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Tag Archives: climate change

Kilpisjärvi: visiting the classics

By Liz Kalaugher

Last night I slept with my fleece hat pulled down over my eyes in an attempt to stave off an early wake-up call from the Sun, which rises at about 3 am after a midnight sunset. It did nothing for my hair but at least I got a lie-in.

View from window at 11pm

The view from my window at 11 pm.

Next on the schedule was a visit to the team’s “classic” sites – where they did their original surveys on the north face of Saana fell three years ago. So far, most of the publications resulting from this work have been about these sites. Originally the plan was to study two 8 x 20 m grid plots that first summer but by the end of the field-work the team had completed six.

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Kilpisjärvi: plant domination

By Liz Kalaugher

Above the scree

Above the scree – Peter le Roux starts a new survey.

Sometimes I wish I had more of a head for heights. Saana’s southern slopes are steep. On Tuesday they didn’t just see the installation of temperature kit, they were also the scene for two new vegetation surveys as Peter le Roux extended a transect – a line of measurement points – begun by two other researchers.

First we headed up past some scree to around 850 m, 100 m above the two sites already measured. Here le Roux created an independent point. It’s not part of a grid plot but will help the team get an idea of how the plant-life varies across a wider area. After marking the centre with a small wire hoop in the ground and some orange forestry tape that will biodegrade in about three years, he laid out other markers 5 metres to the north, south, east and west. Each of these compass points in turn was enclosed by a 1 m x 1 m metal frame criss-crossed with cord at 10 cm intervals, like a giant empty crossword grid. Le Roux estimated the amount of each plant occurring in the letter squares to give the percentage vegetation cover overall.

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Kilpisjärvi: why beer is essential for research

by Liz Kalaugher

Installing an iButton

Peter le Roux installs the air temperature measurement system.

Sometimes research can be tough. To protect their new air temperature measurement kit from the sun, the Helsinki research group I’m following this week needed beer cans. Sixty-one of them. So the team has been diligently drinking with the sole purpose of providing test equipment.

Once the challenge was met, Jussi Mäkinen spray-painted the cans white to increase their reflectivity and transform them into white ventilated radiation shields, although he did point out that this removed any sponsorship opportunities. Stakes made from wooden fence posts got the same treatment, along with the addition of a looped cable-tie that will hold an iButton temperature logger.

Out in the field on Tuesday, on the southern slopes of Saana fell, Peter le Roux hammered in 2 or 3 fence posts near the outer edges of six of the team’s study grids, so that the top was 50 cm above the ground. He placed an iButton, which looks like a large watch battery, into the circle of the cable tie, and nailed a beer can “hat” into position. Finally, an extra coating of white paint was in order, just in case.

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Kilpisjärvi: crowberries, skewers and soil

From left, Miska Luoto, Julia Kemppinen and Pekka Niittynen take soil samples from a survey grid.

From left: Miska Luoto, Julia Kemppinen and Pekka Niittynen take soil samples from a survey grid.

By Liz Kalaugher

As suspected, on Monday morning the weather took a turn for the worse and we woke to pouring rain. After stocking up on a small plastic spade for taking soil samples (steel could skew the analysis results by introducing extra iron), it was time to head out to the test sites in the valley to the north-west of Saana fell. As we climbed, we left the trees behind, pausing only to sample blueberries, juniper berries and crowberries. The height of the juniper bushes shows the depth of snow in winter, as stems sticking above the snow repeatedly freeze and thaw,  and tend not to thrive.

The test sites are staked out by wooden skewers, which as it happens are sold locally under the brand Saana sticks – Saana is also a Finnish girl’s name. Each site consists of a grid 8 metres wide and 20 metres long, with a skewer pushed into the ground every metre, apart from where reindeer browsing for lichen have knocked them over.

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On the edge: vegetation research at Kilpisjärvi

By Liz Kalaugher

Pizza by Lake Kilpisjärvi

University of Helsinki researchers eat pizza on a well-deserved evening off. From left: Heidi Mod, Annina Niskanen, Julia Kemppinen and Peter le Roux.

