Racing To The Mountaintop at 0.4 Metres Per Year

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Anthony highlighted a study called “Recent Plant Diversity Changes on Europe’s Mountain Peaks” (paywalled here , hereinafter Pauli2012). The Supplementary Online Information (SOI) is here.

The study concluded that the plants had moved vertically up the mountain by 2.7 metres, and Anthony was justifiably amused by the accuracy of the number, calculated to the nearest tenth of a metre. But that hardly begins to touch the oddity of the study. Here is their Figure S1, from their SOI:

Figure 1, from the Supplemental Online Information from Pauli2012. ORIGINAL CAPTION:  Fig. S1. Basic design of a study summit, divided into eight summit area sections (SAS) that were used as sampling areas; the upper four areas extend from the summit point down to the 5-m contour line, the four lower from the 5-m to the 10-m contour line.

See what I mean about the oddity?

The crazy thing to me is, that they are only studying the area right at the very tippy-top of the summit of the mountains. They are solely and only looking at the top ten metres (33 feet) of vertical elevation of the mountain … and from that tiny vertical slice off of the mountaintop, they profess to be able to tell if the plants are moving uphill …

Now, I’ve spent a bit of time at the tops of mountains. They are subject to many variations in weather. The biggest one is the wind. Wind is a huge factor up at the mountaintops, and even a slight change in the average wind direction can turn a warm spot into a cold spot, or turn a wet spot into a dry spot.

So when (not if but when) there is a change in the composition of the plants eking out a living at the very mountaintop, my first suspect would be a change in the prevailing wind.

So, what do they have to say about the wind as a confounding factor in their study? Well … nothing. The wind doesn’t even get mentioned.

Next, the claim is made that a change in the warmth is allowing or encouraging the plants to move uphill. This presumes, of course, that the plants are near the top of their temperature range.

But these suckers are living at the very top of the mountain. Are we supposed to believe that somehow, in the mere ten vertical metres of the mountaintop that are being studied, the top limit of plants’ ability to resist cold temperatures just happens to fall in that very narrow range?

Next, we have to consider the difference in temperature due to a vertical move of 2.7 metres. The adiabatic lapse rate is 1°C per hundred metres vertical movement. That means the inherent temperature difference would be about 0.03°C …

Let’s be realistic. Plants that live on mountaintops live in cold, windy, dry conditions. Even the slightest change in any of those can easily stunt or kill off the plants that have a tenuous foothold there. Their range is constantly shifting and changing as those factors shift and change.

As a result, the only way to study the question would be with lots of temperature and wind and humidity and precipitation sensors scattered all around the mountaintop. The downwind side of the peak will be different from the upwind side. The sunrise side will be different from the sunset side. The side that gets the mist and clouds will be different from the dryer side.

Without those kinds of detailed measurements of those variables, any study done on this basis, of the top ten metres of mountain summits, will show us exactly nothing. There are too many confounding variables, and we cannot account for them without the necessary measurements.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this kind of rubbish gets published, but hope springs eternal … and in climate science, hope gets frustrated about as often …

In any case, I have long held that the quality of a scientific paper is inversely proportional to the square of the number of authors. This study, which is about four pages long, has 32 authors … just sayin’ …


PS—Did you notice in Figure 1 that this is the gang that couldn’t draw straight? The inner box doesn’t line up with the outer box. So many authors … so few artists …

PPS—In researching this, I looked at a number of photos of mountain summits … many of them are steep, up to about 30° or so. The slope of many of them seemed to be somewhere around 10°. If the slope is 10°, the total study area is about 1,600 square metres. That’s less than a fifth of a hectare, or less than half an acre, a tiny area for such a study … so figuratively they are arguing not only about how many plants can dance on the head of a pin, but about just exactly where on the head of the pin they happen to be dancing this year, compared to where they were dancing seven years ago …

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April 25, 2012 10:02 pm

Maybe it turns out increased CO2 promotes plant growth even without raising temperatures. Could their study plants just be getting more CO2 without any global warming?
REPLY: Yeah, from all the researchers crawling all over the mountaintop taking measurements 😉 – Anthony

Bill Tuttle
April 25, 2012 10:16 pm

The adiabatic lapse rate is 1°C per hundred metres vertical movement. That means the inherent temperature difference would be about 0.03°C …
Note to would-be fact-checkers: that’s the *dry* adiabatic lapse rate, which is more accurate for high altitudes than the standard adiabatic lapse rate of 2°C per 1,000 feet.

