Archive for Thursday, July 22, 2010

Retired KU professor finds climate change is good for marmots

Yellow-bellied marmots have benefited from a warming climate that has shortened the hibernation season and lengthened feeding seasons for young and adults alike.

Yellow-bellied marmots have benefited from a warming climate that has shortened the hibernation season and lengthened feeding seasons for young and adults alike.

July 22, 2010


A retired Kansas University distinguished professor has found that climate change has helped a population of yellow-bellied marmots in Colorado.

Kenneth Armitage, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor, has been studying the rodent since 1962. Recently, warmer temperatures have allowed marmots to emerge from their hibernation earlier.

Warmer temperatures mean earlier snowmelt, which means plants appear sooner, Armitage said. With more fat left from their hibernations, the rodents have more energy to begin foraging and reproducing earlier. The earlier the young are born, the more time they have to get fat enough to survive hibernation, Armitage said, leading to healthier, bigger and more plentiful rodents.

Marmots are mammals that resemble large, ground-dwelling squirrels — groundhogs, for example, are technically classified as marmots.

Armitage chose to begin studying them years ago because he was interested in observing if social behavior would have an impact on population sizes.

He chose to study marmots because they are active in the daylight, live in easy-to-find burrows and are social.

“Initially, I kept the study going for various reasons,” as he discovered new issues and problems he’d like to explore, he said.

“I had no idea that climate change was going to be a factor back in the 1960s,” he said.

Today, looking back on his career, he said he was glad he kept it up. Climate change studies require a large amount of data, and studies of mammals in one area for such a long period of time are rare, Armitage said.

“It makes one feel pretty good to know that what one did had an impact,” he said.

There’s a bit of irony to the results of the study, Armitage said. And that’s the fact that if too much snow melts during the winter, it’s actually bad for marmots, because the snow serves to insulate them underground while they’re hibernating.

So, while some warming is good for the marmots, Armitage said he predicted that long-term warming would be detrimental to the population.

The research on the marmots’ demographics is still ongoing today, with the torch having been passed to a new faculty member — study co-author Dan Blumstein at UCLA — after Armitage retired. It is now approaching its 50th year.


blindrabbit 7 years, 8 months ago

Good for marmots, bad for pikas. Both are fun to watch.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

Climate change. Warming. While warming is climate change, climate change might not be warming. Yet, the article conflates the two. As if warming is the climate change. Unless climate change also involves changes in precipitation. Or cloud cover. Or degree-days, or rain vs snow, or max/min temperature excursions, or changes in predatory behavior of eagles, or..... Proxies, don't ya love 'em?

Climate is more complicated than just temperature. And correlation is not causation. But fuzzy science abides in these times. After all, the goal is part of the science. And only engineers (not scientists!) seek convergence to solution. Science goes on for 50 years and never gets anywhere, but right back where they started. Yep, there's marmots up there.

Olympics 7 years, 8 months ago

Read a lot of marmot articles have we? Oh wait....your conclusion is already been made. Nevermind.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

At the beginning of the article. "A retired Kansas University distinguished professor has found that climate change has helped a population of yellow-bellied marmots in Colorado."

At the end of the article. "So, while some warming is good for the marmots, Armitage said he predicted that long-term warming would be detrimental to the population."

Its kabuki. Its a broken record. Research today must be related to climate or it won't be relevant. The key that unlocks the funding is AGW. I don't have to be an expert on marmots. It isn't the marmots, its the relationship to AGW that is sad.

Major vegetation shifts, Malaria, malnutrition, mammoth dung melt, mango harvest fails, Maple production advanced, Maple syrup shortage, marmots fatter, marine diseases, marine food chain decimated, Meaching (end of the world), Meat eating to stop, Mediterranean rises, megacryometeors, Melanoma, Melanoma decline, mental illness, methane emissions from plants, methane burps, methane runaway, melting permafrost, Middle Kingdom convulses, migration, migratory birds huge losses, microbes to decompose soil carbon more rapidly, minorities hit, monkeys at risk, monkeys on the move, Mont Blanc grows, monuments imperiled, moose dying, more bad air days, more research needed, mortality increased, mosquitoes adapting, mountain (Everest) shrinking, mountaineers fears, mountains break up, mountains green and flowering, mountains taller, mortality lower, murder rate increase, musk ox decline, Myanmar cyclone.

