Sunday, March 12, 2006

Minnesota imports Indiana's climate

Global climate change involves severe perturbations to a chaotic system with an unknown number of attractors. In the near term some places may cool, but the poles are warming fast. Alaska is melting, and so is Minnesota.

I've noted before that cross country skiing and skijoring are dying sports in most of the US, here we learn that a local outdoor store feels guilty about selling snowshoes. The changes in Minnesota have been dramatic, even over the 12 years we've lived there...

... Out on Lake Osakis, a popular fishing spot in central Minnesota, there were half the usual number of shacks, and sheets of water lay over thin ice. In town, despite the completion of a new trail, snowmobile traffic was scant.

... state climatologists, using almost 140 years of data, have determined that Lake Osakis now breaks open in the spring, on average, a week earlier than it did a century ago.

... In northwest Minnesota, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists cite warming as a reason why a moose herd that 20 years ago numbered nearly 4,000 may soon disappear. In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, foresters are noticing that maples and oaks more suited to warmer climates are taking hold. Near St. Peter, naturalist Jim Gilbert says lilacs are blooming in the spring two to three weeks earlier than when he first began watching them in 1967. In Dakota County, parks officials no longer schedule skiing and snowshoeing events for December and January, for lack of snow.

Those examples are reinforced by a pile of meteorological data showing that the state has been getting warmer and wetter for some time...

Greta Petrich, who reports the Lake Osakis ice-out dates to the Department of Natural Resources, said local dealers are switching from selling snowmobiles to selling all-terrain vehicles. "Change or die," she said.

Brian Bahn, who works for Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, said recently that he finds it "hard to look somebody in the face and sell them snowshoes."

The Minnesota Department of Tourism, responding to the recurring mild winters, produced a video promotion this season that for the first time features indoor activities, not just ways to enjoy snow and ice. The spots show an actor in a bear suit ice fishing and snowmobiling, but also browsing in an art gallery and making moves on a dance floor.

... The causes and effects of the warming so far have been most dramatic in the Northern Hemisphere, because it has a higher proportion of both people and land -- which reflects heat, rather than absorbing it. And places far from oceans, such as Minnesota, are thought to be positioned for some of the most extreme changes.

... Minnesota's annual average temperatures have been rising faster than the rest of the globe's -- some say twice as fast. The state Office of Climatology has calculated the rise at 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1894. That's four times the variation the globe saw over the previous three to five centuries.

... Minnesota has been warming in both the short and long runs. For the Twin Cities, four of the five warmest winters since 1891 have occurred in the past 24 seasons. Four of the nine warmest have happened over the last nine winters, including this one.

According to University of Minnesota Extension meteorologist and climatologist Mark Seeley, the recent trends have been marked by warm winters, warm summer nights and high dew points. Elevated dew points -- a measure for human discomfort that also reflects plant vitality -- have increased in frequency and duration over the past 20 years. Dew points last July in Minnesota, Seeley noted, resembled those commonly recorded in Bombay, India.

Average annual precipitation -- often overlooked in discussions about climate changes -- has increased even more sharply than temperatures across Minnesota. Because of its connection to increased water vapor in the atmosphere, elevated precipitation is one of the central predictions in many global warming studies.

... While some climate scientists have predicted that the northern pine and birch forest could vanish altogether, Frelich said the red oak and red maple could replace it if the warming climate trend includes enough moisture. If the climate trend goes warm and dry, he said, the area could come to resemble oak savannah -- grassy prairie with intermittent stands of oak trees...
From our selfish family perspective, this is all bad. Winter is still too cold to bike and swim, but now it's too warm to ski and sled. Even ice skating outdoors is iffy; our local rink now uses a Zamboni to maintain the outdoor ice. Minnesota is going to need outdoor Zambonis and refrigerated outdoor rinks. We get more cloudy days (January was very gray); those cold, clear, crisp days of old are less common. Yes, 40 below is indeed cold, but those days weren't frequent and I kind of liked the challenge of dressing for extreme cold. (On the other hand, 19th century local winters were a bit much.)

We're at the vanguard of change now ...

PS. I want Google to start auto-generating at the end of each blog posting a list of all similar postings on the same and related blogs ...

Update 3/12: This Zimmer review of two books on global climate change is a nice extension of the above. Apparently an ITH editor introduced an error in the magnitude of the temperature change mentioned in the article.

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