April 25, 2012 10:17 pm

I think the drawing might reflect the contour lines, and the attempt to equalise the areas in each of the four top regions.

Tom Harley
April 25, 2012 10:17 pm

More researchers here looking for diffences in Eucalyptus species to enable environmental restoration due to climate change.
worrying about 1 or 2C of possible change when the daily difference can be over 30C.

kbray in california
April 25, 2012 10:21 pm

Suppose the plant on the mountain can tolerate an environmental temperature spread of 60 degrees Celsius, from +40 to -20 degrees C. .03 degrees C divides into 60 degrees 2000 times.
So .03 C represents 1/2000th of the plant’s temperature tolerance. That ain’t enough to get it to give up and move. I agree, something else is moving the plants around, not the temperature.

April 25, 2012 10:26 pm

Isn’t the viability of a peak to sustain plant life similarily effected by competition for resources up and down the slope..
You can’t really just ‘top lop’ a system and expect to be able to get anything useful out such an analysis.. Too much going on elsewhere that could impact it. For instance people logging further down the slope could lead to increased exposure up slope or not – depends on where, how much and what exactly grows back..
Also how can you then successfully extrapolate what you observe to anything else? TMV – Too Many Variables..

April 25, 2012 10:32 pm

Simple summary: another superficial scratch rather than a real science study.

April 25, 2012 10:33 pm

“In any case, I have long held that the quality of a scientific paper is inversely proportional to the square of the number of authors.”
Random paper from LHC Atlas … 10 pages of authors.
Just sayin’…

April 25, 2012 11:08 pm

Could it be the mountain is actually sinking by that amount with the plant life just maintaining the same relative elevation?
With the cause of this sinking being global warming.
I’m sure I could knock up a research paper before lunch time to show that.

John Robertson
April 25, 2012 11:10 pm

I’d check the changes in the treeline before reading too much into this study. Roger Pielke, Sr. did a report on just that back on April 6 of this year…seems the treeline has advanced a bit in some areas and retreated in others…oddly enough it appears that some other factors have a bearing on where trees live rather than just average temperature…worth reading his report to get some perspective on the topic.
Not paywalled either. Has a bibliography, and only three authors.

John Robertson
April 25, 2012 11:16 pm

Ah, need to proof read more. The original article referred to was written in 1995, Mr. Pielke was speaking on April 6 of a second story which further explores treelines and that goes into how it is not changing as fast as the IPCC reports were predicting – by a long shot.
Sorry about that…(yawn)…I’ll use I’m tired as an excuse this time…

Eyal Porat
April 25, 2012 11:19 pm

One would have expected them to do a vertical slicing of the mountains.
I.e. start at the summit and go down a 10m width line a few hundred meters.
That will definitely be more educational about the area but, alas, much, much harder to do.
But never mind, our “NewScience TM” people can make a frog sing Aida should it fit the alarming view.

Man Bearpig
April 25, 2012 11:22 pm

Did they really get this paper published ?

April 25, 2012 11:35 pm

Utter nonsense. The Warmists continue to spew these ridiculous papers, hoping to tease out a signal they believe in religiously. This has nothing to do with science. It’s faith-based clap-trap.

Graeme M
April 25, 2012 11:39 pm

I haven’t read the paper, but have they identified the temperature trends for each area under investigation? I understood global warming is not global as such in that some regions exhibit warming trends and some cooling trends. I am sure they must have, just curious is all. It would be interesting to see what trend in ranges correlates with what trends in temps.

April 26, 2012 12:01 am

As one of my farming brothers who got a mature age degree in Agricultural Science use to say after his stint in the university, In science you have to pay ninety nine dick-wits just to get that hundredth one who really will make a difference to the world.
Seems like the lower end examples of that ninety nine might be responsible for this study.
And they wonder why trust in scientists and science is rapidly diminishing amongst the public?
The internet has revolutionized the way the public can access science and check science claims of any type against other sources and get alternative opinions from across a very wide sphere so lousy and seriously bad science is now increasingly being called for what it is.