These are just the "Ms".

AGW has overrun the fuzzy science community. Since proper testing can't be done in fuzzy science, assertions can't be tested for refutation. So any darn-fool statement can be made. The latest version of "Lindsey Lohan" popular science is that global warming is causing it.

It gets you in the paper. It gets you published. It justifies your trips to the mountains every year when it is hot as blazes in Kansas.

parrothead8 7 years, 8 months ago

You conveniently ignore the fact that his study began having nothing to do with the climate, and that climate only entered the picture after he noticed a RECENT increase in size and population of marmots.

I suppose you think the marmots are getting bigger by going to the grocery store and buying hormone-laced milk? Perhaps you would suggest the guy who has been studying marmots for 50 years has no clue what he's talking about? That he's so completely out of tune with the marmot population that he's not worth listening to? Perhaps you're so hardheaded that you've become unwilling to recognize possibilities other than your own beliefs?

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps? And then you assign thoughts and opinions to me. Really bad rhetorical technique here, Parrot.

Just to be clear: I'm sure that Professor Armitage is highly qualified discuss to marmots.
The reason he relates his research to climate change is because he won't get published in "Nature" magazine if he doesn't relate it to one of the popular causes.
So, yes, 50 years of research has probably yielded mountains of data. The temperature data from NOAA has increased during that time as well. Voila, higher temps, fatter marmots. Correlation is causation and you're a star in a big time science mag. In the post-modern world of science, this gathering of "evidence" is sufficient to not only call the endeavor "science", it is sufficient to call it factual.

I call it "spreadsheet science". Gather data, dump into spreadsheet. Correlate. Publish. Become an expert. Oh, you can live in the mountains in July, too. 80 degrees in daytime, 45 degrees at night. Humidity of 10%, smell of pine................and you're an expert, too.

Pretty good gig, no wonder he is retired, but not entirely.

friendlyjhawk 7 years, 8 months ago

Did someone get grant money for this study? OMG what a waste.

parrothead8 7 years, 8 months ago

Right, because we're the only species worth studying. OMG...go back to Facebook.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

No clancy, the headline and first sentence is the reporters "tease" line to get you to read the article. The next-to-last paragraph is the take home message. Ultimately, "Armitage said he predicted that long-term warming would be detrimental to the population."

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

Only losers.
And that makes for good science, because it makes marmot research relevant. Its too bad science has become so enamored of justifying itself. I think Prof Armitage's research is valid simply because we need information about the natural world. Marmots are a part of that world and research of them is good enough for me.

But when AGW is invoked to bolster the meaning of science, I protest. It is overwrought. It is ubiquitous. It begs the question: Where was all this 20 years ago? Has 0.2 degrees over the last 20 years really made that much difference? Really? Are ecosystems that fragile that everything is harmed by it? Even when they are helped, the marmots will eventually be harmed.


devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

Where do people get the notion that they know nearly as much about the natural world as they portray? Why are climate models continually evolving? Because they are wrong. Prediction depends upon stationary statistics. If you compute a mean, then you imply that a mean exists. But some processes are not subject to the usual assumptions of stationary random variables. But it is the best that we have!

But if it isn't good enough, it should be ignored. And that is where we are with climate modeling. We don't know, but we are way too far into it to back off now.
It took 100 years to make phrenology go away. How long before climatologists pack up there software and admit that they are engaged in a ruse? That they overstepped their ability to test and, therefore, their connection to science.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

Human civilization requires a great deal of predictability in climate. Any significant changes in climate can have very dramatic effects.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

I'm guessin' that you remember a time, bozo, before environmentalism. Since Rachel Carson and the subsequent over-the-top demonization of all things human, we have cleaned up many of our messes (Lake Erie and NOx for example), but at the expense of perspective. Modern civilization is overwrought, bozo. Look up the word. It has two meanings: 1) Beside oneself. Overcome by emotion. 2) Overbuilt. Gilding the Lilly. Way too much bling.

