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Nearly 30,000 phenomena in the natural world – from the timing of plant flowering to the rate of ice melting – are being influenced by human-induced global warming, according to the first study to formally link trends in biological and physical systems to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Led by Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the analysis, published in this week’s Nature, brings together data from numerous different studies stretching back to 1970 to gain a big picture view of how climate change is impacting the planet.
Although the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that human-induced climate warming is “likely” to have had a discernible effect on physical and biological systems, attributing such changes in natural systems to specific causes in notoriously difficult, as highlighted in the related News and Views article by Francis Zweirs and Gabriele Hegerl, both IPCC panelists.
Rosenzweig and collaborators made this link first by mapping changes in global average suface temperature between 1970 and 2004. They then looked at whether changes in natural phenomena in each region were consistent with warming or inconsistent with warming e.g. earlier blooming of flowers would be expected in a warmer climate.
In more than 90% of cases where there was a trend, it was consistent with the predicted effects of a warming world. As Emma Marris points out in an online news story, the bulk of the data come from Europe and several hundred more come from elsewhere in the world, but Africa, Australia and Latin America are poorly represented.
Image credit: David Inouye