April 26, 2012 12:07 am

It’s not the students fault. inexperience is implied. strange! (scratches chin!) just have an itchy chin lately!

April 26, 2012 12:18 am

Plants moving north.
Plants moving south.
Plants moving west.
Plants moving east.
Plants moving up.
Plants moving down.
It is clear that these poor souls are running out of things to study? Chance would be a fine thing.
I suppose in evolutionary terms and at their current rate of climb then no doubt the plants will develop wings and be able to join the mass exodus, due global warming, of flying pigs. As recently reported in that prestigious journal Nutters?

April 26, 2012 12:41 am

Barnacle Bill,
Maybe the mountain has expanded due to global warming and is now 2.7M higher.

April 26, 2012 12:42 am

I’m going to stick with my original assesment of this study, it was just a simple excersie in visiting nice palces around the world using CAGW as the funder.
Just look where they’ve been like I said nice work if you can get it.

April 26, 2012 12:47 am

It does not bother me that a study like this gets done, so much. It is that it was paid for by the tax payers.

April 26, 2012 12:48 am

Hmm. Statistical significance? 1 mountain top, 8 zones? no allowance for sun direction, wind direction?

Kelvin Vaughan
April 26, 2012 1:15 am

Further topics for investigation and a government grant:
1. The wieght of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing the mountain range to sink 0.4m per year.
2. The troposphere is growing in volume, equivalent to 0.4 m height per year, as the atmosphere warms.

David C
April 26, 2012 1:16 am

They’re hoping that at 0.4m a year, and starting only 10m. from the top, they’ll soon be able to say ‘models show that these plants will become extinct in certain locations within 10 years. It’s worse than we thought’.

April 26, 2012 1:33 am

” I agree, something else is moving the plants around, not the temperature.”
I believe Willis’ argument is just the opposite. Without a complete complement of measuring many different factors he argues that one cannot say with certainty which factor among many is the principle driver. Arguing, from little information that is is NOT temperature is as tenuous as arguing that is soley due to temperature.

April 26, 2012 2:00 am

Next, the claim is made that a change in the warmth is allowing or encouraging the plants to move uphill. This presumes, of course, that the plants are near the top of their temperature range.
But these suckers are living at the very top of the mountain. Are we supposed to believe that somehow, in the mere ten vertical metres of the mountaintop that are being studied, the top limit of plants’ ability to resist cold temperatures just happens to fall in that very narrow range?
A couple points. First on the wind. They studied 66 different summits. I imagine one could argue that the wind changed the over the 7 year period of study on some of the summits.
It might be a stretch to make that argument for all 66.
You might consider how the summits were selected. I dunno.
We surveyed 66 summit sites of 17 mountain regions, distributed across Europe from the northern boreal to the temperate and to the Mediterranean zone (Fig. 1). Mediterranean mountain regions were defined as those lying within the Mediterranean biome according to Olson et al. (28). Sites were first recorded in the European Commission’s FP5 project GLORIA-Europe in 2001 and surveys were repeated in 2008.
Next they focus on particular plants
Endemic taxa: As generally defined in biogeography, an endemic species is restricted to a particular geographical region of variable extension, sometimes of a very
restricted range (narrow endemics). In this study we considered those species as endemics that are exclusive to a single mountain system: i.e., from north to south: the
Scandes, Urals, Carpathians, Alps, Pyrenees, Greater Caucasus, Apennines, or the Baetic Cordillera of southern Spain. In the case of the Mediterranean island sites: Corsica and
Sardinia or Crete and the Aegean region (compare Fig. 1). Most of the endemic species are, in fact, narrow endemics having a very limited distribution within the respective
mountain system. In addition, their vertical range is restricted in many cases to the upper part of the mountains (30). Hence their distribution is highly fragmented and comparable
to geographic islands. However, a narrow endemic may not be particularly rare within an observation site.
Next: with regard to the number of authors. You have to consider that there were several field teams bothin 2001 and 2008. Its not like 1 guy visited all 66 summits. So the comments about the number of authors is a little off base.
Finally, you probably should have commented on what the 2.7 meters represents and how it was calculated.
And folks can see the program here
It could be fun to check out the data loggers for hourly temperature
Anybody wanna guess what the the trend is for 2001 to 2008 at the mountain tops?

