Monday, February 9, 2015

LandscapesAndCycles blinded by belief - The straight poop on penguins indeed ¶1/6

{touch up edits completed}

The following post reviews the first six paragraphs of an essay written by Mr. Jim Steele: "Blinded by Beliefs:TheStraightPoopOnEmperorPenguins."  The essay grossly misrepresents scientific studies and observations; while unjustly slandering honorable trustworthy scientists.  My intention is to outline it's many errors as rationally as possible, while presenting links to many authoritative sources that offer independent learning opportunities to help you decide.

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LandscapesAndCycles' childish opening shot intentionally trivializes the situation, 
after all penguins have been acclimatized to those harsh weather conditions
and that environment, its food-web, and its seasonal rhythms 
since time immemorial  
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Blinded by Beliefs: The Straight Poop on Emperor Penguins
  July 1, 2014 {I've added the red highlights}

Adapted from the chapter The Emperor Penguin Has No Clothes in Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism by Jim Steele  
{The essay's text is in courier font) 
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The essay starts out by constructing a phony, but dramatic, stage setting.
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¶1  "Two recent press releases concerning the Emperor Penguin’s fate illustrate contrasting forces that will either advance or suppress trustworthy conservation science."
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Think about what's been done with these words.  They artfully imply that there's a struggle going on between a cadre of biased untrustworthy closed minded ('environmentalist'?) scientists and "trustworthy" scientists.  It's pure innuendo with malicious intent, based on misrepresentation, misdirection and ignoring huge swaths of available information.  

Making judgements based on media stories is dishonest.  A serious discussion demands we go to first-hand sources instead of relying on political theater.  Doing so reveals a community of individuals dedicated to learning and understanding.  It is alive with constructive skepticism and honest debate.  With the full scope of available evidence informing the collective state of understanding.
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Embodying that truism is a paper by lead author Dr. Michelle LaRue who reports new advances in reading the Emperor Penguin’s fecal stains on Antarctic sea ice that are visible in satellite pictures. Two years ago the fecal stain method identified several large, hitherto unknown colonies and nearly doubled our estimate of the world’s Emperor Penguins.1,2 
That didn’t mean climate change had necessarily increased penguin numbers, but a larger more robust population meant Emperor Penguins were far more resilient to any form of change.
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"far more resilient to any form of change."  Nonsense, the study makes no claims about resilience to "any form of change."  

In fact, the LaRue et. al study was about a pioneering method utilizing high resolution satellite imagery to gather a more complete and accurate population count on a continent wide scale.  Dr. LaRue does indeed acknowledge the many developing environmental threats facing penguins.   

What the study means is that some population counts and assumptions need reassessment, but it says nothing about penguin resilience; or the threats they face because of their changing landscape.  Nor does it have anything to say about the 70s population decline around Dumont d’Urville.  Here's what the study actually says {my highlights}:

Emigration in emperor penguins: implications for interpretation of long-term studies
LaRue, Kooyman, Lynch, Fretwell.  
Ecography 37: 001–007, 2014
© 2014 The Authors. Ecography © 2014 Nordic Society Oikos

"Site fidelity is an important evolutionary trait to understand, as misinterpretation of philopatric behavior could lead to confusion over the key drivers of population dynamics and the environmental or anthropogenic factors influencing populations. 

Our objective was to explore the hypothesis that emperor penguins are strictly philopatric using satellite imagery, counts from aerial photography, and literature reports on emperor penguin distributions. We found six instances over three years in which emperor penguins did not return to the same location to breed. We also report on one newly-discovered colony on the Antarctic Peninsula that may represent the relocation of penguins from the Dion Islands, recently confirmed as having been abandoned. 

