It turns out you can outrun global warming - if you move your ecosystem about a half-mile closer to one of the poles every year. A new study suggests you scoot your farm slightly north or south next spring.
The overall trend of global warming is pushing climate bands gradually further away from the equator, and ecosystems are struggling to keep up with their moving favored temperatures. The research team - involving scientists from Carnegie Institution, Stanford University, the California Academy of Sciences, and the University of California, Berkeley - combined data on the current climate and temperature gradients globally with predictions for the next century, in order to map the "temperature velocity" of the planet. This velocity is a measure of how far and how fast temperature zones are moving across the planet, and how quickly plants and animals will have to move to stay with them.
On average, the shift is 0.42 kilometers (0.26 miles) per year, but this varies with location. Mountainous areas will progress notably slower, but flat regions may exceed a kilometer per year. According to the researchers, nearly 1/3 of the world's habitats can't match this rate, as their plant life would not be able to keep up. The worst hit would be flooded grasslands, mangroves and deserts, and tropical and subtropical coniferous forests would be the most protected.
Nature preserves are most likely not large enough to preserve the habitat that shifts, and the study predicts only approximately 8% of protected areas will maintain current climate conditions within their boundaries 100 years from now.
In related news, research shows that we may have massively overestimated the amount of CO2 in the prehistoric atmosphere. The paper is being published in the newest issue of PNAS, and shows that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic was far lower than we thought. This has significant implications for how the temperature of the planet will fluctuate in the coming century, as these prehistoric levels of CO2 are likely to be matched around 2100. The Paleozoic and Mesozoic were a substantially warmer than the present climate, so the question that arises is how the climate will be affected. According to the paper:
The relatively low CO2…during greenhouse episodes suggests that either the Mesozoic warmth was partially caused by a factor unrelated to CO2 or that the Earth's climate is much more sensitive to atmospheric CO2 than previously thought.
So either CO2 doesn't have much of an influence on the climate, or else we're far more susceptible to it than previously thought. The latter situation is slightly scary, given that most of our current knowledge about CO2 seems to indicate that it will lead to a global temperature increase. If the planet is that much more susceptible to carbon dioxide, the next 90 years might be very interesting. If this is the case, then the "temperature velocity" of the planet could be much higher than the research above suggests, leading to an even faster destruction of current environs.