While I’m noting journalists worth their salt, how about a shout out for the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Jane Kay? A couple weeks ago she wrote a superb series on global warming, under the rubric "A Warming World: The Difference a Degree Makes." I should have noted it then, but let me remedy that:

  • "Polar Warning," about the declining fate of polar bears;
  • "Seashore Sea Change," about the web of effects brought about by a three-degree rise in the temperature of California coastal waters;
  • "Survival of a Reef," about the slow death of the Cabo Pulmo coral reef in the Gulf of California, and its effect on one Mexican family;
  • a fantastic audio slide show in three parts — one, two, three.

It was all good, but I think my favorite was the second. The next time a friend asks what the big deal is about a few degrees difference in the global temperature, point them here:

“It’s hard to predict,” said George Somero, director of the Hopkins Marine Station …. “If you remove one species from the ecosystem, there could very well be severe perturbations in the system. In many cases, we can’t predict what that means.”

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… “These animals for hundreds of thousands of years didn’t have to adjust to temperature. So now the climatic change is asking them to do things that they’re not prepared to do.

“When species evolve, they don’t build in extra protection for survival.”

Now, what humans know as normal natural systems will be thrown into disarray, scientists say. Homo sapiens hasn’t lived through these kinds of changes during the 200,000 years of its existence. No one can predict where it will lead.

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What follows is a review of a series of fascinating studies, each on some aspect of the finely balanced relationships among coastal currents, plants, and animals. I found this bit particularly interesting/depressing:

Ocean waters normally have a layer of warmer surface water on top of colder, deeper water. The layers stir and mix vertically, forcing an upwelling of phosphates, nitrates and other nutrients from the cold bottom up to the sunlit surface. There phytoplankton, tiny plant life, grows and feeds the whole food chain, starting with the krill and the copepods.

But the warming has created a deeper layer of warm water at the surface that blocks the mixing and the rise of nutrients. So there has been a decline in productivity — fewer zooplankton, fewer birds, fewer commercial fish.

Kay deserves some awards for this series.