Endangered Cloud Forests, Clouds and Climate Change

by Jim Steele

Demagogues trumpet ecosystems are collapsing and allude to scientific assessments. For example, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest as “critically endangered”. So, what constitutes “critically endangered”? The Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest story is telling.

The Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest is located on the 5.6 square mile Lord Howe Island situated between Australia and New Zealand. For perspective, 54 islands could fit within the limits of New York City. Still, Lord Howe Island is an evolutionary marvel. Forty-four percent (105) of the island’s plant species, and 37% of all its invertebrate species are found nowhere else in the world. Additionally, the island supports the most poleward of all coral reefs. So, in 1982 Lord Howe Island was designated a World Heritage Area.

The “critically endangered” cloud forest is restricted to just 0.1 square miles atop the island’s extinct volcanic mountain. Researchers worried the cloud forest’s unique collection of species would have nowhere to go if global warming disrupted its environment.  Accordingly, the IUCN designates ecosystems with such limited distributions as critically endangered. Although confined to a small micro-climate, its species are very resilient to changing climates. Hundreds of thousands of years were required for the island’s unique species to evolve from their ancestors (after arriving from Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia). During that time, they survived alternating ice ages and warm inter-glacials.

Unchanging geography permits the existence of cloud forests. Most are found in the tropics where they experience 78-102 inches of annual rainfall. (For perspective, “rainy” Seattle averages just 38 inches of rain.) The photo above also illustrates why cloud forests are typically confined to zones within 220 miles of the coast, and above elevations of 1600 feet. Sea breezes are laden with water vapor. As they rise and cool, vapor condenses to form clouds. Rising air saturated with water vapor can cool enough to create clouds by rising over 20-story buildings. The Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest exists around 2800 feet.

Clouds covering Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest on Lord Howe Island

As human populations increased, land cultivation threatened cloud forests across the globe. However, due to low human populations and steep slopes the Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest was spared excessive losses. However, as with Hawaii and all of earth’s unique island species, introduced species are the greatest extinction threat. Introduced cats, pigs and goats were damaging Lord Howe Island since the mid 1800s. Having recognized this threat, humans began programs to preserve the island’s species. Pigs and goats were eradicated by the 1980s, but the island’s plague of introduced rats remain problematic. To date, an introduced owl and poison bait projects struggle to limit rat populations.

In addition to rats, scientists suggested the cloud forest was threatened by a “loss of moisture from declining rainfall and cloud cover due to climate change.” However, scientists admitted their estimates were “based on limited information” and the real level of threat to the cloud forest could range from “Least Concern” to “Collapsed.” “Least Concern” may prove to be the correct designation as long-term global precipitation data show a slight increasing trend in the region.

Nonetheless, to support their catastrophic claims their study ill-advisedly alluded to a debunked 1999 study that claimed CO2-caused warming was drying the Costa Rican cloud forests by raising cloud elevations, and allegedly drove the Golden Toad to extinction. That climate attribution was absolutely wrong. The cloud forest amphibians were killed by an introduced chytrid fungus, spread by pet trade collectors, researchers and animals like introduced bullfrogs. Remarkably, the proposed worrisome warming and drying actually benefitted amphibians by killing the fungus. Similarly, Lord Howe’s cloud forest vegetation is potentially threatened by introduced fungi (Phytophthora), spread by tourists. So, steps are being taken to encourage “social distancing” near vulnerable native plants.

As with Costa Rica, Lord Howe Island endures periodic dryness associated with El Nino cycles. The island’s lowest recorded rainfall happened during the 1997 El Nino. Unfortunately, to blame climate change for a short-term drying trend, researchers ignored the fact that the second lowest rainfall happened in cool 1888 and differed from the “record low” 1997 rainfall by a scant 0.3 inches. Furthermore, research has determined cloud cover shifts across the Pacific due to El Nino cycles and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and regional tree rings reveal 55-year dry cycles amplified by El Nino.

Ecologists know surviving cloud forest species had to adapt to natural cycles of periodic dryness they endured over millennia, and indeed they did. One example is the Kentia Palm. Native only to Lord Howe Island, it’s a globally popular indoor house plant, in part, because it withstands long periods of neglect and irregular watering. So, take heart. The Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest will not collapse with a changing climate. And although introduced species certainly are a threat, it is something people are rectifying.

