changes they claim to have discovered (which also affected the exchange of radiocarbon between the atmosphere and the hydrosphere). Unfortunately the paper is paywalled so I can’t check their dating methodology.

  13. I don’t want to scare anyone, but one of my houseplants is much heavier than the others. I can only think of one reason for this. It’s filled with heavy water! So, again, not to scare anyone, but do you know how to defuse a nuclear bomb spider plant?

  14. I have a Ficus Benjamina I’ve named Mr. Fusion because of the blue nighttime aura and constant hissing and sputtering it generates. I think I could heat my home from the gladiola bulbs that winter over in the basement – any suggestions for a proper containment vessel? And – you read it first here – don’t put onions in the refrigerator. The heat they generate could roast a turkey. I’m serial.

  15. 170 years? Seriously?

    Unprecedented accuracy without error bars.

    How much material was used from each layer in that borehole to ‘accurately’ determine deuterium ratios?

    And how have they differentiated deuterium from heavy rainfall from light rainfall from no rainfall? Not to mention from occasional migrating or long distance wandering beasties?

    I’m with tty! Almost interesting paleo research lost in the tripe, hype and green trough hysteria.

  16. Now I’ve gotten hold of the paper. Dating was done by varve-counting, so it is at least potentially very precise.
    However it proves that the press-release is quite misleading. What they actually found is that the initial abrupt cooling 12,850 years occurred simultaneously in Greenland and Germany, within the dating uncertainty (only a few years). However a change from cold and wet to slightly colder and arid climate followed in Germany 170 years later.
    This seems quite reasonable, it has “always” been known that the younger Dryas was a two-staged affair since there are two end-moraine belts in Scandinavia.
    As I said before, interesting research hyped to death.

    Conclusion: never trust a press-release

  17. Unmentionable says: Correolis illusion: Always trust your instruments.

    Good comment. These guys have been spinning the science so long that when they see some straight data they suffer from the Correolis illusion and think the instruments are wrong.

    Yes, Dr Trenberth, that means you.

  18. tty says: Conclusion: never trust a press-release

    Thanks for the correction. Is this data available in an SI or anywhere. High res palio sounds interesting.

  19. “… lead to the collapse of local ecosystems and…”

    Can’t even spell led (apparently very few can these days…almost as common as spelling lose ‘loose’).

  20. precipitation patterns in unprecedented detail.

    Here we go again. I soon as I see those words I know it’s BS. Bing bing bing there are the BS detector just sounded.

  21. What bearing does this have on Michael Mann’s Bristlecone Pines hockey schtick graph.

    WUWT – March 19, 2008
    Bristlecone Pines: Treemometers or rain gauges ?
    ……..Since 1934 is generally accepted now to be the hottest year on record in 20th century it is indeed curious that 1934 in Mann’s data shows up as a down spike.

    But seeing what happened with 1934, one has to wonder what do these trees really record in their tree ring growths? Is it temperature as Mann speculates? Or is it any number of other things related to plant growth in various combinations?……

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/03/19/treemometers-or-rain-gauges/

  22. A bit OT, but in my area on TV yesterday they aired “The Day After Tomorrow”. (If you’re not familiar with the movie, the northern hemisphere suffers a bunch of sort of “Super Cyclonic Polar Vortexes” caused by, well, you’ll have see the movie or watch The Weather Channel to find out.) I hadn’t noticed it being scheduled here for awhile now. Is it starting to pop up in other lineups?

  23. That would be interesting to know, Gunga Din (re: 2:22pm). It would help track who the main propagandists are.

    The great thing about that movie is, like “The Blob,” (1957?), it is so blatantly fiction that it doesn’t do anything to promote AGW. Like the Scary House at the carnival. We loved being scared by that ride, but, out in the cold light (and brrrr, folks that global warmin’ — it’s COLD, heh) of day, did we think what we saw was real? “Aaa, go sit on a snow cone, Tommy, you’re full of beans. (laughing)”

  24. Gunga Din says:
    January 21, 2014 at 2:22 pm
    A bit OT, but in my area on TV yesterday they aired “The Day After Tomorrow”.
    +++++++++++
    Janice and Gunga Din… I feel the need to comment here. That movie had things so upside down scientifically and politically – that if I recall correctly, Mexico saves the US, which was covered in glaciers or something like that. The movie rates right up there with An Inconvenient Truth.

  25. Mario Lento says:
    January 21, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    =================================================================
    Sure the movie was all messed up. But why was it made? To plant an idea? It’s cold because it’s warm? It was science fiction so nothing had to proved. (But did give a Al Gore a great shot of a calving glacier made out of styrofoam. 8-)
    Did you ever see Star Trek the Next Generation episode 161, “Force of Nature”? (The working title was originally called “Limits”.) It was from the last season. The basic story was that warp drive was tearing the fabric of space so had to be limited.
    Jeri Taylor (one of the big wigs) said, “It was a wonderful environmental premise that something we take for granted is doing damage to the space around us. It was the metaphor which most closely evoked our present situation.” (In 1993 that would be the ozone hole.) “At the beginning of the seventh year, I sent Naran” (Shankar, who wrote the episode) “and Brannon to a big breakfast meeting of an environmental watchdog group that we have here in Hollywood and they came back inspired. Naren was so galvanized. he said, ‘I want to take a crack at “Limits”. I want to do this. This is important.’ I agreed. It was a story I really wanted to do and i think it does make an important statement.”
    (The quote is from “Captains’ Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages.”)

  26. Wow Gunga Din: You certainly have a good memory. But as usual, you post with integrity.

    I never got into Star Trek AFTER the original series. I loved them… and by the time the Next Generation came, it was, to me, too much like a soap. I show my age now right? But most Trekies say it was better. Perhaps I was getting to the age where I was too busy to watch much TV then. PS – I agree with your thoughts and connections regarding The Day After Tomorrow. Terrible movie that become more fodder for the AGW believers.

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