April 26, 2012 2:09 am

barnacle bill says:
April 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm
With sea levels rising at an alarming rate you could be on to a nice piece of research there, I’m only sorry I didn’t think of it first;-)

April 26, 2012 2:14 am

A ridiculous burst of noise. However, the subject itself is interesting, and it would be unwise to dismiss everything written under a similar title as pure noise. it has been very difficult to publish any work during the past decade (or get funded, to begin with), without linking it to climate change or to “green energy” (somewhat similar to the lack of success we experienced when we couldn’t link our research to cancer treatment during the previous decade).
Some works are good, despite the corrupt titles, and represent true efforts to find out how things work.

April 26, 2012 2:26 am

I’d have transplanted a few at each of the summits. Conditions might have been OK at the summit right from the beginning of the 7 years of the study – heck! maybe even since 1944 – but it’s just a real booger to march uphill. Just like any other living thing, the hike down the hill is always easier than the hike up the hill.

April 26, 2012 2:56 am

I think the first comment by Russell really nails it. Just an increase in CO2 could account for greater hardiness. That is the confounding factor, plant hardiness. Hardiness changes would account for changes in range that could include better growth in certain soil types, etc. This study is full of fail.

Alex the skeptic
April 26, 2012 2:56 am

So vegetation crawled up the mountain by 1.7 meters because of a supposed global warming. Has the report said that the vegetation below that line remained static so the net effect of the warming actually caused an increase in the net mass of the mountain vegetation? Warming means more vegetation which means more life and is therefore good. Cooling means less vegetation and is bad, less life.

April 26, 2012 2:57 am

Mr Mosher, would you place you CAGW reputation on this study? and what if the plants only moved 2.6 is this better or worse for CAGW what about 2.8. They also state that they will go back in 2 years and check again, 2.7/7 = 0.38571428571428571428571428571429 so 0.38571428571428571428571428571429 *2 = 0.77142857142857142857142857142857 so the plants in the next 2 years should off moved 0.77142857142857142857142857142857m, rough guesstimate anyway.

don penman
April 26, 2012 3:04 am

As the other side keeps telling us there is a mountain of peer reviewed evidence to support global warming,It is all stuff like this though.When did species stop increasing habitat range through evolution and only respond to changes in temperature?

April 26, 2012 3:14 am

Plant’s moving (whether inside or outside of accepted range) – hmm, I believe I heard a little known theory about why that might happen once. It was called something like evolution…
There might be an argument whether this can happen in seven years, but the fact that the plants in questions will presumably be constantly subject to evolution, and are in the sort of marginal environment where evolution is generally accepted to be more noticable, might be an issue in all of this.

R Barker
April 26, 2012 4:01 am

The most valuable result of the study may be the entertainment of WUWT readers. Surely that is a worthy endeavor.

April 26, 2012 4:58 am

Such bloody nonsense.
The whole study is a farce. If and it’s a tiny if, if plants have moved around, be it up or down, it is as likely that the human interference in the measurement has caused the movement, be it it seed carried under foot or on the clothes of the researcher as they move about and beyond the field of study.
This ain’t science, this is miniscule observation and bias from people who know that if they get the “right results”, they will be funded for a lifetime of similar jaunts. These people are killing science, the scouts could have done better.

michael hart
April 26, 2012 5:04 am

It is also necessary to measure the lower bounds. Did they attempt that? It is entirely possible that the plants might be growing more at lower altitudes too, especially if they were benefiting from higher CO2 concentrations.
Further possible causes of increased fertilization at mountain summits:
Mountain tops are places where you often meet other humans. Sometimes those humans consume and discard food at the summits. Sometimes humans leave….ahem…..the metabolic end products of food at the summit.
Sometimes wild animals frequent the summit to see if the humans leave food. Those animals will, in any case, inevitably bring fertilizer with them.
If the animals [sheep, deer] are farmed, then their numbers will also increase as farming spreads due to growing human populations=more fertilization.
Did any of these mountains sport a telecommunications mast? =more human activity. Birds also like to sit/roost on many human constructions, and often defecate while doing so.
Did the researchers take a ski-lift to any of these previously-unfrequented summits…….?