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, and a member of the CO2 Coalition

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Coeur de Lion
January 27, 2021 6:14 am

La Niña upcoming

Richard Page
January 27, 2021 6:42 am

It’s going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy as scientists from all over the world descend on the island to study this ‘critically endangered’ ecosystem, bringing who knows what damage with them. Can’t see this ending well.

Last edited 2 years ago by Richard Page
Reply to  Richard Page
January 27, 2021 6:13 pm

Oh you are so right! These researches do absolutely nothing for the survival of species but instead bother them a lot by collecting, trapping, tagging, and generally molesting them instead of JUST LEAVING THEM ALONE. They can certainly count though. They count and count, and measure and count, write it down in their little note pads, write a paper on how many there are and how much they weigh and how big or small they are and how important it is to keep counting and then make up a reason – such as climate change – to show the need for it.

January 27, 2021 6:44 am

Cool clouds!

January 27, 2021 7:11 am

The problem with these people is that they think they know better than Mother Nature how to get things done, so they fiddle with it, and make a mess of something that is better off left alone.

Reply to  Sara
January 27, 2021 10:23 am

An example is Yellowstone Park where first all wolves and most mountain lions were killed….allowing the deer and elk to multiply and start eating the young trees…place changed remarkably…..for the tourists I guess.

Reply to  Anti_griff
January 27, 2021 5:41 pm

Sounds to me that you are describing a typical predator/prey boom bust cycle.

Yellowstone has been a wilderness since John Colter’s visit.

Wolves were Federally poisoned and trapped yet wolves proved to be difficult to eradicate.

Cougars/Pumas/mountain lions have repeatedly proven impossible to eradicate even near populous cities.
Only nearly complete deforestation in very populous areas coupled with near total prey population collapse successfully reduced most mountain lions in those areas.

Near or in Yellowstone, reducing mountain lions is near impossible.

Reply to  Sara
January 27, 2021 2:03 pm

Well, y’see… you can’t have wolves and cougars and grizzlies eating tourists, and that’s the reason they left the area: hikers and mountain climbers and idiots who want to jump into the scalding waters of those geysers are more important than real wildlife…. or something like that.

Joseph Zorzin
January 27, 2021 7:54 am

Off topic- sorry- but the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:
“midnight — perilously close to catastrophe”

“Humanity is perilously close to catastrophe, according to a group of scientists that said the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with growing threats from climate change and nuclear weapons, is pushing civilization close to a human-caused apocalypse.”

Then again, as FDR once said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
January 27, 2021 8:34 am

Then again, FDR hadn’t heard of AOC and The Squad.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
January 27, 2021 12:24 pm

Well, with Senile Joe and the radical left rejoining the Iran nuclear deal to ensure Iran can nuke the Jooooze during the term of a Republican president, they’re right about the growing threat from nuclear weapons.

January 27, 2021 8:16 am

However, scientists admitted their estimates were “based on limited information” and the real level of threat to the cloud forest could range from “Least Concern” to “Collapsed.”

Mindset: <If there is any uncertainty (even total uncertainty), always assume the worst to grab the headlines>

January 27, 2021 8:29 am

…scientists admitted their estimates were “based on limited information” and the real level of threat to the cloud forest could range from “Least Concern” to “Collapsed.” 

So, basically from 0 to 11

On what planet is the entire spectrum of possibility an estimate, or even a guesstimate?

Last edited 2 years ago by strativarius
Dave Fair
Reply to  fretslider
January 27, 2021 11:24 am

I’m convinced that the odds of something occurring is always 50%; it either happens or it doesn’t.

January 27, 2021 10:10 am

It is true that Seattle’s average annual rainfall is only in the mid 30 inches range … but Seattle actually lies in the rain shadow of Olympic Peninsula, home of Olympic National Park which has rain forests on the windward (west side) of the Olympic Mountains that have upwards of 144 inches of annual rainfall – among the wettest of rain forest in the world.