Using evidence from aerial surveys and the historical literature, we suggest that emigration may have been partly responsible for the population decline at Pointe Géologie during the 1970s. Our study is the first to use remote sensing imagery to suggest that emperor penguins can and do move between, and establish new, colonies. Metapopulation dynamics of emperor penguins have not been previously considered and represent an exciting, and important, avenue for future research. Life history plasticity is increasingly being recognized as an important aspect of climate change adaptation, and in this regard our study offers new insight for the long-term future of emperor penguins.

Also see: 

"An Emperor Penguin Population Estimate: 
The First Global, Synoptic Survey of a Species from Space"

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¶2  LaRue’s new study advances the science by analyzing the shifting patterns of penguin poop, and her results are prompting some scientists to “unlearn” (1) a key belief that has supported speculation of the Emperors imminent extinction (2). Believing Emperors are loyal to their breeding locations (philopatry), whenever researchers counted (3) declining penguins at their study site, they assumed the missing penguins had died. However other studies had shown populations could suddenly double, and such observations challenged the notion of philopatry.10 The only reasonable explanation for unusual rapid population growth was that other penguins had immigrated from elsewhere (4), and loyalty to a breeding location was a misleading belief (5). LaRue’s study confirmed those suspicions by identifying the appearance of freshly stained ice in several new locations.  LaRue rightfully said, “If we want to accurately conserve the species, we really need to know the basics. We’ve just learned something unexpected, and we should rethink how we interpret colony fluctuations.”…."That means we need to revisit how we interpret population changes and the causes of those changes."(6)
10. Kato, A. (2004) Population changes of Adelie and emperor penguins along the Prince Olav Coast and on the Riiser-Larsen Peninsula. Polar Biosci., vol. 17, 117-122.
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1)  Terms like unlearn are examples of malicious intent.  Science is a cumulative process.  Scientists base their understanding on the evidence at hand and when new evidence becomes available they allow it to reframe their understanding as called for.  It's not about "unlearning," it's about cumulative learning and refining. 
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2) No scientist was claiming "imminent extinction" - take a look: 
"... Uncertainty is included by incorporating multiple climate models and by a parametric bootstrap procedure that includes parameter uncertainty due to both model selection and estimation error. The median of these simulations predicts a decline of the Terre Adélie emperor penguin population of 81% by the year 2100. We find a 43% chance of an even greater decline, of 90% or more. The uncertainty in population projections reflects large differences among climate models in their forecasts of future sea ice conditions. ..."

"Effects of climate change on an emperor penguin population: analysis of coupled demographic and climate models"
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3)  "whenever researchers counted"  Whenever?  Nonsense!
Heck the next sentence puts the lie to Steele's claim.  #10 "Kato (2004)

Besides, as Dr. Kato let me know:  "It’s just a report of population count of penguins, not about the philopatry."

Admittedly Dumont d’Urville (DDU) happens to be the place where penguins have been studied the longest - that's just how it is.  The Antarctic is a large and very, very inhospitable place and DDU happens to be one of the older research stations, established by the French on their slice of that harsh continent - and it happens to be in the middle of what was historically a large penguin nesting site.

Base Dumont d'Urville
Terre Adélie, Antarctica
Latitude 66°39'46"S  |  Longitude 140°00'05"E
Located at about 4:30 o'clock
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next two images flip orientation 180°

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The Ozone Hole

Furthermore, the essay makes no effort to examine the caveats and nuances included in those scientific studies.  It also ignores the reality that these findings were actively vetted within the community of experts.  Philopatric assumptions did receive constructive pushback which in turn helped encourage further study. 
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4) "The only reasonable explanation
This crayola portrait has no room for the complexities involved.
Here's a list of the most basic, but there are others: 
There's habitat disruption as a driver of observed penguin migrations;
population changes related to climate change disrupting previously habitable areas;
population changes related to climate change opening up new habitable areas;
population changes related to predator disappearance, {think Japanese whaling};
population changes related to increased/decreasing food supply;
population changes related to invading competing species.
He also ignores that some colonies existed but were never recognized before.