April 26, 2012 5:41 am

Willis … how did you get 1600 sq metres with a 10° slope? The top area of a cone at that angle with a centre height of 10m is 10427 square metres! The study area was a bit less than this but not much!

April 26, 2012 5:45 am

In addition .. they surveyed 66 summits … not just one!

April 26, 2012 5:55 am

How many grad student’s got their PHDs working on this study? Does this paper reflect the quality of present day higher education? Has a publish or perish motivation fueled a scientific publishing bubble that will soon burst?

April 26, 2012 5:55 am

I didn’t see a reference to the altitude of the study. Perhaps the researchers were suffering from hypoxia.

April 26, 2012 6:10 am

Frankly, it would be much weirder if the distribution of any short-lived plant (ie not a Californian Redwood or Australian Snow Gum) had not changed over 7 years. Do these people think that all annuals and perennials just pop up in the same spot every year?
There are numerous factors that determine when and where plants germinate in the wild, even in fairly stable environments. On a mountainside, with wind and water affecting both microclimate and seed dispersion, animal/human activity, soil movement etc, etc, the conclusions of this ‘study’ are just plain silly. One glaring omission is that they made no effort to establish whether distribution of these plants had changed in any other direction, like sideways or downwards. Nor are we told whether the overall density of these plants has changed, and if so why/why not.
In any event, 7 years is meaningless in the natural world. After a prolonged drought, or a series of wet years, plant profiles can change dramatically almost anywhere. And this isn’t even a dramatic change.
What a waste of money to produce rubbish.

April 26, 2012 6:31 am

4 pages, 32 authors? This is a 5th grade science class project, right? It probably got a “C” at best.

April 26, 2012 6:47 am

I’m quite certain that had the study shown the opposite, it would not be published.

April 26, 2012 6:48 am

Steven Mosher says:
April 26, 2012 at 2:00 am
A couple points. First on the wind. They studied 66 different summits. I imagine one could argue that the wind changed the over the 7 year period of study on some of the summits.
It might be a stretch to make that argument for all 66.

Immaterial. Let me remind you what my fifth grade science teacher taught us for the science fair. It is the scientists job to seperate out other variables and not use number of repetitions to get rid of your compounding factors.
For instance, if you are studying plants and number of hours of light, and you have actual sunlight coming in to ruin your science experiment, adding to the number of plants is not going to get rid of this compounding variable. Take CO2, or wind patterns that are constantly changing everywhere, not just some places, and then magically staying the same in others. Or precipitation.
How is adding subjects to your experiment going to get rid of your compounding variables when you ignored them in the first place? They did not even think to take into consideration some of what we said here. One would think that they need a refresher course from my fifth grade teacher on science…..
There are so many compounding factors to biological growth to plants that are not taken into consideration by these people that its just plain stupid. You can’t hide a skunk of a study by adding more sites and just more money into the skunk. A skunk is still a skunk. And a computer program with all of these compounding factors built into it is going to be accurate to the nearest meter let along tenth of a meter?
Are you seriously talking about the elegance of this thing? I am rather shocked.

Chuck Nolan
April 26, 2012 6:52 am

barnacle bill says:
April 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm
Could it be the mountain is actually sinking by that amount with the plant life just maintaining the same relative elevation?
With the cause of this sinking being global warming.
I’m sure I could knock up a research paper before lunch time to show that.
Easy bill, not so fast. You need to get the process in the correct order.
1. Secure grant from EPA.
2. whatever.

April 26, 2012 7:16 am

With 31 authors tripping over each other I am surprised they were able to conclude anything they might all agree with. This paper (which I have not read) sounds to be much like the drawing of a camel; being a horse designed by a committee.

Russ in Houston
April 26, 2012 7:20 am

Steven Mosher says:
April 26, 2012 at 2:00 am
“It could be fun to check out the data loggers for hourly temperature”
I only opened one file but it appears to me that they only took one reading for temp every 25 hours. I’m in a hurry so I don’t have time to look at this in depth but if that is the case…I think we should request a refund.

