Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Changes to lakes in the Andes, not in Canada but Ecuador!

Sou | 3:49 AM Go to the first of 7 comments. Add a comment

With another "claim" headline, Anthony Watts whistles his mob of scientific illiterati to join in with lots of "scientists don't know nuffin'" comments. And they oblige. Or most of them do.

Under his "claim" headline, Anthony just copied and pasted a copy of the press release about a new paper in PLOS | One. (WUWT article archived here.) That's about all he's doing these days. Since Andrew Weaver was successful in his defamation suit, I haven't seen a WUWT article defaming an individual scientist. It's early days yet of course.
Laguna Llaviacu, a study site. Credit: Neal Michelutti.

About the paper - scientists have been studying the lakes high up on the top of the Andes in Ecuador. The team was led by Neal Michelutti of the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory (PERL) at Queens University in Canada.

There was some interesting info in the press release. Did you know that it is estimated that the tropical Andes have about one sixth of Earth's biodiversity? And did you know that this region has been warming about twice as fast as the global average over the past few decades?

The scientists didn't have historical records available, so what they did was examine lake sediment cores.

Recovery of a sediment core
from one of the study lakes.
Photo by Neal Michelutti.

A threshold shift in the lakes

They found that the lakes had changes not seen in centuries. In particular, from the press release:
All three study lakes show identical changes, namely a sudden rise in the number of planktonic (open water) diatoms from trace abundances to dominance beginning in the early 1960s.
“These are important threshold-type changes in lake ecology. Rising temperatures and declining wind speeds have forced these lakes towards new ecological and physical states that are unprecedented within the context of recent centuries” says Dr. Michelutti.
“The timing of these changes occurs in close synchrony to more conspicuous climate-related changes in the Andes, such as rapidly retreating glaciers” notes co-author John Smol, a professor in the Department of Biology and the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change.
Diatoms are sentinels of environmental change – often the first species to respond to changing conditions. The shift in dominance to planktonic diatoms is significant because this often reflects a corresponding change in the physical properties of the water column, which can affect nutrient flow and thus all living creatures in the lakes. 
“We have previously recorded similar types of threshold shifts in polar and temperate regions.  These changes are harbingers of processes that will likely affect the food chain and reverberate throughout the ecosystem. We now have data showing that lakes from the Arctic to the Andes, and everywhere in between, are rapidly changing due to our impacts on climate”, notes Prof. John Smol.
Scanning electron micrograph image of an Aulacoseira diatom,
preserved in the sediments of an Andean lake.
Photo by Alexander Wolfe.

The Andes moves to Canada

You might be aware of how Anthony Watts jumps up and down in indignation whenever he sees a graphic or image that he thinks is "wrong" in one way or another. Although he's quite happy to use photoshopped images himself. This time he's decided to shift the Andes to Canada.

Yes, really. Anthony pinched a photo from the researchers' website without bothering to check what it was. He ignored the label on the photo. Turns out it was Skeleton Lake in Canada. Wrong lake, wrong country, wrong diatoms.

Ice on Skeleton Lake, Canadian Arctic - Credit: I. Lehnherr.
Source: PEARL, Queens University
Needless to say, Anthony didn't credit the photographer or put any caption at all. Anthony just picked the first photo that took his fancy.

Anthony's photo related to a completely different paper on plankton diatoms. (Anthony has had problems with diatoms before, you may recall.) He didn't bother with any of the photographs the researchers provided for this study, like the ones above.


As Charlie Dorian pointed out, I got the wrong photo at WUWT. It was the one below with the file name "skeleton.jpg", which Anthony renamed as "andes-lakes.jpg". I'd say Anthony got it from the PEARL home page. (He should have picked the photo on the left).

A typical lake from north-central Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canadian High Arctic. The central float of ice may persist throughout the summer during cool years in some lakes. Photograph: Bronwyn Keatley, Queen's University, July 2003

Same lake, different photo.
Sou 2:23 pm 11 Feb 2015

From the WUWT comments

old44 was the first of several who has noticed that most reports of warming are, not surprisingly, about the places it has warmed the most.
February 10, 2015 at 4:07 am
Is there any place on earth that isn’t warming at twice the average?
To answer his or her question - yes. Believe it or not, if somewhere is warming faster than the global average then somewhere is warming more slowly than the global average.  The map below is from the IPCC AR5 WG1 report:

Figure TS.2: Change in surface temperature over 1901-2012 as determined by linear trend.
Source: IPCC AR5 WG1

Malcolm doesn't like it that he is constantly being reminded that it's us who are causing global warming and climate change. P'raps Malcolm really doesn't have a clue.
February 10, 2015 at 4:12 am
Yep – the observed changes are definitely due to us. These guys wouldn’t have a clue but they’re obliged to attribute the changes to us. For shame.