As for threats from human interference, it's not just banding, there's overfishing of their food sources and various impacts related to increased tourism and introduction of invasive species including contagion's.

Antarctic Tourism Could Expose Penguins to New Diseases, Study Warns

A good faith effort to understand what's going on down there requires that all these factors be taken into account.  
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5) "misleading belief"  Pure ideology driven melodrama here.  It would be much more honest to write "assumptions based on the evidence at hand."
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6) "LaRue rightfully said" ???  
Here's what you'll find written in LaRue et. al 2014 (cited above): 
"Life history plasticity is increasingly being recognized as an important aspect of climate change adaptation, and in this regard our study offers new insight for the long-term future of emperor penguins."
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¶3  Of course several alarmist websites have spun this evidence of an ancient behavior into a new behavior forced by climate change disruptions.
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"Recently, polar biologists at the University of Minnesota used satellite images of poop stains (scientists are nothing if not resourceful) to show that some colonies of Emperor penguins in Antarctica are uprooting historic nesting sites, possibly to escape warming temperatures. ..."

The essay ignores that this ancient behavior was adopted precisely because of ancient changing climates and that these species currently abandoning historic nesting sites indicate profound disruptions of their communities.
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¶4  Although mistaking unanticipated emigration for a local extinction has been the hallmark of several bad global warming studies, some researchers refuse to unlearn mistaken beliefs
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This is plain stupid and underscores how disconnected this entire essay is

Studying wildlife populations is one thing, establishing the geophysical reality of global warming is a totally different matter!  Trying to conflate those two in this way is pure fraud.

Of course, the cascading consequences of global warming on landscapes and biological rhythms do impact animal populations, with population studies increasingly reflecting that reality.  Media headlines are not the science.  

What the scientists are talking about is emerging threats.
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In 2009 scientists argued that a missing herd of caribou that once numbered 276,000, had been extirpated by climate change. But the herd was later found in an unexpected location in 2011 just as native peoples had suggested. Likewise the co-author of the penguin extinction papers 3,8, Hal Caswell from the Woods Hole Oceanic Institute, mistakenly interpreted polar bear emigration as evidence of death due to climate change to advocate the bears’ imminent extinction as discussed here and here). He was similarly instrumental in modeling the extinction of the “March of the Penguins” Pt. Geologie colony. (Pt. Geologie Emperor Penguins are also known as the Terre Adelie colony or the Dumont d’Urville colony, named after the adjacent French research station known by the locals as DuDu.). 
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I'll save the misleading caribou and polar bear narrative for a later installment of Mr. Steele's 'Climate Horror Stories' series.

{For the record Dumont d'Urville goes by DDU and since this bit of potty humor is so emblematic of the author's (and his Republican/libertarian audience's) all around juvenile defense mechanic of flippancy towards complex threatening issues, I'm going to keep a count.}

"imminent extinction"  False!  Scientists are talking about an emerging threat.  See:

Climate change as an emerging threat to Emperor Penguins
Antarctic Environmental Portal Published: 03/04/2014 | Reviewed: 15/08/2014
Bernard W.T. Coetzee & Steven L. Chown
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Calling these studies "extinction studies" is another example of juvenile flippancy with malicious intent.  

These are "population dynamics" studies that outline the evidence and if you take the time to read them you will notice they spell out the evidence and reasoning behind their conclusions, including limitations, uncertainties, they acknowledge critiques and suggest areas for further research.  