Small isolated ecosystems that depend upon climatic extremes are always going to be vulnerable to any kind of climate change, or even just a few years of drought.

Peta of Newark
January 27, 2021 10:11 am

Oh no.
Tell me this is just a bad dream.
“”The photo above also illustrates why cloud forests are typically confined to zones within 220 miles of the coast, and above elevations of 1600 feet. Sea breezes are laden with water vapor. As they rise and cool, vapor condenses to form clouds. Rising air saturated with water vapor can cool enough to create clouds by rising over 20-story buildings””

What is going on:
here here here

Properly, yes, forests do make clouds. By transpiring water.
Yes Gnarled Forest is fantastically verdant and diverse, it is on a volcano situate itself on the Ring of Fire.
It is on some insanely fertile dirt/soil/ground.

Clouds cool the weather and thence, by being long-lasting perennial things, trees cool the Earth System or ‘Climate’

Folks I’m sure, think I am perfectly crazy when I assert that deserts are Cold Places.

Lets give it a go….
What if you start with A Forest growing on some fresh volcanic dirt
It will of course be pulling water out of the ground and releasing it as vapour which has nothing else to do but Make Clouds. = Cooling Things.

That water being lifted from the soil is needed to transport ‘nutrient’ from the soil (phosphate, potash, magnesium etc etc etc)
All and sufficient water that’s needed for photosynthesis (sugar production) will be coming in attached to the CO2.

As the soil under the trees ages (is eroded chemically = weathering) the nutrient content/concentration will fall, and so, the trees will pull more water from the soil to compensate.
More water leads to more cloud creation leads to more cooling
See it coming together. Low nutrient dirt = cloudier thus cooler weather.
Perfectly explains why Canadia and Siberia, despite having vast forest are such cold places?
And why Global Warming will NOT help us if it lets us move into those areas
Global Warming does not, can not, create fertile dirt/soil/ground/landscapes

Those clouds have little else to do but turn into rain which will fall into and saturate the soil under the trees.
That water will store/trap vast amounts of heat energy in the way only water can and that will moderate the climate
Thus: Rainforests

But some rain water (extra water being carried in by storm system off The Ocean) will always be surplus and will flow away, taking valuable tree nutrient with it.
(Thus we get highly productive coastal mud-flats and Continental Shelves)

As soil nutrient levels decline, trees will transpire more, cooling more and eroding more via the increasing daily, weekly & annual rainfall totals

When the nutrient is effectively all gone – you have a very cool place with very poor soil and zero water retention in that soil
It is cool because no energy is stored in the soil. As the trees moved ever more water, stored energy in the soil went with it.
Water really is in a league all of its own on the water storage front.

The alert reader might now see how Ice Ages start.
Good soil/dirt erodes, trees & plants succumb to disease, pests& fires and generally, they wither and die.

(Just as humans do – it is exactly what’s going on inside Covid – Low Nutrient Food combined with cold inclement weather
And the low Nutrient Food came from, no surprses here, Low Nutrient Dirt
Mmmm, have we a Positive Feedback Loop in there? Monkton, help me here, you know all about feedback.)

So, having craeted an Ice Age by eroding the dirt, the really significant question is:
What causes Ice Ages to end – and create the sort of repetitive hot/cold/hot again ‘routine’ we see has happened over the last million or so years?

To cap it all
“”And although introduced species certainly are a threat, it is something people are rectifying.””

Yeah right. Since when has that EVER happened
Consider Australia,
Just look at the ongoing misguided well-intentioned efforts to make Australia ‘green again’ – after the Aborigine finished their self-appointed task burning it to a cinder, circa 30,000 years ago

  • Eucalyptus
  • Mice
  • Rabbits
  • Wheat farming
  • Sheep
  • Pine tree plantations

Pine Trees being = Fir trees, ‘fir’ being a contraction of Fire

Well intentioned meddling by humans/people has always, always made things worse


Last edited 2 years ago by Peta of Newark
Jim Steele
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 27, 2021 11:51 am

Hmmm I must say I have never met a single ecologist that attributes such dynamics like you have done to cloud forests and the ice age

Jim Steele
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 27, 2021 1:15 pm

Peta, your comment is weird and nonsensical about a bad dream and then referring to condensation over a jet wing here etc.