Chuck Nolan
April 26, 2012 7:25 am

Shevva says:
April 26, 2012 at 12:42 am
I’m going to stick with my original assesment of this study, it was just a simple excersie in visiting nice palces around the world using CAGW as the funder.
Just look where they’ve been like I said nice work if you can get it.
Yeah but, my bet is they use sailboats to cross oceans and once on land they ride their mountain bikes and hike to their destinations. That’s what I would expect from the folks at GLORIA? Wouldn’t you agree they’d NEVER submit to using dirty oil if there is any other way.

kbray in california
April 26, 2012 7:32 am

Steven Mosher says:
April 26, 2012 at 2:00 am
A better experiment would be to place planter boxes every year up to the peak with starter plants/seedlings/seeds and tally which ones survive.
Limiting the variables is the experiment is essential for accurate results and conclusions.
Often in experiments we can be surprised by results we never expected.
Some variables are hidden and are only revealed by restricting the conditions.

Steve Keohane
April 26, 2012 7:32 am

This whole concept seems silly. if you want to look at climate change, look where the tree line is, ie. the point above which nothing grows. It is about 10K feet at 39°N. If this line moves up, ie. things grow where they didn’t previously, it is getting warmer. What about the dead trees that once lived above the current tree line? It used to be warmer than it is now…
Oh, this also means we have up to 4K feet in Colorado on many mountains above 10K feet that have plenty of room for migrating plants, lack of elevation shouldn’t be an issue.

Jeff Norman
April 26, 2012 7:47 am

This reminds me of a paper (~15 y.a.?) reporting that grasses were growing (for the first time ever) on the Antarctic Peninsula and that was a sure sign of global warming. I think we disussed this at Still Waiting for the Greenhouse and I showed pictures from locations in the Canadian Arctic at higher latitudes where grasses always grew. It was suggested that the grasses were transported to the Antarctic on the shoes/boots of climate researchers/tourists.
Again, is it at all possible that these plants were moved up the mountain(s) by climate researchers/tourists?

Doug Proctor
April 26, 2012 8:00 am

I, too, have spent a lot of time on mountain tops. I’m an ex-field geologist, also, so I’ve seen a lot of environments undergoing “normal” changes. The problem we are facing in much of the climate field is what you have identified: the ones making the claims have little to no useful world experience. It’s all theory and extrapolation from a few observations. Like the 97% of scientists who agree with CAGW.
Donna LaFam has well chronicled the lack of experience in the IPCC. Mann wasn’t so old when he did his Awful Thing. The powers that count use the inexperience and enthusiasm for speculation for their purposes, knowing that age and wisdom temper one’s declarations. Caveats is what you get from those who have been around the block a few times. Not useful at all.
After 25 years I went to my university graduation reunion and was surprised to find that the professors I had held in such high esteem had, generally, far less practical experience in their field than their former students. Yes, the profs could give you the latin names for things, but the connection between what they understood and the world in action was lost on them.
The climate wars are revealing facets of the scientific mind that go back to the ’50s depiction of scientists – forgetful, sometimes mad, but mostly impractical thinkers who needed a daughter or wife to keep them fed regularly. I won’t go as far as “mad”, but what we see is certainly impractical, and if Hansen and Mann are example, forgetful as well – at least when it comes to what they actually did or said.

Chuck Nolan
April 26, 2012 8:08 am

Did I miss something. They didn’t say we lost vegetation in the first 2.7 meters of the mountains we just gain more. Sounds to me like things are just getting better and better. More warmth, more plants, yeah, better and better. I haven’t seen any “C” in CAGW . These people really confuse me, a whole lot.

John Baglien
April 26, 2012 8:45 am

Decadal change based on two years sample? Measurement of distance from summit was to the nearest five meters; the vertical movement was inferred from an “altitudinal index” tied to the change in relative abundance of plants on different mountains sampled within a region. Available moisture on many of these peaks would be heavily dependent on snow cover, and the phenology, abundance and observability of plants dependent on the subsequent pattern of snowmelt and warming. Eurasion snow cover and melt ( was quite different between 2001 (7.8 million sq km in May) and 2008 (10.1 million sq kilometers in May). Did increased available moisture allow more abundant plant growth in 2008? Did later snow melt affect seasonal plant development and dessication? Do they know they sampled at phenologically similar times? Too many variables not considered in moving to their desired conclusion.