Espen was the person who alerted me to the fact that Anthony's photo was of the wrong lake in the wrong country.
February 10, 2015 at 4:18 am
The lake on the illustration photo is Skelton Lake on North Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada!

Eric Worrall wonders how places up high can get weather. How they can be subject to changes in the atmosphere and ocean, changing wind patterns and altered precipitation.
February 10, 2015 at 4:28 am
Given lakes like Lake Titicaca in the Andes are 12,500 ft (around 2 miles) above sea level, how is it possible that CO2 could be causing them to warm at “twice the global average”?
A significant portion of the atmosphere, a significant part of the greenhouse blanket, is below the lake elevation.
Another thing that Eric might not appreciate (apart from the fact that mountains aren't immune from weather and climate), is that the troposphere stretches up around 16 or 17 km in the tropics. That's 17,000 metres compared to the 3,800 metres above sea level that he says Lake Titicaca is at. There's another 13,200 metres of troposphere.

His comment generated quite a bit of discussion about CO2 and how it's distributed in the atmosphere.

icouldnthelpit couldn't help but provided Eric with a link to a useful paper - which Eric didn't bother reading. (He preferred Wikipedia.)
February 10, 2015 at 4:41 am
I don’t think 2 miles is a significant part of the atmosphere.
Take a look at Fig. 6 in this paper.

I think there are a few people who seem to think that the greenhouse effect only works directly downwards and that's it. That the air doesn't move about. That air can't move sideways or upwards, carrying warmth with it. For example, Leo G mistakenly thinks this:
February 10, 2015 at 4:32 am
Isn’t one of the base assumptions in the sampling of mean monthly temperature changes to determine the global annual temperature anomaly that any changes occur uniformly and simultaneously across the globe?

No, LeoG. That isn't a base or any other assumption. Changes do not occur uniformly and simultaneously across the globe. If they did we'd not have this thing called weather. Or different seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres. And we'd only have to measure temperature changes in one place. There'd be no reason to do any sampling of different places at all.

John Peter wonders how scientists know that it's got warmer since there are no stevenson screens on the lakes.
February 10, 2015 at 6:48 am
Thanks for this considered reply to the study. Why would the changes start in 1960s when there was no evidence of “climate change” then? How can they construct a temperature sequence leading to this drastic increase in temperatures at this height if the place is so inaccessible and without stevenson screens? The GISS method of extending temperatures for miles away from a station has been proven to be shall we say “shaky” so really the study is probably based more on assumptions that reality. Good try though and will probably keep the money flowing.
If John had read the paper, he'd have seen that the scientists referred to other research. That research was about the cause of the retreating glaciers in the tropical Andes, which pointed to temperature rise as the main cause. Glaciers melt and retreat when it gets warmer.

mike opts for saying - who cares if the people of Ecuador run out of potable water. It's all a plot. He gets more and more excitable as his fingers hit the keyboard, and ends up shouting loudly.
February 10, 2015 at 6:16 am 
“There is no development in the park so the lakes are pristine” and “the lakes provide 60 percent of the drinking water for Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador”
Hmmm…so, like, doesn’t the initial construction and continuing operation of all that gadgetry that taps into these lakes and moves water in such a volume that it provides the third largest city in Ecuador with 60 percent of its drinking water constitute a sorta, kinda “development”, that just might–just maybe, is all I’m sayin’–make lefty, hive-tool claims that these lakes are “pristine”, a cause for skeptical wonderment–you know, like, along the lines of are we possibly dealin’ here with just another one of your standard-issue, hyped, hive-bozo, agit-prop scare-boogers, beautifully timed to lend good-comrade support to the brazen-hypocrite, carbon-piggie eco-conference to be held, later this year, in Paris? You know, that sort of thing.
“They retrived water and core samples from the center of each of the lakes for analysis” and “boats are prohibited” and “We saw major changes in the algae consistent [WEASEL-WORD ALERT!!!] with the water warming”
I may be engaged in some over-active head-scratching here, but, if no boats are allowed in the park, then how did the guys takin’ the water and core samples from the lake, get to the middle of the lake to take their samples, I’m wonderin’?

