There Is a Time for Everything — And It’s Changing

May 26, 2008

Snow lies on Daffodils in Heather, central England March 23, 2008. REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN)

 Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

Colleagues of mine at Columbia have just published a large study of physical and biological changes recorded around the world since 1970 , during which the globe has been warming.

The massive database they compiled describes an extraordinary and fascinating range of phenomena that would likely be sensitive to climate changes like spring flowering of plants, migration times and ranges for birds, fish and insects, spring river flows from winter snow melt, lake freezing and melting times, pollen release, egg-laying, and even the time that bullfrogs start calling in Spring. (It’s hard to find bullfrogs in a lake but it sure is easy to hear them so I trust that data!)    View of Manshuk Mametova glacier melting down to a lake in northern Tien Shan mountains. The Soviets have gone, the glaciers are getting smaller and in parched oil-rich central Asia the battle is on for water. Picture taken August 24, 2003. FOR RELEASE WITH FEATURE STORY BC-CENTRALASIA-WATER REUTERS/Alexei Kalmykov SZH/CVI/WS

The database also included long-term changes in things like mountain glaciers, lake algae levels, permafrost and alpine tree ranges. In all, close to 30,000 records were studied. They found that around 90% of the records showed a change that is consistent with a warmer climate.  So, for example, leaves and flowers are budding earlier, ground hogs in the Rockies end hibernation earlier, mountain glaciers are retreating, there are earlier high water river flows and so on. 

We know the planet has been warming but this study shows how sensitive living and physical systems are to temperature changes already. Now try to imagine what it will be like if we get three times the warming of the last century, as is roughly predicted.


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While the installations at the North Pole are about having us think globally, “Native Flags” is a participatory eco-art project that engages individuals across the globe to act locally.To participate in the project, please visit

At a time when melting polar sea ice is causing so many to focus on which political power will place its flag over the Arctic, controlling the Northwest Passage shipping lanes and the petroleum resources beneath the sea ice, Miami artist Xavier Cortada has developed a project that engages people across the world below to plant a green flag and native tree to help address global climate change. Reforestation helps prevent the polar regions from melting.

Cortada will plant a green flag the North Pole when he arrives there on June 30, 2008. On that same day folks from around the world will be asked to also plant a green flag and native tree in their community.

Miami artist Xavier Cortada created Native Flags as an urban reforestation project to help restore native habitats for plants and animals across South Florida. Launched last year at the Miami Science Museum, Native Flags now calls on individuals globally to join the effort.The conspicuous green flag serves as a catalyst for conversations with neighbors and a call to action to help rebuild our native tree canopy. Community leaders can model the behavior by planting a native tree and green flag at their science centers and city halls.

To learn about this please visit the artist’s website at

Posted by anonymous | Report as abusive

Do Stuart Gaffin’s colleagues actually get paid / get grants to tell us that plants and animals respond to the temperature? Dur! I think any elementary schoolchild could tell you that.

So they successfully established that the present is warmer than … what? the Little Ice Age (the clue’s in the name).. or perhaps warmer than the Medieval Warm Period which was warmer than the present. Or perhaps warmer than the Roman warm period which was possibly warmer still. Or perhaps 5000 years ago when the Alaskan tree-line extended to the Arctic Ocean. Go on. Do tell.

Posted by Tim | Report as abusive


The goal of their work was to answer whether and to what extent biota and ecosystems are responding already in ways consistent with warming — not to simply “tell us plants and animals respond to temperature” nor to “establish that the present is warmer than …” 1970, the base year for the ecology records (as I wrote in the blog).

I’m surprised anyone would think this data and analysis is not important. What if the results had been equivocal that plants and animals are responding in a manner consistent with warming trends — as a skeptic I think you would have found that pretty important. (Also, the database provides a pretty important baseline for future changes as well.)

Also you are wrong about the Medieval Period being globally warmer than present hives/2007/05/the-weirdest-millennium/

Posted by Stuart Gaffin | Report as abusive

Uh, no, Stuart, he’s not wrong:

Was there a Medieval Warm Period? YES, according to data published by 541 individual scientists from 329 separate research institutions in 38 different countries.

Defending the hockey stick graph is defending the indefensible. It’s been proven wrong 50 times over now. Why even bother trying to defend it anymore? It comes across as utter desperation.

Posted by AEGeneral | Report as abusive