Furthermore, counting wildlife over huge expanses of continent is very challenging and mistakes are made - keep in mind the scientific process is all about constructively learning from our mistakes.  It's how science works, new information helps refine established understanding.  
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Caswell and his co-authors are now doubling-down on their first prophesy of extinction for DuDu’s {potty humor #2} penguins to promote a more calamitous continent? wide extinction scenario.
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It has nothing to do with "doubling-down" nor "prophesying"!  
It's about the "progress of science" with new insights refining current understanding!
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¶5  In a recent interview posted at ScienceDaily, the lead author Jenouvrier summarized their new extinction study {Such disingenuous drama, it's a population study!} saying, "If sea ice declines at the rates projected by the IPCC climate models, and continues to influence Emperor penguins as it did in the second half of the 20th century in Terre Adélie, at least two-thirds of the colonies are projected to have declined by greater than 50 percent from their current size by 2100." "None of the colonies, even the southern-most locations in the Ross Sea, will provide a viable refuge by the end of 21st century." 
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Notice the date? "2100" 
Think emerging threats to long term Emperor penguin viability!
Allow Dr. Jenouvrier to speak for herself:

¶4  "Emperor penguins are heavily dependent on sea ice for their livelihoods, and, therefore, are sensitive to changes in sea ice concentration (SIC). The researchers' analysis of the global, continent-wide Emperor penguin population incorporates current and projected future SIC declines, and determined that all of the colonies would be in decline -- many by more than 50 percent -- by the end of the century, due to future climate change."

Then there is this:

¶8  "The role of sea ice is complicated," added Jenouvrier. "Too much ice requires longer trips for penguin parents to travel to the ocean to hunt and bring back food for their chicks. But too little ice reduces the habitat for krill, a critical food source for emperor penguins. Our models take into account both the effects of too much and too little sea ice in the colony area."
 ¶10  The new study expands on that work, by using the previous population models to project how all of Antarctica's 45 known colonies will respond to future climate change. Those projections are based on the current SIC at each location and on changes in SIC at each location, projected by the best available climate models. Those models, part of the IPCC effort, incorporate the physical processes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and land surfaces.
¶11  The researchers found that, while some colonies will increase for a while, this growth is short-lived. By the end of the century at least two-thirds of them will have declined by more than half. ...
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Worse, it ignores the reality of our warming planet. 
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¶6  But Jenouvrier’s reference to sea ice’s influence on Emperor penguins during “second half of the 20th century in Terre Adélie” is a belief that should have been wisely abandoned. It was originally based on bizarre speculation in a 2001 paper Emperor Penguins And Climate Change,9 speculations that defied well-established biology and contradicted observations. 
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Nonsense!  Abandon what?  
The observations that were made back then?  
The various observed long term ramifications?
Wildlife studies are all about accumulating information,
and learning by understanding mistakes, as new evidence informs our current knowledge.

Barbraud and Weimerskirch (2001)

"Between 1952 and 2000, the emperor penguin colony located near Dumont d'Urville Station (66.7V S, 140.0V E) in Terre Adélie was monitored continuously, generating the longest data set available on an Antarctic marine predator. Data from the meteorological station 500 m from the colony shows that, after a period of stability in the 1960s (average temperatures -17.3 VC), winter temperatures began to vary extensively and were high throughout the 1970s until the early 1980s (average -14.7 VC); they then decreased but remained variable until the present time. No trend was detectable for the summer temperatures. The breeding population of emperor penguins was stable until the mid-1970s, but declined abruptly by 50% in the late 1970s and has stabilized since (Fig. 1b)."
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"well-established biology notice there's no follow up.  Nothing is explained.

Jumping to the changing sea ice extent is not biology, even if it does have cascading impacts on the biology of these creatures, consequences conveniently ignored in this essay.
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The most obvious being Antarctic sea ice has not declined as all climate models predicted, but sea ice has now reached record extent. 
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"not declined as all climate models predicted
Besides not being "biology" - the claim isn't accurate:
"Transient Responses of a Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Model to Gradual Changes of Atmospheric CO2." Part II: Seasonal Response" 
Manabe, Spelman, Stouffer. | J. Climate, 5, 105–126 |  1992 
also see:
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Though it is true, most scientists were caught by surprise with the increasing seasonal sea ice.  What's hided from readers is that the geophysical dynamics have been actively studied, and scientists are getting a pretty good understanding of what's going on.  Tragically climate science denialist types disingenuously expect a kind of perfect understanding that only comes with hindsight.