April 26, 2012 9:08 am

I assume the mountain tops had fairly easy access. My observation in mountains in Colorado in the last 10 years, especially those with relatively easy access (class 1 & 2), is that the number of people making the trek is growing tremendously. Life tends to be fragile in these locations, and the more people stomping around is hard on the little bit of life clinging to the rocks and very thin soil.
I would be amazed if the miniscule fraction of a degree increase (or is it decrease?) in global temperatures between 2001 and 2008 had a greater impact than an increasing number of visitors.
The authors of the paper say the impact comes from reduced precipitation, presumably as a result of global warming. How were the plants distributed 30 years ago? 100 years ago? Haven’t we been lectured over and over that 7 years of data cannot define a climate?

April 26, 2012 9:11 am

Does the article say just how elevation was measured? The simplest confounding issue will be that of accurately determining elevation. GPS determinations can be fraught with problems without a known datum nearby that can be used as a reference. It’s even true if you simply use trigometry and a transit. Were elevations repeatedly taken to acquire an error in measurement? Until these points were clarified, I would not really worry about the plant behaviour. After that, then issues linked to local changes in climate like shifts in prevailing winds need to be addressed. After all those issues were dealt with, then would be the time to see if there is any systematic residue of change left in the data.

April 26, 2012 9:14 am

“Recent Plant Diversity Changes on Europe’s Mountain Summits” is two pages long, has 11 paragraphs (including the abstract). but it has 32 authors.

April 26, 2012 10:18 am

Unless similar plants have gone extinct 2.7 meters (or more) further down, where previously they thrived, it looks to me as if the extra CO2 is doing as well as expected. (By sensible people that is).

April 26, 2012 10:55 am

Do you know what you call the guy who graduted last in his class at MIT ? scientist …

April 26, 2012 11:33 am

The thirty authors got to mountain climbing and picnicking on someone else’s dime. In MN we just heard about 5 doctors going with a group to Mt Everest claiming they were going to monitor health under stressful conditions as this would somehow relate to sick people under medical stress. One would think that a Stairmaster in a hyperbaric chamber would be a little more repeatable. But then there would no lovely scenery to look at.

April 26, 2012 11:54 am

Like the frog studies, I would be more inclined to suspect the researchers unintentionally transporting plant seed material than climate change for this miniscule change in range.
Throw in possible elevation measurement errors which would totally swam this small change unless extreme care was used in geolocation of the study plants and you have asserted change that is wholly inside the likely elevation measurement errors.
This study is not worth the digital paper it is printed on.

Joe Public
April 26, 2012 1:00 pm

Steven Mosher says: April 26, 2012 at 1:33 am
”Arguing, from little information that is is NOT (one variable) is as tenuous as arguing that is solely due to (that same variable).”
With so many reputable brains unable to agree, the gambler in my will bet on that it is NOT that specified variable.

Wolfgang Flamme
April 26, 2012 1:25 pm

the surveyed area was 16m² per summit, according to the field manual.

Gail Combs
April 26, 2012 3:38 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
April 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm
Thanks for that link, Wolfgang. The mindset of the authors is revealed by the very first sentence in the manual, viz:
Rapid climate change threatens biodiversity – of alpine ecosystems in particular.
Riiiight …
Oh they are correct Willis. A quick descent into an ice age would do a tap dance on the alpine ecosystems. THINK OF THE MAMMOTH!
(Do I really need the sarc tag?)

John M
April 26, 2012 6:34 pm

Regarding the large number of authors, this is a well-recognized trend.
And do you know why? Believe it or not, “it’s George Bush’s fault”!
I know because a “peer-reviewed paper” says it’s so!
As Dave Berry likes to say, I’m not making this up.
“Commentary: Too many authors, too few creators. ”

Unfortunately, the need among grant-seeking academics to publish and be cited often grew stronger, especially during federal funding cutbacks, the most recent example being the cuts in science budgets under President George W. Bush.