Why can't Professor Armitage be lauded for his lifelong contribution to the understanding of Marmots without sullying it with politically correct connections to global warming?
It is a one-note samba. It is blamed for so many things as to be a throw away notion.
Yet another reason to be afraid. Wring your hands and feel guilty.

Honest, I think the next big thing is obesity. Global warming causing obesity. All because capitalists run companies that make Little Debbie Cakes.

Just don't give marmots any of those, they'd probably love 'em.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

I'd like to comment, but you've now whipped yourself into a frenzy of pointlessness.

But you do seem to have one enduring theme-- everything everybody knows is wrong. Except for Devo-- he knows all. Just ask him.

Olympics 7 years, 8 months ago

Bozo, ftw.

What a burden for devo to always be right.

Shouting at the world...I am right, I am right!!!

jonas_opines 7 years, 8 months ago

Well, as long as the marmots will be okay. Gonna start working on my human/marmot hybrid.

Hoots 7 years, 8 months ago

One thing scientist know for sure is that earth climate has changed drastically over the years. In that change there are winners and losers. The planet has gone from total Ice cover to having trees in Antarctica, palms in Montana, inland seas in Kansas, and back again. Looks like the Marmots might be one of the winners in the next era of change.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

In the pantheon of fuzzy science, AGW is the reigning king. However, with the failure of Copenhagen last December and the embarrassment of some of the shenanigans in England at UEA, and Al Gore's humorous personal life, AGW might be loosing some of its luster. So:

Marmots Teach Us about Obesity.

The next in line for useless, untestable science, fatty science.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

Yes prospector, you too can be a scientist. You'll need a spreadsheet program. Microsoft Excel is fine. I use MathCad. Choose a place on the planet you want to visit and live for a while. Take a vacation there. While you are lounging around the place, look for flora and fauna and see if anything about any biological organism is measurable. Physical attributes like size, number, activity, anything you might be able to measure. Come back next year with a pretty grad student you have promised to publish with. Gather data. Correlate the data in your spreadsheet with temperature data. Publish in some obscure journal like : "The Journal of Insignificant Global Warming and Other Scary Stuff". Divorce your wife of 30 years and marry the 24 year-old bimbo grad student.

Congratulations, you are a university researcher. An "expert".

Chris Golledge 7 years, 8 months ago

I must have some compulsive disorder; I just can't let Devo's comments go unchallenged.

Devo would have us believe that because something is complicated, nothing can be known about it. Although, he is right about a couple of things:

"Climate is more complicated than just temperature." Duh.

"And correlation is not causation." Absolutely right. So, let's start with the very basic causation. If you add more of a gas that restricts the flow of energy in less than it restricts the flow of energy out, would you expect the energy in the system to decrease, stay the same, or increase? Increase. OK, that is a cause.

Has there been an increase in energy in the system? Yes. That is an effect. Is there a correlation between the cause and the effect? Yes, a very strong one.

It isn't just that there is a correlation between CO2 and the earth's temperature; the correlation confirms that the earth is behaving as basic physics would predict.

When you try to quantify what the effects are and will be, you get into positive and negative feedbacks, fluid dynamics, optics, latent heat, etc., and then it gets complicated. However, the basic fact that more CO2 in the air will change the thermal characteristics of the planet has been established for about 100 years.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

The earth energy balance is not measured. Indeed, all climatologists will tell you that an accounting of energy using present measurements and models doesn't add up.