Remember in serious science all known factors are taken into consideration and when new information introduces unexpected new findings, those are incorporated and help refine our developing understanding: 

§ For starters, the appearance of the Antarctic Ozone Hole had a profound effect upon the continents tropospheric dynamics.  Such as allowing more heat to escape through that "hole" thus cooling the central mass of the continent.
{I wonder, why do climate science denialist types always ignore that???}
§ The ocean surrounding Antarctica continues warming, producing cascading consequences.  
§ More heat and moisture is being introduced to the coastal troposphere, making for more snow and even rain.  
§ Increasing katabatic winds coming off the 10,000'+ continental highlands is slamming into the seasonal coastal ice sheets, driving them out into the ocean and opening surface waters to renewed attack by freezing temperatures.
§ Warming ocean currents are melting glaciers from underneath and causing various long established West Antarctica ice shelves to break up.  
§ These massive amounts of fresh water from glacier melt and increased snow/rain being dumped into the ocean has lowered surface salinity, making it more susceptible to freezing and it's interfering with some large scale circulation patterns.

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Why is there so much Antarctic sea ice?
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Clarity on Antarctic sea ice.
December 19, 2014
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Why is Antarctic sea ice increasing as Arctic sea ice declines?
SEP 27, 2014
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In other words, even though decades ago most researchers weren't expecting it, the contemporary fact of increased Antarctic sea ice has been extensively studied, the dynamics are being observed, measured, and understood and they fit right into everything else we know about increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases warming our global heat distribution engine.  Even if we didn't realize it a couple decades ago!
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Please consider the drift of these six paragraphs, they try to imply that current findings about penguins emigrating to other locations around Terre Adélie explain the big decline in DDU penguin populations that occurred in the 70s.  It's an assumption based on a fertile and biased imagination, one that ignores an awful lot of information.  In closing please consider what Drs. Jenouvrier and LaRue explained to me.  First quoting Dr. Jenouvrier:

"There is no data to support "that emigration could have explained part of the population decline at Pointe Géologie during the 1970s”. Data only show that colony exist now nearby Terre Adélie (TA), we do not know if they existed in the past or not. 

The {LaRue} paper does not quantify any individual movement between colonies but suggest relocation of some colonies and newly-found colonies.

Why TA population would have been divided during this short period of time during the 70s? I think that during this regime shift period, the food web was strongly affected by a warmer climatic event at large spatial scale. ..."
 When I asked Dr. LaRue about the implications of her study, she responded with this: 
" Regarding whether my recent research throws decades worth of work from Terre Adélie into doubt – No!  We can't prove that those colonies existed in the 70's or that birds actually went from DDU to any one of them. Genetics data could tell us that, though. 
We just made an observation that suggests another working hypothesis as to the population dynamics, and by extension, the implications for the population decrease at Pointe Geologie (DDU) in the 1970s. The nuance here is as David (Dr. Ainley) mentioned previously: the population modeling calculations are definitely without question. It’s the underlying assumptions that I am curious about, namely whether emperor penguin populations are truly “closed”. "  
I've come to understand that the scientific community remains alive with healthy skepticism and constructive debate and that future research is needed to resolve the details.  

But more important, I've also come to learn that no one in the community disputes the fundamental reality that the Antarctic continent and it's coastline is being profoundly impacted by both global warming and the ozone hole and that trends have been set in motion these past decades that continue gathering momentum unabated.  All the while the strategic Republican/libertarian attack on science continues ignoring these geophysical realities that we all depend on for providing our life-support system.

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Ok enough for this installment.  In the next installment I'm going to pick up this Penguin Poop essay, as it starts weaving a yarn about flipper banding and scientists themselves causing penguin population declines.  Providence willing, I'll be back.

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