Planes and jets fly because the wing design moves air to cause lower pressure above the wing, and provide lift. If you knew physics and the gas laws PV=nRT, meaning lower pressure lowers temperature and vice versa. Passing above the wing the air is cooled and moisture condenses, Once past the wing, air pressure rises back to the ambient, temperature rises back and the clouds disappear.

Sea breezes passing over buildings or up mountain slopes cool, and water vapor condenses forming clouds.

So what dont you get?

Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 27, 2021 5:19 pm

Eucalyptus? Yeah, along with such introduced species as the Koala. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you*.

*The big one, crossing the harbour next to the Sydney Opera House!

Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 27, 2021 6:31 pm

Cloud forests are typically lower in nutrients, lower in rainfall and the flora there survive mainly due to moisture from daily clouds, fogs etc. They exist because of their altitude.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 27, 2021 6:41 pm

Wrong on so many fronts.

An utter failure to explain why glaciers removed topsoil from their paths, yet forests grow luxuriantly where glaciers scraped down to bedrock.

Deserts grow very lush with sufficient water.
Bluntly, desert soils are not sterile!

I greatly enjoyed the ability to track the width and length of thunderstorm bursts in Nevada and Utah. Within days, plants sprout, grow and even flower. Deserts bloom abundantly with water.

Rock weathers. Period!

As rock weathers, it releases compounds and minerals that you term as nutrients. Roots from plants attack rock directly.
Eventually, bedrock decomposes into clay.
Clay does not like to allow water to pass through, and once wet, clay does not share that water very well.

Many claim that rain forests have all of their nutrients washed out by water…
Before the Amazonian rainforest we now know, there were farms and cities.
Depopulated by European diseases and Spanish enslaving native populations, the jungle quickly reclaimed the lands. Just keeping some of the cleared building sites clear of new jungle growth is a substantial job.

So much for sterile rainforest soils.

When I started raising orchids decades ago, I was smitten with the lithophytes, i.e. rock growing orchids.
Orchid books painted dismal views of growing many of these orchids.
Until I talked to an orchid nursery owner who made frequent trips to Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay studying orchids in situ.

He explained that many of the dry country lithophytes and epiphytes grew where the sun was brightest and where dew condensed into freshets soaked the plants every night. Areas that were bone dry mid-day had very high humidity nights.

January 27, 2021 10:18 am


Jim Steele
Reply to  Anti_griff
January 27, 2021 11:53 am

Is anit-griff a griff doppleganger? Why refer to a 2018 RS article that has nothing to do with cloud forests?

Richard Page
Reply to  Jim Steele
January 27, 2021 2:40 pm

More importantly – is he anit-griff or anti-griff? Enquiring minds need to know. Btw – it’s sarcasm; if your sarcasm gland is under-developed then we may be able to get you a transplant on the NHS – there are some donors available but they are mostly Labour Party members.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Richard Page
January 27, 2021 3:59 pm

Thanks for such an intelligent reply. (sarc of)

Reply to  Richard Page
January 28, 2021 11:55 am

Labour Party Member humour glands? Those must be very expensive! Almost-new, hardly ever used, taken for the occasional Sunday haw-haw. Swop you for a Greenie maths gland?

January 27, 2021 5:37 pm

By way of background, Lord Howe Island is a tropical paradise in the South Pacific.
It was closed to visitors in March last year because of the pandemic,but re-opened in October.
There is no CoVid and no quarantine.
It is like a small country town on a pacific island with 350 permanent residents and about 400 regular visitors.
Cheap flights go there from Sydney and Brisbane with flying time about two hours.
It has no hordes of mosquitoes, no tropical diseases I know of and best of all has no mobile phone coverage.
In short,when God goes on holidays he goes to Lord Howe Island.

January 27, 2021 6:17 pm

Why do these researchers, usually well educated (?), always seem to lack the wisdom of understanding the natural world, the way it works and that it does not require the help of people, and that you just need to leave it alone.

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