The gas in question is CO2. Gasses exhibit resonant scatter and absorption phenomena. That is, a gas will appear transparent at some frequencies of electromagnetic interaction, and opaque at other frequencies. CO2 has an absorption line near the peak frequency of radiative emission from planet earth. That is, at about 295 kelvins. At present levels of CO2, the effect is several degrees of warming of the planet. If CO2 levels continue to increase, the blocking of the earth's radiation will continue on a logarithmic scale. We are well over halfway in the absorption by CO2. That is, at some level of CO2, the atmosphere will become opaque at the frequency of absorption of CO2. Adding more CO2 will have no additional effect. Think of it as looking at a lightbulb outside at night. Hold up a piece of thin white plastic between you and the light. The light will be diminished, but some still gets through. Add more sheets of plastic. After awhile, it doesn't matter if you put up more sheets of plastic, the light is blocked. If that plastic allows all colors through except red, then the effect is only on the red light. Such is the case of CO2. The additional temperature resulting from an opaque CO2 spectral line is 0.7 kelvin. So where does the 3, 4, 7 degrees of predicted temperature increase come from. Models.

These models are beyond complicated. They are unbelievable and untestable. Multiple feedbacks are the death knell of a model.
Laplace, Poincare, Lorenz all tried to work with differential equations with nonlinear terms and nonconstant coefficients. The early researchers gave up because the didn't have the computers we have today. So a whole new mathematics was created called chaos theory.

And yet, we believe the models. The models can only be tested as time goes on. And then they are adjusted to account for deviations from prediction. This isn't science, it is a bunch of people who don't know claiming that they do. Since the models can't really be tested, the whole thing becomes a political football. And if you publish research on Marmots you better relate their plight to AGW, or you won't be relevant.
Unless you can show how obesity is somehow related to Marmots. Great fun, this fuzzy science. Have computer, will pontificate.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 8 months ago

devobrun (anonymous) replies…

"The earth energy balance is not measured. Indeed, all climatologists will tell you that an accounting of energy using present measurements and models doesn't add up. "

Umm, yes, it is measured. Did you not just say that measurements for incoming and outgoing are not in balance? Here is just one source of many:

"Ten years of observations show that Earth's oceans absorbed an average of 6.02 excess watt-years of energy per square meter (a watt-year is the total amount of energy supplied by 1 watt of power for a year.)"

Elsewhere, if you look, you can find that sensors pointed down from space are detecting less output from earth. Meanwhile, sensors in space pointed out are not detecting significant changes in what is incoming. Let's see; less going out and about the same coming in. That part of it is simple enough that you don't need a computer model to do the math.

Blah, blah, blah... It's too complicated, we can't know anything. It's just models. ...Blah, blah, blah.

No Devo, it's not just models.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

No, the earth's energy balance is not measured. Estimates using radiometric instruments are interpolated over time, space and frequency. The numbers come from models of those measurements. So far, the energy estimates are not jiving with temperature measurements. Oh, and they use proxies to estimate historical energies from times when no measurement of any kind was available. Stories, narratives.

The notion that energy is "hiding" in the ocean is fundamentally flawed. In what form is that energy? If it is the form of thermal energy, the temperature of the oceans would be higher than seen. And sea levels would have risen more than they have.

The ocean tells a different story than the "measurements".

Where is this excess energy being stored? NASA doesn't know. Or maybe the "measurements" are erroneous, or maybe the string of models required to combine all the point measurements into an assessment are in error.

Hard to say. The radiometric measurements involve deconvolution integrals of measurement bands. Each involves a kernal, window, or some type of Green's function based upon models for moisture, density, cloud cover and other aerosols and surface features. The energy number is an estimate. As with all estimates, there are errors and when NASA gives you a number like 6.02 watts/square meter, I say, bs.

That number implies an uncertainty of plus or minus 0.01 watt/m^2. Out of about 1200 watts/m^2. That's 10 parts per million. It is not true. Simple averaging isn't enough because the process is not a stationary random variable. Non-linearities, non-stationarities, and just downright mistakes in modeling cannot justify the number reported in the NASA brief.