It’s not every Sunday that ends with eating pizza on a balcony in Finnish Lapland, overlooking a lake while bathed in glorious sunshine. This wasn’t what I was expecting roughly 300 km north of the Arctic circle. Indeed, it wasn’t what some of the researchers who’ve been here before were expecting either – fortunately, despite high numbers of mosquitoes earlier in the summer, they have now disappeared, and the weather, as I expect I’ll find out soon, isn’t always this good. Changeable is the name of the game.

I’ve come to Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in north-west Finland (69°N, 20°E) as part of a European Geosciences Union (EGU) science journalism fellowship to meet Miska Luoto from the University of Helsinki. Together with his eight-strong team, Luoto is studying the plants on and around Saana mountain, including information about vegetation type, soil moisture, soil temperature, soil pH, and topography.

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Barack Obama tweets about ERL

By Liz Kalaugher

Barack Obama has taken to Twitter to inform his 31 million followers about a recent study published in Environmental Research Letters.

Highlighting a news story published by Reuters, he said: “Ninety-seven per cent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. Read more: OFA.BO/gJsdFp“.

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EGU 2013: climate change hard to reverse

By Liz Kalaugher

It’s early days, but scientists are developing techniques to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, either directly through technologies such as artificial trees or, less directly, by biomass burning with carbon capture and storage. Even if these methods are implemented, however, the Earth will feel the temperature effects of climate change for centuries to come.

That’s according to Andrew MacDougall of Canada’s University of Victoria, who gave a press conference at the European Geosciences Union’s General Assembly in Vienna. His simulations using the University of Victoria Earth-System Climate Model indicate that without any artificial carbon removal, and assuming that fossil fuels run out, around 60–75% of near-surface warming will remain 10,000 years into the future.

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EGU 2013: stormy times ahead

By Liz Kalaugher

Thunderstorms are getting stronger and more frequent, according to Eberhard Faust of Munich Re, speaking at a press conference at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna.

In 2011 losses from thunderstorms east of the Rockies reached a record value of $47 billion, with two cities hit by outbreaks. For comparison, Hurricane Sandy caused losses of $60 billion.

Together with scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Faust examined data for severe US thunderstorm losses east of the Rockies from March to September each year from 1970 to 2009. Both the mean level of loss and the variability went up. Some have ascribed this rise to an increase in the value of building stock. But by correcting for socio-economic changes, Faust found that the change was due to altered thunderstorm activity.

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EGU 2013: Texan wind farms raise temperatures

By Liz Kalaugher

When Liming Zhou of SUNY at Albany, US, and colleagues found a link between Texan wind farms and warmer temperatures during summer nights, many argued that the effect was simply because the wind farms were sited on top of mountain ridges. But now, by comparing temperatures above wind farms with those for similar wind-farm-free ridges nearby, Zhou is confident that the raised temperatures he found are caused by operation of the wind turbines.

Speaking at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly in Vienna, Zhou explained how he and his colleagues looked at an area in west-central Texas containing four of the world’s largest wind farms between 2003 and 2011. The average temperature increase about 1.1 km above the wind turbines at night in summer was up to 1 °C, as measured by MODIS kit onboard satellites. During the day, the presence of wind turbines did not seem to affect temperatures. In winter, when the wind turbines were generally operating at lower speeds, the night-time warming effect was less pronounced.

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EGU 2013: a bumpy ride for transatlantic flights

By Liz Kalaugher

If, like me, you’re a nervous air passenger, the news from today’s European Geosciences Union General Assembly wasn’t good. Speaking at a press conference just 15 minutes after the publication of his paper, Paul Williams of the University of Reading, UK, revealed how climate change is likely to bring stronger and more widespread clear air turbulence for transatlantic flights.

A doubling of carbon-dioxide concentrations, which could well occur by the 2050s, would increase the average strength of clear air turbulence by 10–40%, Williams and colleague Manoj Joshi of the University of East Anglia, UK, calculated. The amount of airspace containing significant turbulence would also increase by 40–170%; Williams said the most likely figure would be 100%.

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