Those draconian cuts? Quite obvious in the following graph.

Mike Jowsey
April 26, 2012 11:06 pm

Come on guys! Give them a break. Like a nice mountain-hike break for a few days every couple of months on the tax payer’s back. C’mon! You would – wouldn’t you?

April 26, 2012 11:19 pm

Nice article Willis, thanks again.
About the multiple authors. If each of 20 authors write one paper a year and puts 19 coauthors on, and then the next author does the same, etc.. All 20 or the authors then claim 20 publications a year. It is the same with the number of people on successful grants. Each of 20 get 20 grants funded. The result, the morally corrupt and publishers of trivial or trivial and incorrect papers, rush to the top. Just like the mountains, the worst scientists race to the top, the so so scientists are farther down, and the good scientists are lost in the blizzard of useless paper.
Anything can be proven by this record of peer reviewed papers. Like Chubby’s club house, only friends and coauthors are invited into the club.

James Bull
April 26, 2012 11:35 pm

In the UK several nature agencies have been saying that the practice of scattering the ashes of loved ones on their favourite mountain/hill peak is upsetting the ecosystem by bringing in extra nutrients that would not normally be there this can cause the death of some plants that are adapted to poor soils and the sudden arrival of plants that would not grow but for the boost in the nutrients, these extra plants seeds have been there but unable to germinate or are brought on the feet of those walking the hills.
James Bull

Wolfgang Flamme
April 27, 2012 11:33 am

I managed to download more temperature logging files from the gloria project simply by guessing their structured URI (I can provide the 25MB zip file on demand). I calculated the anomalies and found them to be highly autocorrelated (as can be expected from experimental design). Thus to reduce the amount of data I computed daily averages and used GLS w/ AR1 to calculate slope and CI (library ‘nlme’).
The results are interesting (w/ respect to the science paper) since there are no significant temperature trends to be found nowhere. The smallest p-value obtained was 0.3 but that very time series just ran about one year…

Big Bob
April 27, 2012 2:40 pm

what do you figure the temperature differance is a whole 2.7 metres higher? If it really made a differance then the top of the plant would be differant from the bottom of the plant.

Wolfgang Flamme
April 28, 2012 1:33 am

actually I’m suspicious especially about the p-values obtained.You haven’t possibly been able to replicate some of them? Slopes seem to match with what your partial analysis says here (April 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm).
Hope I can try a slightly different ansatz this weekend for verification.

April 28, 2012 4:11 pm

What I was taught about tree line was that it was the highest point on a slope where a new seedling could mature sufficiently from germination to the onset of winter to survive until the next spring. If you’ve ever really LOOKED at a mountain, you’ll see that the “tree line” isn’t static. The tree line climbs and dips along the side of a mountain, depending on conditions. Sometimes it’s higher on the north side of a mountain, simply because that’s the side that gets the most moisture, while the south side is perpetually in a dry zone. Soil nutrients, wind flow, moisture, sunlight, shadow (and what part of the day the shadow is present), can alter tree line. You also find that every once in a while there’s a tree growing “above timberline” in a given area, when for some unexplained reason it managed to survive conditions that killed off all other seedlings at that elevation. Unless this “study” (which from what I’ve read here occurred not every year for seven years, but once in 2001 and once in 2008) accounted for each of those variables, it’s worthless as a check of anything.

April 28, 2012 4:40 pm

Also of note is that mountain tops tend to have highly variable populations of herbivores, year to year, (as populations are prone to predator / prey unstable oscillations) and they get a very wide range of lightning strikes. So is that plant moving uphill from warmth, or from ‘return to lighting burn’ area?
It’s also the case that we just had a dramatic shortening of atmospheric height as the sun went to near zero aa and UV plunged. THAT has put the cold layers at much lower altitude. (My local mountain, Mount Hamilton, has had MUCH more snow this year than the recent past.)
The simple fact is that “range” will be limited by the “very cold year” that comes every 60 years or so. Then the plants spend the next 59 crawling back up until the next extreme freeze kills ’em again… So in addition to “way too small” a study area they have “way to short a time window”. Needs at lest 60 years (and perhaps even more. There is that 1470 year Bond Event deep freeze cycle too…)

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