I was a NASA contractor for about 30 years. I built radiometers, scatterometers for these guys. They report numbers that are derived from models as if they are direct measurements. They invoke statistical methods that aren't justified. And newpaper folks, the general public, and many others don't question the numbers.

You should be more skeptical.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 8 months ago

Whoa. You just said, "...logarithmic scale. We are well over halfway.."

Please go look up logarithmic. Logs increase without upper bound; there is no halfway point.

You also said, "That is, at some level of CO2, the atmosphere will become opaque at the frequency of absorption of CO2."

Please, tell us at what density you think that is. For bonus points, please include some figures showing the density of CO2 by altitude.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

Last first. CO2 mixes well with the atmosphere. Its density versus altitude follows that of the rest of the gasses in the atmosphere. Just wiki density of atmosphere to get a chart.

The atmosphere is a layer of gas which scatters and absorbs EM radiation. This scatter and absorption is characterized by an attenuation of energy as it propagates through the medium.

Attenuation is logarithmic. The decibel is used to describe the effect. A dB is 10*log(Power out/Power in). Where power is defined as the first time derivative of energy. It is the flow of energy (in watts).

If the atmosphere attenuates radiation by 1 dB, the EM wave at that wavelength is reduces to 87.4% of the incoming power. 3 dB is the halfway point. 10 dB means that only 10% of the power gets through. 20 dB is 1% and 30 dB allows only 0.1% of the input power to sneak through. You're right, logs go on forever. But EM radiation attenuated by the atmosphere eventually is simply blocked.

If you block 99% of the radiation, then add another 10 times the CO2, the attenuation blocks 99.9% of the radiation. Big deal, the additional 0.9% is not important. That is why I said that at some point the atmosphere becomes opaque to radiation.

The limits are 0dB, no attenuation, or what 100 dB? That would be an attenuation of 10^10. Opaque. Black. Any more attenuation is trivial.

I teach this to high school juniors.

staff04 7 years, 8 months ago

Well, I guess that settles it. Let's keep the carbon emissions up. Gas up for marmots.

Olympics 7 years, 8 months ago

I love when an engineer is an expert on scientific research without reading ANY of the research. Fantastic way to find "engineering" solutions. You must be outstanding at your job.

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

Talking about me? Well, my coworkers like having me around because: I fix things. I-Pods, fish finders, lawnmowers, and many more. I know how these things work, so I can fix them (usually). I define myself not by what I know, but by what I do. I build (and fix) things. It is science that asserts. It is science engaged in politics, religion, TV programs telling us how the universe was made.

All those things are narrative. I don't care, unless you make my energy bill go up for one of your stories. Or unless the stories can be used to do something other than manipulate the naif's feelings. Be scared, be very scared....Marmots will go the way of all living things on the planet. We will all burn in hell right here on earth, unless we build more windmills.

Hogwash, they don't work. Fool the other one.

RogueThrill 7 years, 8 months ago

Meek? More like "the marmots shall inherit the earth."

520dude 7 years, 8 months ago

Glad to see the population increase. They're tasty.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 8 months ago

Devo, Again, you are partially correct, but you fail to carry it all the way through.

If you connect the dots between the density of the atmosphere, and hence the partial pressure and density of CO2, decreasing as a negative exponent of the altitude, and keep in mind that the rate of absorption of radiation is dependent upon the density of the gas, you have to do some integration, but you will come to the conclusion that when the concentration of CO2 increases, effectively, the altitude at which, say, 50%, 99.9%, 0.1% or whatever%, of the infrared is absorbed before it reaches space increases. From whatever point you pick, you can apply PV = nRT and latent heat effects, etc, or just use the measured lapse rates, down to the surface and arrive at a pretty good estimate of the temperature there. In simple terms, a higher mean altitude at which energy is released to space implies a higher mean surface temperature.