This is from the paper:
Cajas National Park contains >200 remote and relatively pristine lakes of glacial origin, isolated from direct human activities in their catchments and thereby obviating the confounding influences of land-uses on nutrient availability. The lakes are accessible only by hiking trails, and fishing is permitted only from shore as boats are prohibited to the general public. There is no development within the catchments, excepting at Llaviacu which has two small buildings (one abandoned) that are rarely used. There are no glaciers within the park, and the lakes are fed mainly by precipitation. The study lakes span an elevation gradient from 3,140 to 3,920 m asl, and have comparable limnological properties, each being circumneutral in pH, dilute, and ultra-oligotrophic (Table A in S1 File).

Had enough? Want more? Here's the latest archive.

Michelutti, Neal, Alexander P. Wolfe, Colin A. Cooke, William O. Hobbs, Mathias Vuille, and John P. Smol. "Climate change forces new ecological States in tropical Andean lakes." PloS one 10, no. 2 (2015): e0115338. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115338 (open access)

Vuille, Mathias, Raymond S. Bradley, Martin Werner, and Frank Keimig. "20th century climate change in the tropical Andes: observations and model results." In Climate Variability and Change in High Elevation Regions: Past, Present & Future, pp. 75-99. Springer Netherlands, 2003. doi: 10.1007/978-94-015-1252-7_5. (pdf here)


  1. In Anthony's defense, that really is a nice picture. ;-)

    One of my former students did her MSc in that area through U of British Columbia. It is a spectacular place to do field work especially if you're slightly antisocial and like open vistas.

  2. The picture that WUWT used is from here http://post.queensu.ca/~pearl/Planktonic/Hi%20res%20pics/skeletonl,july8.jpg, with the caption and credit here http://post.queensu.ca/~pearl/PNAS2005.htm (Photograph: Bronwyn Keatley). It's not the one you're showing -- look at the clouds. Credit should be given where it's due.

    1. You're right - Charlie. My mistake. Same lake, different photo. I think Anthony just pinched from the front page of PEARL:


  3. Oh what the heck, let's give him the benefit of the doubt...they're both in the Western Hemispere...

  4. Off topic, the Watties are gloating over 'failed climate predictions' and are boldly asserting that NONE of the 'alarmist' predictions EVER came to pass. So I posted a list of 10...

    10 Successful Climate Predictions...

    - The radiative imbalance from increased GHGs would cause the planet to accrue heat and so warm. (As first predicted by Svante Arrhenius, 1896)

    The First IPCC report in 1990 projected an increase between 0.1 and 0.2C / decade equivalent under Scenarios B & C (the ones closest to how forcings actually evolved). Actual increase:- 1.37C/decade.
    The Third IPCC Report projected an increase of 0.35C between 1990 and 2010 (Scenario A2), or a linear trend of 0.175/decade. Actual trend 0.17C /decade (HADCRUT4)

    - The oceans would gain heat


    - The Stratosphere would cool as the surface and lower atmosphere warms.
    First formulated by Manabe and Wetherald in 1967, a key 'fingerprint' of greenhouse warming.

    - The Tropopause would rise

    - Warming will be higher at the poles.
    Manabe and Wetherald again, 1975.

    - Warming will be greater over land than sea.

    - Nighttime temperatures would rise faster than daytime.

    - The Pinatubo eruption would suppress temperatures by around 0.3C for around 2 years.

    - The warmer atmosphere would hold more water vapour, amplifying the warming effect.

    The existence of a strong and positive water-vapor feedback means that projected business-as-usual greenhouse-gas emissions over the next century are virtually guaranteed to produce warming of several degrees Celsius. The only way that will not happen is if a strong, negative, and currently unknown feedback is discovered somewhere in our climate system.

    Dessler, Zhang and Yang (2008).

    - Arctic sea ice extent would decline, most rapidly in late summer. http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/files/2014/10/monthly_ice_NH_09.png

    All my posts go into moderation and at the time of writing, it hasn't appeared yet (cross-posting here is useful insurance). While I'm waiting, doubtless they would be delighted to learn of any more successes, if you know of any .... ;-)

    1. I remember Millicent here saying that New York being flooded was predicted. Her point being that the denialati said that would never happen and it was alarmist. So a double whammy there.

    2. Suki Manabe...I think Manabe and Weatherald also predicted an increase in Antarctic sea ice...1991 maybe? And he's still at it! http://www.princeton.edu/aos/people/faculty/manabe/index.xml


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