Your model relies on an assumption that only energy released directly from the surface to space can escape the earth. It neglects the fact that energy is neither created nor destroyed. The energy absorbed by a CO2 molecule is not just gone, it is either emitted at one of the frequencies that CO2 emits or it is shared through a collision with another molecule. Not much of the IR emitted at the surface goes directly to space; most of it goes through some intervening steps. However, by several orders of magnitude, the largest energy loss of the earth, atmosphere included, occurs as IR radiation, and CO2 affects infrared.

Yeah, I've had calculus and physics, above the high school level I might add.

RogueThrill 7 years, 8 months ago

You could be in the control group to skew the results.

Chris Golledge 7 years, 8 months ago

So, just what is your hypothesis Devo?

It sounds like you are rejecting the idea that CO2, which is known to absorb and emit within the wave band of the earth, has any effect on the energy content of the earth. Please explain how or why this is possible. What would prevent a CO2 molecule from absorbing a photon it was in a state to accept?

Or, are you simply saying that all the millions of thermometer readings and satellite measurements are wrong and there is no warming?

devobrun 7 years, 8 months ago

OK, let's try this again. Your on a western USA mountaintop in mid-June. No clouds and low humidity, so the sun burns. Temperatures rise to the 80s during midday. And at night they drop to the low to mid-30s. Might even have a little frost on the sleeping bag. Another time, here in Kansas, it is cloudy all day and night long. The sun comes up and goes down just like in Utah, but the temperature hardly budges from day to night.

The difference is the atmosphere. The radiative energy from the sun goes right into the earth (and you) during the day in Utah. At night, the same lack of atmospheric effect allows much more radiative cooling. But back here in Kansas, under the clouds, the sunshine is attenuated by the clouds, and the re-radiation form the earth is also attenuated by the clouds. Water has a much greater effect on radiative transfer than does CO2. But CO2 has a similar effect, just not nearly as much.

Thus, increasing CO2 causes temperature to rise because its absorption line effects the sun's spectral lines less than those from the re-radiation from the earth. That contribution to the "greenhouse effect" is large for water and relatively small for CO2, but it is there. However, the blocking of any radiation is limited from a magnitude of 0 (no effect) to one (completely opaque). Its sunny out there now. Last Tuesday, at about 6 pm it was quite dark. This was an almost opaque atmosphere due to heavy, thick clouds, rain and hail

So, add CO2, attenuate radiation from the planet. Planet heats up. But when the attenuation is nearing 1, it doesn't matter much how much more you put in.
Put this effect into a model of radiative transfer and you get a potential additional rise in earth's temperature of about 0.7 kelvin.

All of the above is straight radiative transfer, based upon Stefan-Boltzmann style radiation models. Modified, of course, by the emissivity of the air and earth.

So now you want me to include convective heat transport? Hot air rises and re-radiates at higher altitudes? Well, now that is complicated, and not well modeled. Thunderstorms are a particularly difficult phenomenon to model. This could very well be where the "hidden energy" goes unaccounted for in the NASA radiation budget. I don't know and neither does anybody else.

The average temperature of the earth has increased over the last 100 years or so. What caused it. We don't know and are guessing. Our models are giving us a false sense of security. I don't believe them. Using global warming as the reason for marmot's fattening or any other correlation is just folly. Will the earth continue to warm? Don't know. Can we actually test the planet? No. So watch out for the charlatans, snake-oil-salesmen and flim flam men. They'll sell you the elixir that will heal.
And rob you blind.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 8 months ago

One thing I'd like to know, Devo, is why you make these detailed analyses here, and not among the climate scientists you claim are such charlatans they are selling snake oil.

Have they ever heard these arguments? What's their response? Can you show us a link to where you've had such discussions among people who have the time to wade through these theories you think are so obvious (but somehow 99% of the climate scientists of world are either too stupid or too corrupt to have considered?)

Katara 7 years, 8 months ago

Marmot is a common dish in Mongolia.

blindrabbit 7 years, 8 months ago

devo Maybe listening a little too much to the real Devo and "Whip It", a form of mental mastbation. I've got some flowerpots if you need one.

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